Saturday, December 15, 2012

We Have a Gun Problem, Not Just a Mental Health Problem

In the wake of the horrifying attack by a lone, psychotic gunman on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, I am sick to death of all the rationalizing by "gun rights" advocates who insist that the problem is not the ease of obtaining guns, but the fact that mentally unstable people don't get treatment.

There isn't a single problem here - it's a complex problem-glob made up of several different problems... but EACH OF THOSE ELEMENTS IS A PROBLEM, IN AND OF ITSELF, and needs to be solved.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Super PAC's in Action In SC

We've seen reports of massive buys by Super PACs in primary states, particularly those affiliated with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Both are accusing the other of being "unfair," in their advertising. A new player has entered the field with this ad:

And yes, they are supporting a candidate who is on the ballot:

Whether either Mitt or Newt can survive this, one can now say that South Carolina Republicans have a real choice!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mitt The Ripper

Stephen Colbert's super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, has an ad for South Carolina:

Although humorous, this also repeats what Newt Gingrich's super PAC has released in a film "When Mitt Romney Came To Town."
The documentary, titled “When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” paints the GOP presidential frontrunner as a corporate “raider” more unscrupulous even than Wall Street executives, preying on the misfortune of people who lost their jobs when his company, Bain Capital, turned around their companies.
While this in itself is bad enough - Mitt has since dropped his claim of "creating 100,000 jobs," changing it to the amorphous "thousands of jobs," it's turning out that it wasn't just the companies that Bain took over that suffered. Under his leadership, Bain played dirty with Wall Street itself.
Yet, there is another version of the Bain way that I experienced personally during my 17 years as a deal-adviser on Wall Street: Seemingly alone among private-equity firms, Romney’s Bain Capital was a master at bait-and-switching Wall Street bankers to get its hands on the companies that provided the raw material for its financial alchemy. Other private-equity firms I worked with extensively over the years — Forstmann Little, KKR, TPG and the Carlyle Group, among them — never dared attempt the audacious strategy that Bain partners employed with great alacrity and little shame. Call it the real Bain way.
"Anything to get an advantage," seemed to be Mitt's motto when he was with Bain. Mitt's flip-flops on the campaign trail, and hard examination of his actual record, are demonstrating that anyone who thinks he'll be a "moderate" president or "not bad" should think again. As the latter article concludes: "I have no idea how Romney might behave in office. I do believe, however, that when he was running Bain Capital, his word was not his bond." So neither should we believe him.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Obama and DNC Raise $68 million in 4th Quarter

The newest fundraising reports are in, and President Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised a combined $68 million dollars in the last quarter of 2011.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Thursday in a video to supporters that the campaign collected more than $42 million for the quarter, with the DNC bringing in more than $24 million, along with $1 million for a joint fund to help state parties in key states.

Breaking it down, that's 1.3 million individual donors last year, with 583,000 in the last quarter. More than 98 percent were for donations of $250 or less and the average donation was $55. That puts the president in good position heading into the election, but more is going to be needed. Mitt Romney raised a total of $56 million for the primary last year. If you don't think that's important, read this:
Romney has been a formidable fundraiser and most party leaders expect a large amount of money to flow into his campaign if he sews up the nomination. Republican-leaning Super PACs have also fared better than Democratic-backed outside groups, further offsetting the president's fundraising.
While we may all decry the corporate money being funneled into the campaigns because of the Citizens United loophole, we have to acknowledge that for at least this campaign season, it's a major factor.

In other news, Republicans in Congress are "outraged" by President Obama's use of a recess appointments, particularly of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That's because they're claiming they're technically not on recess. Which is why they're planning on introducing a resolution criticizing the move.
Rep. Diane Black (Tenn.) and 71 other House Republicans introduced a nonbinding resolution today voicing concern over President Barack Obama’s recess appointment of four administration nominees last week.
“It’s astounding to me that the president is claiming these are recess appointments and within his authority, when Congress was not in fact in recess,” Black said. “These appointments are an affront to the Constitution. No matter how you look at this, it doesn’t pass the smell test. I hope the House considers my resolution as soon as we return to Washington so we can send a message to President Obama.” [emphasis added]
Jonathan Bernstein calls it "the best self-refuting argument ever." In other words, they're going to decry the president's use of recess appointments, because they weren't in recess, and they'll vote on it the minute they get back from recess.

This is why we, as Democrats, need to get involved. It's not just returning the President to the White House. It's returning Congress to Democratic control, so we don't have to put up with obstructive nonsense like this any longer.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Romney and Other GOP Candidates Make the Case for Re-Electing Obama

Last night was the New Hampshire Republican debate, which the consensus was that Romney hadn't been hurt by it. There were fireworks between the other candidates, though. Ron Paul called Newt Gingrich a "chickenhawk," Santorum took shots at Ron Paul, Gingrich complained about "anti-catholicism," and Rick Perry suggested putting troops back in Iraq.

