April 2014 Archives

Leo Gerard explains Paul Ryan's reverse Robin-Hood spending plan:

Ryan's anti-Robin Hood spending plan takes health care from the poor and elderly and gives tax breaks to the rich and super rich. Really. Republicans voted to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. Nice, right? Except for Americans who depend on Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare.

Republicans voted to voucherize Medicare, which would force senior citizens to pay thousands of dollars more each year. Ryan and his fellow House Republicans voted to kill Obamacare, which means the 7.1 million who got insurance on the exchanges would lose it; the 3.1 million young people covered under Obamacare's extension of their parents' plans would lose insurance, and the 3 million who got insurance under Obamacare's Medicaid expansion would lose it.

That's 13 million without health insurance, in addition to low-income seniors struggling to pay premiums as Ryan's vouchers lose value. But, hey, billionaires get a tax break!

Ryan's anti-Robin Hood spending scheme provides more money for guns and less for bread. Republicans would increase military spending by $483 billion above caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act while slashing non-arms spending by $791 billion.

But wait, there's more:

Ryan's anti-Robin Hood spending plan robs low-income Americans of funding for Pell Grants, Head Start and special education while granting tax breaks to corporations so profitable that they are sitting on $1.5 trillion in cash. Republicans would hand corporations a tax rate cut from 35 to 25 percent, while ensuring that an uneven educational playing field prevents impoverished Americans from ever achieving those new, lower tax rates for the rich.

Ryan's anti-Robin Hood plan would pierce Big Bird's heart with an arrow while freeing corporations from paying taxes on overseas corporate earnings. Just to be clear, that would mean the death of Junior's Sesame Street program and his daddy's manufacturing job, since this tax system would encourage corporations to ship factories overseas where profits wouldn't be taxed.

As Gerard summarizes:

The Republicans' priorities are all wrong. As were those of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Ryan and his right-wing crew focus on the demands of the wealthy and ignore the values of the vast majority of Americans.

Thom Hartmann uses this as yet another reminder that the middle class is not normal:

There's nothing "normal" about having a middle class. Having a middle class is a choice that a society has to make, and it's a choice we need to make again in this generation, if we want to stop the destruction of the remnants of the last generation's middle class.

Despite what you might read in the Wall Street Journal or see on Fox News, capitalism is not an economic system that produces a middle class. In fact, if left to its own devices, capitalism tends towards vast levels of inequality and monopoly. The natural and most stable state of capitalism actually looks a lot like the Victorian England depicted in Charles Dickens' novels.

Hartmann cites Thomas Piketty:

According to Piketty, the post-World War II middle class was created by two major things: the destruction of European inherited wealth during the war and higher taxes on the rich, most of which were rationalized by the war. This brought wealth and income at the top down, and raised working people up into a middle class.

Piketty is right, especially about the importance of high marginal tax rates and inheritance taxes being necessary for the creation of a middle class that includes working-class people. Progressive taxation, when done correctly, pushes wages down to working people and reduces the incentives for the very rich to pillage their companies or rip off their workers. After all, why take another billion when 91 percent of it just going to be paid in taxes?

The numbers, of course, back him up:

If you compare a chart showing the historical top income tax rate over the course of the twentieth century with a chart of income inequality in the United States over roughly the same time period, you'll see that the period with the highest taxes on the rich - the period between the Roosevelt and Reagan administrations - was also the period with the lowest levels of economic inequality.

You'll also notice that since marginal tax rates started to plummet during the Reagan years, income inequality has skyrocketed.

Even more striking, during those same 33 years since Reagan took office and started cutting taxes on the rich, income levels for the top 1 percent have ballooned while income levels for everyone else have stayed pretty much flat.

Coincidence? I think not.

"This, of course," points out Hartmann, "is exactly what conservatives always push for:"

When wealth is spread more equally among all parts of society, people start to expect more from society and start demanding more rights. That leads to social instability, which is feared and hated by conservatives, even though revolutionaries and liberals like Thomas Jefferson welcome it.

