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Wealth and Taxes

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Andrew Sullivan posted a good exchange on wealth and taxes on his Daily Dish this Monday (sorry, I’m just getting caught up).

“The Successful, Ctd”

Sullivan makes a common argument against what he sees is excessive, punitive taxation of the rich:

After all, he is the person whose success makes taxation possible at all – or rather far more successful than if there were only Wal-Mart workers. But I am content with inequality as the price of freedom, and do not believe the government should punish people for being successful.

But one of his correspondents quotes conservative Ben Stein, and makes a key point:

But if they are superrich, they derive special benefits from life in the United States that the nonrich don’t. For one thing, they can make the money in a safe environment, which is not true for the rich in many countries. It is just common decency that they should pay much higher income taxes than they do.

Not addressed in the back-and-forth is the important fact that some of the rich have rigged the system to keep most people poor and the rich richer.

Sullivan closes nicely with a graph that I completely agree with:

I favor a return to Clinton era tax rates for the successful because we need to find some money somewhere and the hike is not that bad, given the debt we face. I’d like tax simplification and an end to the myriad loopholes and deductions in the tax code that the rich pay lawyers to exploit. I believe in an estate tax, in order to reward work not nepotism. I’ve made the same point about paying for the wars and supported the health insurance reform. I just think that wealthy seniors should pay more for Medicare and that social security could easily be means-tested and that the retirement age be raised. Not because I hate the old, but because we have to do something, or go into default. The successful already pay the bulk of the taxes. I just don’t see why tax hikes should be framed as some kind of revenge on them, or long-overdue comeuppance. It’s a necessary evil for the common good. And many liberals would fare better if they made their case that way, as, I might add, Obama generally does.

A good post that I encourage you to read.

-Chris

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October 21, 2010 Posted by | Democrats, Economics, Politics, Republicans, Tax Debate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP candidates and violence

at least i'm not a bully

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So, exactly what to think about the rhetoric of the GOP about “jackbooted thugs”, support for the constitution and threats to liberty and freedom?

In light of the actions of some of them, not much.

These bullies reflexively invoke our founding document but never seem to get around to reading — or at least — understanding it.

Where the Tea Party crowd is concerned, actions speak louder than words.

  • In Alaska, Tea Party phenom Joe Miller’s right-wing militia thugs handcuffed a local reporter for the crime of asking an uncomfortable question
  • In Florida, GOP candidate sent his crew of burly biker henchmen to threaten  his opponent’s staffer who was videotaping an event in a public park
  • Carl Paladino, running for Governor of New York (and known for distributing porn and racist emails) threatened to  “take out”   a reporter who worked for a paper that revealed that the GOP candidate has a love child

The principles of the constitution these bullies pretend to uphold (as opposed to, say, the scary black man in the White House) aren’t ones in my copies of the document.

We’ve seen this behavior before from Tea Party candidates — or at least a similar reaction.

Veep candidate and half-term Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell famously avoid the real press (and encourage others of their ilk to do so).

Must be because they have the option of going on the ever-fawning Fox “News” Channel to have their egos massaged and never have to deal with any, you know, issues.

Word of suggestion: if you can’t stand to answer questions from the press, maybe you aren’t cut out to hold office.

-Chris

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Democrats, Elections, Politics, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plutocracy ascendent

Beware The Oligarch

Image by Laurie Pink via Flickr

In the wake of the Citizen’s United ruling by the Supreme Court, unlimited amounts of cash are polluting our election campaigns and buying politicians wholesale.

Robert Reich had a nice piece on his blog Monday about the “Perfect Storm” that threatens our democracy:

“The Perfect Storm”

He hits all the bases:

  • The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us
  • Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into campaigns with no accountability whatsoever
  • a handful of front groups is laundering the money, and some have taken donations from foreign companies
  • Most Americans are in a bad position (unemployment, debt, mortgages) and taxes are rising and services are being cut
  • Infrastructure is crumbling
  • Politicians refuse to take the most modest step of restoring taxes for top earners (who are now “burdened” with the lowest taxation in 80 years)

Reich comments:

We’re back to the late 19th century when the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing whom.