Santorum has emerged as the new "challenger" to Romney after his victory in Iowa, and predictably has drawn fire for his statements. The first came from his attempt to talk about cutting welfare and government aid, when he singled out one group:
For Santorum that means cutting government regulation. Making Americans less dependent on government aid. Fewer people getting food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of federal assistance — especially one group.
"I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money," Santorum begins. "I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families."
Drawing fire for that, he's now saying he said "Blah," not "Black." Which isn't being believed by many. Adding more fuel to the fire, he also went back to his favorite theme, gay marriage.

For the second time in as many days, Rick Santorum waded into the issue of gay marriage, suggesting it was so important for children to have both a father and mother that an imprisoned father was preferable to a same-sex parent.

Citing the work of one anti-poverty expert, Santorum said, "He found that even fathers in jail who had abandoned their kids were still better than no father at all to have in their children's lives."
Which isn't backed up by actual professionals, and he was notably not willing to name the specific "expert" he quoted.

In Democratic news, President Obama announced that he will be hosting a forum on Wednesday about "insourcing American jobs."
“We’re heading in the right direction. And we’re not going to let up,” the president said. He announced the White House will host a forum Wednesday titled, “Insourcing American Jobs,” highlighting “business leaders who are bringing jobs back home.”
The White House’s focus on reversing the trend toward outsourcing could put an uncomfortable spotlight on one of the Republican contenders for Obama’s job, Mitt Romney, who headed up an investment firm that took over distressed companies and sometimes outsourced their U.S. production to China or other markets where labor is cheaper.
Also helping is the newest jobs report, as unemployment dropped to 8.5%, along with other signs that the economy is strengthening.

Looking ahead, the "enthusiasm gap" seems to have disappeared, according to new PPP polling:
Voters who made up the core of President Obama's 2008 victory are just as excited and motivated about 2012 as Republicans, conservatives and tea party activists, according to a new survey.
The Democratic-leaning pollster Public Policy Polling finds that African-Americans, tea party supporters and young people are the three most motivated demographic groups going into the 2012 election cycle. According to PPP, 62 percent of black voters describe themselves as "very excited" about voting this cycle, while 55 percent of voters 18 to 29 describe themselves the same way. In 2008, 95 percent of blacks supported President Obama, and 66 percent of voters 18 to 29 backed him.
As the Republicans continue to alienate groups in their attempt to select a presidential candidate, expect these figures to grow.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bachmann Out, Obama's Youth Jobs Program, and Bad Boeing

Michele Bachmann has dropped out of the presidential race, much to the dismay of bloggers everywhere. Talking Points Memo has a great tribute to her.

Mitt Romney still hasn't released his tax returns, and is unlikely to. Why?
When Romney jokes that he’s been unemployed for years, he’s obscuring the fact that he’s still collecting millions of dollars of investment income, which is taxed at a much lower rate than it would be if he, like most taxpayers, took home a regular paycheck. He’s also obscuring the fact a great deal of that same income is only vaguely connected to his own underlying investments, and yet benefits from a key loophole in the tax code that allows him and other wealthy finance veterans to more than halve their effective tax rate.
In private equity, fund managers are typically compensated with both a fee (two percent of assets) and substantial share (20 percent) of the fund’s profits. Those profits are called “carried interest” and they’re classified as long-term capital gains, which are taxed at 15 percent — much lower than wage income, on which the top marginal rate is 35 percent.
In other words, even though he's making a lot of money, he's not paying as much in taxes as most middle-class people. It's something that he'd rather not call attention to.

Good news for the economy: U.S. companies added 325,000 jobs in December.

In the "free market bites" or "you expected loyalty?" category, Boeing is closing its Wichita Kansas plant. They're moving the work to their Washington state plant. This has resulted in predictable screaming by the Republicans in the state:
The decision announced on Wednesday drew a bitter reaction from Kansas politicians, who felt Boeing had betrayed commitments to the state and their efforts to help the company win a big refueling aircraft contract from the U.S. Air Force.
President Obama will announce a youth jobs program today.
President Obama will continue his campaign to bypass Congressional opposition to his jobs agenda Thursday by announcing a new partnership aimed at helping a quarter of a million young people find summer jobs.
The initiative, part of Obama's "We Can't Wait" campaign, is intended to replace a youth jobs fund that would have been enacted had Congress passed the president's $447 billion jobs bill.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iowa Results - Updated