Jared Bernstein brings the concept of rent-seeking into the discussion:

20140417-rentseeking.png
The Real Earnings of the Top 0.1% (left axis) and the Dow Jones Index (right axis)

It's neither a coincidence nor a surprise that the earnings of these tippy-top earners moves with the market these days. But it sure makes it hard to tell a story that doesn't involve a hefty dose of rent seeking--and not just seeking, but finding!

Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter discusses Edward Snowden:

Last summer, as Edward Snowden successfully sought asylum in Russia, where he continues to live, a team of Vanity Fair reporters took up the challenge of telling his chaotic and improbable story from start to finish. Bryan Burrough (the lead writer), Sarah Ellison, and Suzanna Andrews spent six months following the many trails that wind in and out of the Snowden affair.

FDL defends Snowden against the "Kremlin tool" accusation by noting Snowden's "choosing to submit a question to Putin as part of an annual question-and-answer call-in program on Russian state television:"

SNOWDEN: I'd like to ask you: does Russia intercept, store, or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance?

PUTIN: "We don't have a mass system of such interception, and according to our law it cannot exist. [...] ...we do not have a mass scale uncontrollable efforts like that. I hope we won't do that, and we don't have as much money as they have in the States and we don't have these technical devices that they have in the States."

FDL observes:

His critics want him to come home and face "justice" in America. They don't understand what it would mean for someone like Snowden to face "justice," such as whether he would be able to defend himself in court or be silenced by the process. They just parrot this refrain that he is running from taking responsibility for what he did and should return home. If he really considers himself a whistleblower, he should be willing to go to jail and face punishment (or, as they might put it, he should be held "accountable").

McClatchey contextualizes the CIA's torture report:

A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA's use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn't constitute torture.

"Some of the report's other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:"

  • _ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren't approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
  • _ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
  • _ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
  • _ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General's Office.

In summary:

The 6,300-page report is the culmination of a four-year, $40 million investigation into the detention and interrogation program by the Democrat-led committee. A final draft was approved in December 2012, but it has undergone revisions. The panel voted 11-3 on April 3 to send the report's 480-page executive summary, the findings and conclusions to the executive branch for declassification prior to public release.

Greta Christina makes the case that religious fundamentalism leads to screwed-up moral relativism. Using "burning Giordano Bruno at the stake" as her lead example, Greta Christina points out that "religious fundamentalism and dogma doesn't just often end up being morally relativistic in some screwed-up ways. It positively demands it:"

If you're going to insist that a holy book written hundreds or thousands of years ago is the permanent and perfect moral guidebook written by God -- then you're stuck with defending behaviors that were considered ethical and even admirable at the time they were written, but that we now recognize as morally repulsive.

It's a funny thing. Religious believers -- especially the fundamentalist ones, or the ones attached to specific religious dogma or an authoritative religious structure -- are always going on about the horrors of secular moral relativism. They're always going on about how, without a belief in an ultimate divine moral arbiter, we would be morally lost: unmoored, unanchored, unable to distinguish right from wrong, basing our moral choices solely on what we find immediately self-serving or convenient.

But it isn't the atheists who are excusing, defending, minimizing, and rationalizing the burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno. [as did Peter Hess, co-author of Catholicism and Science]

Eric Zuesse at Common Dreams mentioned the "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens" (PDF) study on Monday, but I put off looking at it in depth until recently. Zuesse remarks that the study, from the Fall 2014 issue of Perspectives on Politics, "finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy:"

"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

As Zuesse observes, "The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all:"

American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it's pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation's "news" media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious "electoral" "democratic" countries. We weren't formerly, but we clearly are now.

The study analyzed "a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues:"

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. [...]

Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all. By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy.

As the authors note, "our findings probably understate the political influence of elites:"

Furthermore, the preferences of economic elites (as measured by our proxy, the preferences of "affluent" citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do. To be sure, this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically-elite citizens who wield the actual influence.

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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