Reich is right. And there doesn’t seem to be any hope in sight.

I have no choice but to agree with his gloomy conclusion:

The perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that’s raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work.

We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.

-Chris

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Debt, Deficit, Democrats, Economics, Elections, Politics, Republicans, Unemployment, Wall Street | Leave a comment

“US” Chamber’s Foreign Masters

National emblem of the People's Republic of China

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Think Progress has continued hammering on this important story.

The organization that purports to represent “small businesses” has already been caught taking money from foreign companies to use in ads in US elections.

Now The Chamber has been revealed holding seminars overseas to help enable US companies to more easily outsource jobs to say — China:

‘US’ Chamber of Commerce Hosts Seminars with Chinese Government Officials To Teach American Firms How To Outsource

If you need further evidence of whose interests the heavily-funded Chamber reflexively protects, look no further:

Below is an invite to an event sponsored by the right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson, inviting local businesses in Florida to come to Jacksonville and learn about outsourcing from Chinese government officials like Li Haiyan, the Counselor for Economic Affairs for the People’s Republic of China, U.S. Chamber lobbyist Joseph Fawkner, and BChinaB, a firm that specializes in helping American firms outsource their manufacturing jobs to China.

How does this help the small businesses the Chamber repeatedly invokes whenever they are criticized?

It doesn’t.

And as the DailyKos reported today, politicians (especially Republicans) have been caught carrying the water of the Chamber and their foreign benefactors

This cannot be overstated enough: the very next day after his self-labeled “Beijing fundraiser,” [Il-R Congressman] Mark Kirk voted against closing the tax loopholes that encourage corporations to ship American jobs overseas to countries like China.

 

-Chris

This cannot be overstated enough: the very next day after his self-labeled “Beijing fundraiser,” Mark Kirk voted against closing the tax loopholes that encourage corporations to ship American jobs overseas to countries like China.

This is –what do you call it? An issue. Democrats could run on this. If they can break the thrall of corporate cash.

-Chris

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Deficit, Economics, Politics, Republicans, Unemployment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gays Can Enlist!

Gay rights activist and Iraq War veteran Dan C...

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I am cautiously optimistic that this marks the beginning of the end of the stupid “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the beginning of gays openly serving in the military.

Here’s video of Dan Choi reenlisting in Times Square.

Choi was famously discharged from the military simply for being gay.

 -Chris

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Homosexuals, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Church and State

First page of Constitution of the United States

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A little primary source documentation for you Tea Party afflicted out there:

First Amendment, US Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptists

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802.

Treaty of Tripoli, Nov. 4, 1796

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

-Chris

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Democrats, Politics, Religion, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mortgage Foreclosures Explained

Mortgage debt

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Paul Krugman does another bang up job explaining a complicated issue in yesterday’s New York Times.

This time it’s the mortgage foreclosure mess:

The Mortgage Morass

Seems that many on the right think that the lack of documentation for foreclosures (much of which was lost in the relay of mortgages from banker to banker) is no big deal and we should take it on faith that when the banks say someone has defaulted on the provisions of their loan, we should believe them.

We shouldn’t. Krugman explains:

This is very, very bad. For one thing, it’s a near certainty that significant numbers of borrowers are being defrauded — charged fees they don’t actually owe, declared in default when, by the terms of their loan agreements, they aren’t.

Krugman properly nails the Obama Administration for its obeisance to Wall Street:

True to form, the Obama administration’s response has been to oppose any action that might upset the banks, like a temporary moratorium on foreclosures while some of the issues are resolved. Instead, it is asking the banks, very nicely, to behave better and clean up their act. I mean, that’s worked so well in the past, right?

As mentioned in the piece, there are some good ideas on how to deal with this mess:

…the Center for American Progress has proposed giving mortgage counselors and other public entities the power to modify troubled loans directly, with their judgment standing unless appealed by the mortgage servicer. This would do a lot to clarify matters and help extract us from the morass.