Last night the Iowa caucus was held. It's the first of a number of caucuses and primaries to determine each party's nominee for President. The results are:
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, had 30,015 votes. Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and an upstart challenger who just weeks ago polled in the single digits, had 30,007, the state GOP said.
Each had roughly 25% of the vote in Iowa, the first state to vote in the 2012 presidential caucus and primary season. Paul, a U.S. representative from Texas, had 21%. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was at 13%. Perry was at 10%, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota had 5%, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had 1%
Perry said in his concession speech “With a little prayer and a little reflection, I’m going to decide the best path forward,” which is usually a way of saying "I'm dropping out." Huntsman did not campaign in Iowa, preferring to focus on New Hampshire. Michele Bachmann is saying that she's staying in (for now), but after her early showing in the straw polls in Iowa, this result is pretty much the end for her.

Santorum was the surprise, since even two weeks ago he was in single digits. But his showing, along with Ron Paul's, demonstrates the influence of the religious right and Tea Party in the Republican "base," as well as a strong "Not Romney" sentiment among the Republican primary voters.

Romney's win tonight, as close as it was (just 8 votes) is a strong indicator that he will be the eventual nominee. He wasn't expected to win to begin with, with various pundits saying he'd do well to finish third. Whether this translates into actual momentum and the party getting behind him will be the topic of discussion over the next few months.

Updated 11:30 AM:
Michele Bachmann has announced that she is suspending her campaign.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eliminating Capital Gains Tax - Bad for America, Great for the 1%

One of the common threads that Republicans keep hammering on is the need to "reduce taxes" to improve the economy. One of their efforts is the "flat tax" where everyone pays the same tax rate, and among other things, reduce or eliminate the capital gains tax.
HORSLEY: Perry's plan would also cut corporate tax rates to 20 percent, and eliminate the tax on dividends and capital gains. By doing away with those investment taxes, Perry would give a big windfall to the wealthiest Americans.

Just what sort of windfall are we talking about? This article tells us: The top 0.1% of the nation earn half of the capital gains.
The top 0.1%-- about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million-- are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after 1 year; and these capital gains make up 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400.

Capital gains are currently taxed at 15%, down from the 28% it was under Reagan - and he had raised it to that level. Various conservatives try to make the case that this low tax rate is beneficial for the economy:
So what does this mean for this debate? It means that when you tax millionaires, you reduce the biggest wells of disposable income we have. This means cars will not be bought, houses will not be built, planes will go unproduced, and charities will suffer. It means fewer jobs in our economy as the engines of purchasing power get burdened by higher taxes. We need to promote wealth and high incomes by making it easier to achieve that lofty goal rather than making it something at which to sneer.

Which is a somewhat different argument from their previous one, where the wealthy would be investing in other businesses. Now the argument is that they'll "buy stuff with the money." That this has apparently not happened with previous reductions, in either case, is an indicator that they want "the wealthy to be wealthier," and that the wealthy don't want to pay for the society they live in.

There is a huge difference between the small investor who may be making a few thousand dollars in capital gains from sale of stocks and the very wealthy who are making millions turning over stocks and hedge fund investments. The original purpose of capital gains was to encourage long-term investing. You bought your stocks, you held onto them. The current policy encourages rapid turnover, and investment in risky investments promising high return and quick turnarounds. It does not increase "value" or economic growth and investment. At a time when the nation faces deficits and decaying infrastructure, it's time to change that, and make the very wealthy start paying their share.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Open Thread - Republican Follies Edition

Rick Perry challenged Nancy Pelosi to debate the part-time Congress plan.
In a letter to Pelosi obtained by The Hill, the Texas governor wrote: I am in Washington Monday and would love to engage you in a public debate about my Overhaul Washington plan versus the congressional status quo.
Nancy Pelosi responded via Twitter:
Re: Gov. Perry--Monday I’ll be in Portland. Later visiting labs in CA. That's 2. I can’t remember the 3rd thing.
After his debate performance, even Texans are starting to realize something about him.
But White knows this: Texans everywhere are seeing a side of Perry they’ve never seen, a side unscripted. He says Perry has long run from accountability, whether in the form of debates, editorial board meetings or regular press conferences.
And now we know why: Perry has never really known the answers, he just memorized what polls and advisers told him the answers were.
Herman Cain is having his share of problems, after his disastrous "Libya" moment in an interview. First, he canceled an editorial board meeting with New Hampshire's most read newspaper.
A scheduled meeting with the New Hampshire Union Leader‘s editorial board was canceled about an hour before it was to begin. There was disagreement over whether the meeting would be videotaped. The Union Leader typically allows filming of its meetings with presidential candidates; Cain’s campaign refused to allow it.
The newspaper is an influential voice among New Hampshire conservatives.

But that's not his only recent gaffe:
“What about Cuba?” he asked. “One of my principles is: Go to the source closest to the problem. You will find the solution… I want to get from Cuban leaders a solution what we should do.”
Oh, and he apparently doesn't know languages:
Cain also stepped in it a bit (as Gov. Rick Perry might say) when he said while enjoying a cafecito and croquette at the Cafe Versailles, “How do you say delicious in Cuban?”
With her campaign hopes fading, Michele Bachmann violates Reagan's rule about Republicans, and goes after Newt:

Fannie [Mae] and Freddie, as you know, have been the epicenter of the financial meltdown in this country, and whether former Speaker Gingrich made $300,000 or whether he made $2 million, the point is he took money to also influence senior Republicans to be favorable toward Fannie and Freddie,
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is facing some problems regarding transparency in his campaign, and his time as governor:
Just before Mitt Romney left the Massachusetts governor’s office and first ran for president, 11 of his top aides purchased their state-issued computer hard drives, and the Romney administration’s e-mails were all wiped from a server, according to interviews and records obtained by the Globe.
The Globe story went on to detail how nearly a dozen aides paid some $65 each to purchase their work computer hard drives -- proved by cancelled checks, provided to the Globe -- and that new servers were installed for the incoming Democratic administration of Deval Patrick in 2006. The result? There are no electronic records of any Romney administration emails, although boxes of paper documents do exist in state storage facilities. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rick Perry Wants an (Unconstitutional) Part-Time Congress

Rick Perry, after his brain freeze in a recent debate when it came to which government departments he would abolish if he were President. In an effort to salvage his campaign, he's started announcing his plans to "reform" government, starting with the legislative branch. What's his plan? A part-time Congress.
The U.S. does not need a full-time Congress that is more focused on increasing its perks instead of reducing spending. America needs a part-time, Citizen Congress – populated with those who choose to serve not for profit, or for the promise of a high-paying lobbyist job, but for the good of their communities, states, and the nation. Even with a 50 percent pay-cut, Congressional members would still make a significantly higher income than the average American.11 By changing the way Congress operates, and moving towards a part-time legislature, Congressman will have the freedom to live in their communities, engage their constituents, and truly speak for the people they represent. Rules preventing members of Congress from holding private sector jobs must also be repealed. – When lawmakers hold the same types of jobs as their constituents, they will gain a much greater understanding of how congressional laws impact the real world.

Reaction has been swift, with Matt Yglesias calling it dangerously unsound. The Daily Mail calls it a populist attempt to regain his standing. It's one of those "sounds good" to the Republican base proposals, but doesn't stand up to the reality of Congress. It even doesn't stand up to a fact check, as Matt Glassman points out:
I haven’t checked if his statements about inflation are true (I have no reason to doubt them technically), but if they are true then almost all the real increase in congressional salaries took place in the 19th century.* According to the inflation figures Perry used, real prices fell by almost 50% between 1815 and 1907, while Members’ salaries went from $1500 to $7500. There’s the entirety of the 10-fold increase he cites.

Members make approximately 1.7% more in real dollars than they did 100 years ago. So if the salaries of the legislative branch ran wild because something changed in Washington, that something took place in the 19th century, not the 20th.

So the "make far more than ever before" is a fabrication, when checked against a constant dollar scenario. Yglesias points out some other problems:
You can see this along a number of dimensions. One is that if members of Congress need to work second jobs, their business relationships will involve conflicts of interest. A second is that to the extent that earning extra income takes up more of members of Congress’ time, they’ll become more dependent on lobbyists and special interest groups for information and assistance with their projects.

It's an astoundingly bad idea from any number of standpoints. Beyond the fact that people expect that their congressional representatives will work full-time at it, the idea that they will "work at a job" when not in session is ridiculous. Even in states which have "part time" legislatures, it often turns into a full-time job for the legislators and their staffs to do the job properly. What the proposal does is to ensure that only the very wealthy can take the time to become members of Congress.

But even beyond it being impractical, there's another facet. It's unconstitutional. A quick read of the United States Constitution, Article 1 says so.

Section 5 - Membership, Rules, Journals, Adjournment
Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
Amendment 27 - Limiting Changes to Congressional Pay. Ratified 5/7/1992. History
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
In other words, he can't do it. Only Congress can do so, and only Congress can change its pay. So what he's doing is simply posturing, and it's meaningless. He can't do it, and he can't force Congress to do it. Only Congress could make those sorts of changes to itself, and not even the Republicans would go along with that. Which is something that any serious candidate who studied government would know. Saying this just shows that Rick Perry is not a serious candidate, but that he even is being considered a contender just shows how far the Republican Party has fallen.

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