Thursday, December 23, 2010

When it's OK to raise taxes.

Q: When is it OK for a conservative to propose raising taxes?

A: When it involves raising taxes on Ameica's poorest citizens to facilitate the lowering of taxes on the wealthiest.

George Will writes approvingly of the tax "reform" plans of GOP representative Dave Camp:

[GOP congressman Dave Camp's] aim is "fundamental" tax reform, understood the usual way - broadening the base (eliminating loopholes) to make lower rates possible. He would like a top rate of 25 percent - three points lower than Ronald Reagan achieved in 1986...

Many conservatives, including Camp, believe that although most Americans should be paying lower taxes, more Americans should be paying taxes. The fact that 46.7 million earners pay no income tax creates moral hazard - incentives for perverse behavior: Free-riding people have scant incentive to restrain the growth of government they are not paying for with income taxes.

...In addition to the one-third of the 143 million tax returns filed by individual earners for 2007 that showed no tax liability, additional millions of households have incomes low enough to exempt them from filing tax returns.
It couldn't be plainer than that. The GOP is not the anti-tax party it makes itself out to be. It's the tax burden shifting party, and the thing that most distresses them about the working poor is not the difficulty they have making ends meet, or gaining access to health care, or paying for college for their kids. No, the thing that most distresses conservatives about the working poor is that they pay no income tax.

If Democrats had a clue... any clue at all, they would make an issue of this sort of thing.

Tactical Obstructionism

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate's passing of both the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal and the START treaty ratification was in serious doubt. Simply lining up 60 votes in favor of cloture, to allow a vote on both propsals, seemed a Herculean task whose outcome was by no means assured. And yet, in the past two days both measures made it through the Senate. The former by a vote of 65 to 31 and the latter by a vote of 72 to 26.

So why, in the end, was it so difficult to acheive cloture on bills that received overwhelming support in the senate (far more votes than the cloture battle would suggest)?

My interpretation (and this goes especially for the START treaty vote) is that the GOP is playing a game whereby they intend to make the president expend as much time, effort and political capital as possible to pass any legislation at all, even legislation that the GOP supports and that a good number of Republicans fully intend to vote for when it does come to the floor.

Is this a winning strategy or will it ultimately cost the GOP what little goodwill they have from the American people? I think it still remains to be seen. I do believe that the GOP is playing with fire, though, and may well get burned. After all, I suspect that the impression of the GOP that the American public is going to come away with from these last few weeks of the so-called "lame duck" session is this: the GOP is the party that simultaneously backed Obama into a corner and forced him to agree to give huge tax breaks to millionaires and then turned around and argued that we can't afford to provide needed health care for the policemen, firefighters, paramedics and ordinary citizens whose long-term health was compromised when they rushed to the scene of the 9/11 attacks and dug through dusty rubble and breathed in toxic air to rescue survivors.

I've got a pretty strong feeling that the same conservative pundits who loudly crow about congress' low approval numbers will prove notably silent on this issue in the coming months as an obstructionist Republican House of Representatives gains the ire and contempt of the very same people who voted them in, frustrated as they were by the glacial pace of our current economic recovery.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Senate Republicans cut 1st responder health care by 3.1 Billion

Senate Republicans have agreed to the passage of a bill intended to help cover the medical bills of the heroes who worked to rescue survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but only if 3.1 billion dollars was first stripped from the bill.

These are the same guys who had no problem spending some $200 billion every year for the last seven years supporting the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. But apparently, finding $7.4 billion to cover the medical expenses of wounded rescuers is just too expensive.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Imitatio Latvia

Iceland experienced a bank-sector driven financial collapse and seemingly insurmountable debt load. It responded by screwing wealthy investors and defaulted on its debts. The country experienced a 10% drop in employment, but has been recovering since Q1, 2010. Latvia did not default on its debts, experienced a 20% drop in emplyment and has been recovering since Q1, 2010.

Guess which model financial columnists are urging Ireland to emulate?

It's absurd advice of course, but then with per capita obligations of about 1/2 million US dollars, Ireland probably has no choice but follow the Icleandic model eventually. I suspect that the financial press it simply trying to help investors squeeze Ireland for all they can before the inevitable default.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Things The Tax Cut Could Have Paid For

Another entry for our continuing feature "Things The Tax Cut Could Have Paid For." According to the Huffington Post, Republican lawmakers have blocked a bill that would have proclaimed child marriage to be a human rights violation:

The bill would ensure that child marriage is recognized as a human rights violation, and develop comprehensive strategies to prevent such marriages around the world. The legislation seemed likely to garner strong bipartisan support in Congress, and in the Senate, it did. But last night, the bill was voted down in the House by Republicans who argued the bill is too costly and could lead to increased abortions -- gripes the measure's supporters say have no basis in reality and are just excuses to kill the popular bill.

The CBO estimates the cost of implementing the bill at about $60 million over 5 years, whereas the GOP is estimating the cost at $108 million. Nonetheless, the cost of this bill comes in somewhere between 1/70th and 1/100th the cost of the upper income tax cuts the GOP demanded.

Berming For You

Remember when the BP oil spill was being touted as "Barack Obama's Katrina"? Despite the fact that Coast Guard vessels were on site working the spill from day one, and the Federal government mobilized heavily to contain the disaster, partisan critics of the Obama Administration insisted that not enough was being done to prevent oil from reaching Lousiana shores. And because it is an article of faith among the news media that every instance of Republican incompetence, corruption or greed must be counterbalanced by a corresponding incidence of Democratic incompetence, corruption or greed much of the new media and the chattering classes seemed perfectly happy to g along with the idea that the BP oil spill was, indeed, "Barack Obama's Katrina." Of course, to sucessfully argue this point it was necessary to show that there were effective countermeasures available that the administration, either through sloth or incompetence, was failing to implement.
Enter Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Always ready to savage the government for doing too much useless volcano monitoring, Jindall took to the airwaves to denounce the administration for not doing enough useful berm building. Berms, we were told over and over again, were the immediate, desperately needed, effective solution to the oil spill problem that the Administration was, for inexplicable reasons, failing to implement. There was only one little problem with this urgent claim: the experts disagreed. The building of berms, they told us, was an expensive way to accomplish very little. But never mind. All we heard from Jindall, the right-wing talks shows and much of the media was berms, berms, berms... and so under pressure from local legislators and the relentless, right-wing message machine, the Obama administration relented and pressured the Army Corps of Engineers to approve Jindal's dubious project.

Well a post-spill report is out examining the effectiveness of the berms and guess what... the experts were right. The berms were very expensive at over $200 million dollars and counting, but ended up collecting almost no oil.

By October, about 10 miles of berms had been built several miles from the gulf coastline at a cost of $220 million, with construction paid for entirely by BP.

Louisiana officials estimate that the berms stopped 1,000 barrels of oil from the spill. By contrast, more than 800,000 barrels were captured at the wellhead, and roughly 270,000 barrels were burned off by Coast Guard vessels. Skimming operations recovered at least 34 million gallons of oil-water mixture.

“$220 million for a spill response measure that trapped not much more than 1,000 barrels of oil is not a compelling cost-benefit tradeoff,” the commission staff wrote.

On the plus size, Louisiana did manage to get free funding for miles and miles of berms that might potentially help stop coastline erosion. But this was certainly not the way the project was sold to the American people.

(This post also apears on Stinque).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things The American People Are Sick Of...

...according to Jim DeMint.

It's a new post of mine up on Stinque. Go check it out.

Good Read

E. J. Dionne has a good column today on the new No Labels political movement that has recently taken shape, and why this movement's existence is premised on a widely disseminated fallacy: that political polarization in this country is a result of the left moving too far to the left while the right has moved too far to the right. As Dionne notes, while the right has, indeed, gravitated to extremes that would even surprise Ronald Reagan, the left (and by this he means, not just Democrats, but even ideological socialists) have come to occupy the middle ideological ground in America. There is no such thing as a radical left anymore in this country.

It's worth a read.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fox Strikes Again

Media Matters For America has gotten its hands on another internal Fox memo. This time newscasers are urged to cast doubt on the science behind global warming:

...we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.
The memo, from Bill Sammon came moments after a Fox News reporter, discussing the so-called climategate incident, had noted that the data that provides evidence of global warming was consistent across various sources beyond the beseiged Climatic Research Unit of East Anglia University, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This, apparently was alarming to Sammon, since an appeal to respected scientific authorities on the subject does tend to undermine the mercenary criticisms of paid Oil Industry shills and lobbyists.

There is a big difference between "asserting notions as facts" and manufacturing controversy where there really is none. What Fox seeks to do, with respect to the issue of global warming, is clearly the latter, and their motivations are indisputably ideological ones.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fox: Not Even Trying

It wasn't too long ago that the website Media Matters for America got hold of internal memos from Fox News brass ordering on-air newscasters and personalities to stop refering to the proposed public option as the "public option" and instead refer to it as the "government option." Seems GOP pollsters had discovered that the American public was less supportive of the public option if it was, instead, referred to as the "government option."

The revelation was just another in a long list of examples of the supposedly "fair and balanced" Fox propaganda channel taking orders from the GOP an skewing its coverage for ideological reasons. The channel's public relations staff, meanwhile, countered that they were not showing bias, but were instead simply trying to employ "an accurate, fair, objective term."

Yet, if accurate, fair and objective terminology is the goal of Fox producers, how do you explain this front page story on the Fox news website?

It is hardly "accurate" or "objective" to refer to the current health Care Reform law as "Obamacare," given that the legislation was crafted by congressional leaders with little guidance from the President. And as for fairness, only a deaf-mute hermit doesn't realize that the term "Obamacare" as applied to the Health Care Reform act is used exclusively by opponents of the legislation, as the following selection of Tea Party signage clearly shows.

It really shouldn't be necessary to write posts like these "exposing" Fox News propagandistic mission. Really, the only reason I do so is because so many people, including members of the press and political class, continue to act as if it weren't so, granting interviews, access and perks that the propaganda network clearly does not deserve.

Monday, December 13, 2010

In Which The GOP Cuts Off Its Nose To Spite Its Face

You've really got to marvel at the absurd degree to which Obama Derangement Syndrome has taken hold of the GOP. The latest example manifests itself in a classic case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. The New York Times is reporting that a George W. Bush appointed Federal judge has declared the individual mandate portion of Health Care Reform to be unconstitutional:

In a 42-page opinion issued in Richmond, Va., Judge Hudson wrote that the law’s central requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance exceeds the regulatory authority granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The insurance mandate is central to the law’s mission of covering more than 30 million uninsured because insurers argue that only by requiring healthy people to have policies can they afford to treat those with expensive chronic conditions.
Of course, without the Individual Mandate, several key provisions of Health Care Reform are impossible to institute. Most significantly, without the individual mandate, it becomes economically impossible to legislate that health insurance companies be prohibited from denying coverage to individuals who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. That is because, without the individual mandate, widespread gaming of the system would lead to the financial ruin of health insurers. And yet the decisions made possible by the individual mandate are among the most popular provisions of the law: At 71% support, a desire to see insurance companies prohibited from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions means its not even close.

The uninsured are not going away, and even if it were to be withheld at the Supreme Court level, this decision does nothing to ameliorate their plight. Indeed, the numbers of uninsured are only projected to rise without implementation of the current Health Care Reform law. So what would be the upshot of a Supreme Court decision upholding this ruling and killing the Individual Mandate? The upshot would be this: the problem of the uninsured only gets worse. More and more people fall off the insurance rolls. As health insurance becomes more expensive, healthy people take their chances and drop coverage. As health insurance rolls are increasingly composed of ill people who simply cannot afford not to have health insurance, prices for health coverage begin to spiral out of control. Eventually, public anger leads to a Democratic wave sweeping both houses of Congress and the Presidency with an unambiguous mandate to fix the broken health insurance system.

Democrats must now craft a new Health Care Reform act that solves the problem of vast numbers of uninsured Americans. Many options are explored. One possible avenue, a system made up of private insurers delivering universal coverage buyoed by an individual mandate that makes it profitable, has already been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Right-wing political pundits fulminate at even the slightest mention of a single payer system such as exists in Europe and Canada. There is, however, one potential venue to universal coverage that relies upon an institution that is beloved of its participants and is as American as apple pie: Medicare For All.

It's single-payer, universal coverage through the back-door. And if the GOP continues in its ultimately self-destructive path of putting up roadblocks to a Health Care Reform act that is modelled on (or at least very similar to) proposals that were developed by the American Enterprise Institute in the 1990's, than that's exactly where we are headed.

Honestly, the only reason I don't rejoice at this prospect is that I suspect it will take between 10 and 20 years to get there if we follow this path, and during that time millions of uninsured Americans will lose their homes, their belongings, their loved ones and their lives.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How They Get Away With It

From a story on Leo Berman, a Texas legislator who is promoting a bill that would make it a crime in Texas for individuals to take actions that would further the implementation of the Federal Health Care Reform Act:

Berman said, "I don't think it's extreme at all. I think it's more extreme for Texans who have to pay $27 billion to put over 2 million illegal aliens on Medicaid. That's what's extreme," Berman said.

This is a pretty good example of everything that's wrong with the current state of journalism in this country. Here we see a politician making an outlandish claim that has no basis in law or fact, and the newspaper simply reproduces his comment with no attempt whatsoever to fact check. In fact, under the Health Care Reform Act, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from participating in the health care exchanges that provide subsidized coverage even if they spend their own money to do so. The bill in no way requires that these people be put on Medicaid. In fact, Medicaid only covers the U.S. born (and thus U.S. citizen) children of illegal immigrants, and reimburses hospitals for expenses related to providing emergency care to illegal immigrants. Hospitals are not going to turn away critically injured accident victims whose immigration status cannot be determined, and so Federal law recognizes this fact and reimburses them for such treatments. This is current law, the Health Care Reform Act does not change it, and expenses associated with such treatments come nowhere close to $27 billion annually (and certainly not for the state of Texas alone).

The GOP benefits greatly from party discipline. Messages are developed, tested in polling, and repeated ad-nauseum by politicians and conservative pundits alike. But a good part of the reason that the GOP message tends to resonate so widely, is that the mainstream media cannot be bothered to do even the most basic fact checking. This frees the GOP to say anything it wants, confident that mis-characterizations will go uncorrected, lies unchallenged and dstortions unanswered.

(Via: Wonkette)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Things the GOP tax cut could have paid for.

I think I'll make an occasional feature of legislation that the GOP has scuttled in favor of giving tax breaks to the top 2% of income earners.

Let's start with this: Republicans Block U.S. Health Aid for 9/11 Workers

Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and residents of New York City who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke from ground zero.
In a vote largely along party lines, the Senate rejected a procedural move by Democrats to end debate on the 9/11 health bill and bring it to an up-or-down vote; 60 yes votes were needed, but the move received only 57, with 42 votes against.

Republicans have been raising concerns about how to pay for the $7.4 billion measure, while Democrats, led by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, have argued that the nation had a moral obligation to assist those who put their lives at risk during rescue operations at ground zero. The bill is known formally as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a New York City Police detective who participated in the rescue efforts at ground zero. He later developed breathing complications that were common to first responders at the site, and he died in January 2006.

If the Democrats and their supporters fail to bring up these outrages over the next two years, and point out that they could easily have been paid for with the $75 billion dollar payout that the GOP handed to its wealthiest supporters, then they don't deserve to govern, let alone win the 2012 elections.

How To Go on Fox

This video should be required viewing for anyone who is preparing to go on Fox News:

Sadly, I have a pretty strong feeling Rep. Anthony Wiener won't be invited back on the network any time soon.

Via: Crooks and Liars.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Et Tu Fox?

As right wingers around the country fulminate over Wikileaks' publishing of secret Government comuniques and denounce the New York Times for reprinting excerpts from materials provided by that website, it is amusing to note that, far from ignoring the leaked materials, the most prominent conservative propaganda outlet in the nation seems just as eager to dig into the stolen government secrets and publicize their contents as anyone.

None other than Fox News is currently running a story entitled U.S. Documents Detail how Arab Allies Fund Terror Groups, whose findings are based on an examination of those same documents.

But then, is this really so surprising? After all conservatives got a head start on the game of spilling U.S. secrets for political advantage back when Dick Cheney sent Lewis "Scooter" Libby on a mission to expose Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA status to a willing right-wing media. What's a little national security breach between friends?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Death Panels Come to Arizona

Remember Sarah Palin's infamous death panels lie which was intended to derail the Health Care Reform Act? The charge was that under so-called "Obamacare" government bureaucrats would have authority to determine which needy patients live and die based on an economic calculus that weighs those individuals' potential benefit to society against the cost of their treatment. The lie grew out of a dishonest representation of the President's call for comparative effectiveness studies on medical treatments that would save the government money by identifying and steering patients towards the most effective treatments for their illnesses. The theory was that ineffective treatments are simply a waste of money, and patients will most likely benefit from avoiding them. The death panel lie was so outrageous yet so pervasive that it was crowned Politifact's Lie of the Year for 2009.

Well, fast-forward a year and guess what: we've finally got those death panels Sarah Palin warned us of. But don't expect Palin, the GOP leadership or Dick Armey's FreedomWorks to raise a fuss. That's because these death panels are in Arizona and are a result of the GOP led legislature deciding that discontinuing Medicaid funding for certain organ transplants --even though this would mean almost certain death for some 100 indigent patients-- was well worth the $4.5 million a year savings it would bring:

Effective at the beginning of October, Arizona stopped financing certain transplant operations under the state’s version of Medicaid. Many doctors say the decision amounts to a death sentence for some low-income patients, who have little chance of survival without transplants and lack the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to pay for them.

“The most difficult discussions are those that involve patients who had been on the donor list for a year or more and now we have to tell them they’re not on the list anymore,” said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, a transplant specialist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “The frustration is tremendous. It’s more than frustration.”

Organ transplants are already the subject of a web of regulations, which do not guarantee that everyone in need of a life-saving organ will receive one. But Arizona’s transplant specialists are alarmed that patients who were in line to receive transplants one day were, after the state’s budget cuts to its Medicaid program, ruled ineligible the next — unless they raised the money themselves.

And in typically cowardly fashion Republicans who approved the cuts, when faced with public outrage, have since sought to blame the Obama administration for them:

The Republican governor has in turn blamed “Obamacare,” meaning the federal health care overhaul, for the transplant cuts even though the Arizona vote came in March, before President Obama signed that bill into law.

This episode is revealing, and likely portends the GOP legislative agenda that awaits the nation in January, and much more alarmingly in 2012 and beyond should the GOP gain control of the presidency and perhaps flip the Senate. Riding to political victory on a wave of populist anger over imaginary health-care cuts and large budget deficits, the party's proposed legislative agenda would only exacerbate the problem. It's unwavering devotion to the reckless Bush tax cuts guarantees budget deficits far into the future, and proposals to replace Medicare and Medicaid with voucher programs mean that future beneficiaries of these two programs would get, not necessarily the medical attention they need, but only what they can buy with the limited funds the government has alloted them. Whether it be by explicitly denying coverage for expensive procedures (as in Arizona) or a refusal to pay more than a set amount for health coverage, the GOP plan amounts to the same thing: death panels by another name.

(This article also appears in Stinque)