Of course, this will happen over the screeching undead bodies of the greedy bankers who caused this mess in the first place.

So it won’t happen.

It may be naive thinking on my part, but wouldn’t it be better to have someone in their home, paying a mortgage than to foreclose and try to get only a fraction of the value back in this terrible market?

Anyway, this is yet another datapoint indicating the claims that Obama is the first American Socialist President — Not so much.

-Chris

October 15, 2010 Posted by | Democrats, Economics, Obama, Politics, Republicans, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-American Chamber

United States Chamber of Commerce logo.

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So let me get this straight.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is coming out as a strong advocate for outsourcing jobs overseas — so businesses don’t have to pay Americans to do the work:

“U.S.’ Chamber Of Commerce Funded By Top Offshoring Companies”

As suggested by the title of this excellent ThinkProgress article, dozens of foreign companies are donating money to the Chamber, which in turn has launched a $75 million campaign to attack Democrats on the issue of — you guessed it — job policy.

In fact, there are a number of companies (listed in the article) that exist only to outsource jobs to their respective countries.

Despite the petulant denials of the Chamber, public records show that money from foreign donors IS part of $75 million aimed at bringing Democrats down.

To be clear, money from foreign companies goes into the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) account, which is the same account used to fund the attack campaign:

Chamber’s Latest Lie: Our Foreign Fundraising Program Isn’t Part Of The Chamber

On Tuesday, appearing on Fox News, Josten claimed that only 60 multinational companies are members of the Chamber, and it receives only $100,000 from its foreign affiliations. However, ThinkProgress blew this claim out of the water with proof that the Chamber is accepting at least $885,000 in direct donations from over 80 other foreign firms (in addition to the multinational members of the Chamber like BP, Siemens, and Shell Oil).

The Chamber refuses to disclose who is funding the effort, preferring to operate in a cloud of secrecy. We’re just supposed to take their word that nothing hinky is going on.

Nope. Sorry, that’s not going to happen. Recent polling is showing that the American people aren’t going to take the Chamber’s word for it, either.

But an important part of the story is being missed. The Chamber boasts proudly on it’s own website of working against the interests of working Americans:

Promotions to join the Chamber have included promises that foreign firms obtain “access to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and everything that it does” as well as pledges to help the foreign firms promote free trade policies in America. Chamber staffers from the Chamber’s Business Councils have claimed they help their foreign (and domestic) members wage a “two-front battle to knock down trade barriers abroad and keep our markets open at home.” Currently, the Chamber has attacked Democratic lawmakers for resisting a free trade deal with Korea.

We have an U.S.-based organization that takes foreign money to promote anti-American trade policies and sending jobs overseas.

So, we’ll see in a few weeks how much influence this despicable organization has on the electoral process.

-Chris

October 15, 2010 Posted by | Democrats, Fox News, Politics, Republicans, Unemployment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

State of the Electorate

Russ Feingold official photo

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Salon.com has an article on the debate between Delaware Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell (R-Tea Partyville)  and Chris Coons  (D).

“O’Donnell’s debate Hail Mary: He’s a Marxist!”

Details the pitifully out of her depth O’Donnell and describes a debate in which she ran down a checklist of contradictory and nonsensical right wing tropes and buzzwords (Marxist, waste, fraud, abuse, Nancy Pelosi, out of control spending) and seems not to recognize that she’s in the wrong end of the pool.

Salon writer Steve Kornacki makes an observation that scares the hell out of me:

We’d like to believe that elections are won and lost on policy, but they aren’t. So O’Donnell’s policy deficiencies didn’t lose her the debate, just as Coons’ effortless policy conversance didn’t win it for him.

As a further example, the offers the situation in the Wisconsin Senate contest in which Russ Feingold (D) is losing to the clueless Ron Johnson (R – Teabag City).

The key passage:

“A candidate like Johnson in Wisconsin can get away with that because – at least for now – he meets swing voters’ basic threshold for competence; they are strongly inclined to back Republicans this year, and he’s good enough. But for O’Donnell, the key to Wednesday night was whether anything would be said (or whether any body language would be expressed) that might grab the attention of the media and create enough noise in the next few days (or weeks) to shake swing voters from their aversion to her.”

