Republicans’ Groundhog Budget

If you want to understand the new GOP budget, read the old one. Give money to Republican voters and cut everybody else out.

Old habits die hard. Paul Ryan and the House Republicans have offered up a budget that is almost identical to the one proposed last year – the one that was roundly rejected by voters in November 2012. The most revealing aspect of the proposed budget is that the GOP cares about cutting government spending only when the beneficiaries of said spending do not vote Republican.

The following graph from The Atlantic breaks down the cuts according to major federal expenditures.Ryan Budget Breakdown

Which programs are left alone? Continue reading “Republicans’ Groundhog Budget”

About the 47%

Mitt Romney’s recent remarks, secretly recorded and obtained by Mother Jones, in which he refers to 47% of the American population as self-victimizing moochers, has led to a chorus of criticism for his ineptitude as a campaigner. But what about his perception of reality? Is it true that 47% of Americans pay no federal taxes? Is it true that these non-contributing victims form the base of President Obama’s support? The following chart from the Tax Policy Center helps answer these questions.

While it’s true that almost half of Americans technically pay no federal income tax, more than 28% pay federal payroll taxes, which are basically federal income taxes that are collected separately for social security and medicare. It should be noted that payroll taxes are highly regressive and are almost always ignored in the national conversation about tax burdens. So suddenly the 47% shrinks to 18% who don’t pay taxes.

The next biggest group in the 47% are retirees who have exemptions because of their fixed (and often low) incomes. It should be noted that retirement income is still taxable – the 10.3% who pay no taxes represent the poorest of our elderly – hardly a demographic to target for being lazy moochers. Excluding the payroll tax payers and the elderly poor, the 47% collapses to 8%. Continue reading “About the 47%”

Romney Has Foot in Mouth Disease

The campaign took a decidedly bizarre turn earlier this week when one of the candidates actually spoke candidly about his Presidential ambitions. It goes without saying that this moment of honesty came at a closed door meeting among wealthy donors and that the candidate did not realize he was being recorded while denigrating nearly half of the American population.

Here’s the money shot put out by Mother Jones.

Did you catch that? Continue reading “Romney Has Foot in Mouth Disease”

Paul Ryan Is a Liar

No really, he’s a liar. And it may not matter.

After a month of “vacation” from this blog, there is so much I want to write about (Paralympics, space exploration, American craft breweries), but last night, all of that took a back seat to Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

I’m used to politicians exaggerating or stretching the truth, but last night’s exhibition was, in the words of Fox News contributor Sally Kohn, “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech” – yeah, that’s what a Fox News Contributor had to say. Continue reading “Paul Ryan Is a Liar”

Obama Slings Mud – Republicans Offended

Using wartime accomplishments to castigate the opposition is disgusting and unpresidential (except when your own guy does it).

A year after Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals during a raid on a private compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, President Obama’s 2012 campaign released this ad:

If it makes you feel uneasy, you’re not alone. It’s boastful, celebratory and awkward. The ad goes on to suggest that a President Romney would not have  gone after bin Laden. If Obama’s opponents wanted to criticize him for crassness, that would be fine, as long as they weren’t guilty of the same crime on countless occasions earlier.

The entire Fox news machine has come out swinging. As usual, Jon Stewart calls out their hypocrisy by pointing out that “Republicans are unaware that the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex allows people the ability to store and recall past events”.

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There seems to be a total lack of consistency in political language. To say that the discourse is dominated by ideology would suggest that the parties are defending firm ideologies, which I do not believe is the case. Other than the reflexive calls for fewer taxes and more God, most of what is espoused by the mainstream American right seems more like a dramatic battle with trivial roots. Sure they want lower taxes, but more than anything, both parties want their side to win – politics is increasingly becoming a sport.

Few fans have ideological reasons for supporting a particular team. Instead, they rely on random justifications such as place of birth, or favorite color or animal. This is fine for sporting loyalty, but in the political sphere, it makes for senseless conflict, both figuratively and literally. This is nothing new though –  almost 300 years ago Jonathan Swift lampooned this sort of discord in Gulliver’s Travels, in which the nation Lilliput is torn apart by the dispute between Big-Endians and Little-Endians, who fight over which end of the egg to crack.

The platforms of current political factions are so riddled with inconsistencies that I must conclude that they are based on something other than ideology. It’s common to hear that politics has degenerated into a horse race – a 24 hour public relations campaign that never ends. Obama’s ad was a bit much, but the criticisms offered by John McCain, Ed Gillespie and others are no more meaningful than moral critiques of horses.

The Republican Suicide

By catering to the most extreme wing of the American right, the Republican party is alienating itself from moderate conservatives and setting up the stage for a potentially historic loss in upcoming elections.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter ushered in a rightward shift in American politics that has lasted for three decades. Since that election, the Democratic party, even when in power, has been on the defensive, whereas the Republicans have been able to set the agenda and the tone of public discourse, even when not in power. For the first time, this arrangement seems to be unraveling, and as is to be expected, it’s the Republicans doing to moving and shaking. In the past week, there have been three powerful articles, each positing that the GOP may be sewing the seeds of its own decline.

In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibi argues that the Republicans are engaged in a perpetual and self-destructive campaign of fear mongering and finger pointing. After decades of weeding out all moderate elements of the party, those within the far right of the party have no one left to lash out at except themselves. Each debate (there have been 20 already and the general election is more than nine months away) showcases the candidates, taking turns arguing why they are the true conservative and why their opponents are liberal sellouts or Republicans in name only (RINOs). There is such an eagerness, an almost religious desire to conform to the orthodoxy of the current canon that no candidate can be deemed worthy of being a “true” conservative.

In New York Magazine, John Heilemann also feels that the GOP is tearing itself apart. The Republican playbook, which is increasingly the Tea Party playbook, sees the country in terms of Christian middle American and secular/urban/internationalist America – it is a constant beating of the us vs. them drum. There is a constant need to prove how American you are. The current Republican primary has been so dirty and vitriolic because the candidates, at least in their rhetoric, are so similar to one another that they must bend over backward to make their opponents seems like traitors.

In The New Republic, Ed Kilgore points out that among the current crop of contendors, there is no such thing as too conservative. Whereas George H. W. Bush called Reagan’s supply side theory “voodoo economics”, today’s criticisms would only come from the right. Christian faith, capitalism, free markets and military defense are among the sacred cows of the now. This primary season has been one big game of who can claim to be to the right of his opponents – “everyone else is too liberal except for me!”

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 it almost felt like the beginning of a progressive renaissance – the 2010 elections dashed any such hopes/quelled any such fears. 2012 will not be the fulfillment of that or any other progressive renaissance, but it may be the turning point after which the GOP must rethink and reconstitute itself if it hopes to be relevant in the long term. If the GOP goes down in flames, it will not be to the credit of the Democrats (they are still weak and directionless), but because of the rigidity and self-destructive dogmatism that typifies the Republican party.

Unless the GOP figures out how to accommodate some progressive views, 2012 may mark a historic shift, similar to what happened in 1980.  Even Reagan isn’t conservative enough for current bunch.

Colbert Super PAC Explained

How is it that a Comedian is teaching Americans more about civics than any politician? 

A Brief Timeline

January 2010: The US Supreme Court rules 5-4 in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, that the government may not prohibit organizations such as unions, corporations and political action committees (PACs) from spending money on political campaigns. The ruling was based on the premise that groups of citizens have the same rights as individual citizens and that spending money is a type of free speech protected under the First Amendment.

Shortly thereafter: PACs, which are essentially non-profit organizations that exist to advance the outcome of an election, political issue or legislation, begin to mutate into Super PACs. The main difference is that PACs were restricted in how much money they could spend on election campaigns, whereas Super PACs can spend unlimited amounts. Also, they are not permitted to coordinate with candidates for office. Super PACs are still required to disclose the source of their funds.

May 2011: Stephen Colbert establishes a Super PAC called Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and begins soliciting viewers for donations to make tomorrow better. It should be noted here that Stephen’s lawyer is Trevor Potter, the former Commissioner and Chairman of the FEC (the losing side in the Supreme Court case referenced above).

August 2011: Colbert Super PAC’s first TV ad hits the Iowa airwaves. It was weird. The second was mildly disturbing.

September 2011: Stephen Colbert forms a shell corporation (usually established so that companies can do things indirectly in order to avoid publicity and taxes), which allows Stephen to anonymously direct unlimited amounts of money to his Super PAC. I repeat, anonymously! All legal!

January 2012: Stephen announces that he will explore a run for President in the South Carolina Republican primary election. To comply with non-coordination requirements, Stephen legally handed over control of his super PAC to fellow comedian and former boss, Jon Stewart. Colbert Super PAC began to be referred to as the “Definitely not coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC”. As the two men pointed out, the fact that they were close friends and business partners was not a legal barrier.

South Carolina Ads: In the run-up to the primary, Stephen suggested that Mitt Romney is a serial killer. Since he could not get his name onto the ballot in time, and since Herman Cain had dropped out of the race already, Colbert Super PAC urged South Carolinians to vote for Herman Cain as a sort of perverted proxy candidate. And then there was the attack ad on how super PACs carry out too many attack ads.  Even Samuel L. Jackson pitched in to narrate this ad, which actually attacks Stephen.

Conclusion: Through Herman Cain, Stephen managed to garner only 1.1% of the vote, good enough for a distant 5th place. But still, 6,324 registered Republican in South Carolina felt it worthwhile to vote for Stephen. I mean Herman. Not too shabby.

In the end, what Colbert and Stewart have shown is that the current interpretation of the law has so many loopholes that will certainly be exploited by moneyed interests. If Colbert and Stewart can legally claim to not be coordinating with one another and get away with their brand of fake political advocacy, there is nothing to stop corporations from wielding even more influence in an electoral system that is already saturated with money.

FYI – here is a list of Super PACs and the candidates they support.