So this is the state of the American electorate — or at least a huge segment of it.

Competence and familiarity with policy are irrelevant, and the masses clamour for candidates who think from the gut. Yay.

We tried that. Eight years, two wars, an economic collapse and a budget surplus transformed into a seemingly insurmountable deficit later, I think we can safely say that we should take a pass.

My fondest fantasy involves a reality television show and an island nation in which the Tea Party crowd could realize their wildest dreams.

Americans could watch the formation of “Galtland” and see the consequences of their policies as they play out on live television.

Each week, the producers could have citizenship quiz contests for those who want to compete for a return trip to “socialist” America.

I’d watch.

Update: The New York Times published an editorial on October 12 that deals with the Wisconsin race.

“Uphill in Wisconsin” hits some of the same points as the Salon article, and provides further evidence that the Tea Partiers (in the words of Matt Taibbi) are full of shit:

Mr. Feingold’s independent mind, and his refusal to follow the big-money line on issues like trade, campaign finance and Wall Street reform, should have endeared him to Tea Party members and other independents who are angry at Washington conformists. If they had taken the time to listen.

The editorial is outlines the puzzling phenomenon in which Democrats, who have some accomplishments to crow about, are failing to get through the dense web of lies being woven by the united right wing media machine and candidates like Johnson.

It’s possible that within a decade my fantasy about the island above will become the nightmare reality in America.

-Chris

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Debt, Deficit, Democrats, Politics, Republicans, Tea Party, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tea Party Profile

Teabonics

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If you haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s excellent article on the Tea Party in the latest Rolling Stone, you should give it a look.

He descended into the Tea Party culture like an anthropologist traveling to the far reaches of the world — making observations about a completely alien way of life and thought.

Titled “Tea and Crackers” , Taibbi pulls no punches about what he found and makes many of the same observations I have made about this faux movement:

I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry’s medals and Barack Obama’s Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about

Taibbi outlines how the movement — what there was of one — has it’s roots in Ron Paul’s run for president, and details how it has been co-opted by the Republican establishment.

The Rolling Stone writer suggests that the Tea Partiers (those who actually care about “out of control spending” etc) are likely to be disappointed when their candidates (most of whom are perpetual candidates who have taken up the Tea Party mantle to tap into the visible energy and anger of the movement) abandon all their positions — except for tax cuts for the wealthy.

Taibbi’s opening image of a Kentucky rally with dozens of Medicare-funded personal scooters and protesters on similarly-financed oxygen is at the heart of the Tea Party base. He argues that the Tea Party base is the same old Republican base:

So how does a group of billionaire businessmen and corporations get a bunch of broke Middle American white people to lobby for lower taxes for the rich and deregulation of Wall Street? That turns out to be easy. Beneath the surface, the Tea Party is little more than a weird and disorderly mob, a federation of distinct and often competing strains of conservatism that have been unable to coalesce around a leader of their own choosing. Its rallies include not only hardcore libertarians left over from the original Ron Paul “Tea Parties,” but gun-rights advocates, fundamentalist Christians, pseudomilitia types like the Oath Keepers (a group of law- enforcement and military professionals who have vowed to disobey “unconstitutional” orders) and mainstream Republicans who have simply lost faith in their party.

Addressing the accusations of racism, Taibbi states:

It’s not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It’s just that they’re shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid.

I’m not quite so sure. I’m convinced that the Tea Partiers have a strong racist element among them. I do agree that many, if not a majority of these aging white folks holds the paranoid persecution mindset Taibbi describes.

Anyway, the article makes clear that the Tea Party folks are not people that can be reasoned with.

They are the fringe, conspiracy-minded base of the current Republican Party, and Karl Rove and friends have found a way to tap into their anger to keep their wealthy friends comfortable.

-Chris

October 13, 2010 Posted by | Debt, Deficit, Democrats, Politics, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment