Friday, May 25, 2012
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, is offering a 20 percent tax cut for everyone. Given the mood of the conservatives in the United States today, that may not surprise you. But even President Barack Obama, who is routinely described as a socialist by his opponents, is peddling a plan under which 99 percent of Americans would pay less than they did under the last Democrat in the White House, Bill Clinton.
According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2011, among the world’s 30 leading countries economically, only in New Zealand and in Japan was government revenue a lower share of gross domestic product than in the United States. Countries like Australia, Estonia, Ireland and Switzerland, which tend to favor low taxes and a small state, have government revenue that accounts for more of G.D.P. than does the United States.
The Internal Revenue Service is relatively restrained, too, compared with recent history. In 1945, at the close of World War II, federal tax receipts were 20.4 percent of G.D.P. (expenditures, by the way, were 41.9 percent, putting the federal budget deficit at 21.5 percent, compared with 8.7 percent in 2011). In 1952, the year the Republican Dwight Eisenhower was elected president, federal government revenue was 19 percent of G.D.P. In 1988, the last year of Ronald Reagan’s transformational conservative presidency, the federal tax take was 18.2 percent of G.D.P.
Compare those figures with that of today, when a Democrat is in the White House, nearly half of Americans think their taxes are too high, and both parties are promising to keep taxes low for all, or, in the case of the Democrats, 99 percent of Americans: In 2011, government revenue was 15.4 percent of G.D.P., lower than it was at any time during the Eisenhower or Reagan eras. Like anorexics, who think they are grossly fat when they are very thin, the American body politic is suffering from a national version of body dysmorphia, with nearly half the country believing taxes are high, when they are comparatively and historically low.
So everyone agrees that taxes are too high, except history.
Obama's plan at least has the weight of recent history on his side: when Bill Clinton lowered taxes on the middle class and poor but raised them (a whole 4%!) on the rich, the economy skyrocketed from the doldrums of the first Bush recession to have the greatest growth in human history AND created budget surpluses, something even the so-called "Reagan boom"-- which only happened after he raised the taxes he had lowered far too much-- could not achieve.
Indeed, Clinton's economy was so great that we very nearly paid off the national debt. Had those policies continued in place, had the three Bush tax cuts not been passed, and two insignificant little gnats not been invaded for few rational reasons-- meaning Bush would have taken the dire warnings the Clinton policy experts levelled seriously and prevented September 11-- we might still be on the path to prosperity even now.
See, here's the thing: to look at the economy now and forget those eight years of mishandling is to exam why a bridge collapsed without looking at the corroded metal braces. You might come up with some logical explanation-- too much weight, unsafe drivers-- but in the end, you've missed the point entirely.
We were in the midst of a mild recession when George W Bush took office. After the dot-com bubble burst, we had growth of less than 2% and finally dipped into a contraction as Bush took office. But by that summer, we had nearly reversed that and started growing slowly.
And then we double-dipped in 2002. Despite the tax cuts. Despite the spending on ramping up for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the private sector panicking that Al Qaeda was looking over our shoulders for an opportunity to strike again.
Indeed, it wasn't until the 3rd quarter of 2003 that the US began a recovery.
We were almost out in 2001! And you'd think that all the economic stimulus of three tax cuts AND two wars AND all the homeland security spending-- on the scale of billions when you include private and public sector spending-- would have pulled an already recovering economy straight back up.
And you'd be wrong. Indeed, and here's where we get to this current recession, it turns out that the prime motivator in ending the Bush recession was the move by the Federal Reserve to drop its discount rater (the federal funds rate) from 1.75% to 1%, in steps. This dropped the prime rate to about 4% or so (it generally runs three percent above the federal funds rate, which is the overnight rate that banks can borrow money from each other), and then came all those mortgage refinancings.
Which begat more refinancings. Which begat the "ownership society" of Bush's second term. Which begat subprime mortgages. Which begat derivates of CDOs and CMOs and all those lovely acronyms to represent meaningless valueless gambles disguised as "investments".
And so here we are, still talking about lowering taxes when what we need is a little fiscal discipline and a little fat over the meat on the bone. We need to raise government revenue and have that government spend it to benefit the greater good of all us, get rid of the rust and make the bridge stronger so that we don't grit our teeth and grip the wheel tightly each time we drive over it.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Washington (CNN) -- When presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney appears before Latino small-business owners in Washington on Wednesday, he'll address a group whose explosive birth rates foreshadow a seismic political shift in GOP strongholds in the Deep South and Southwest.
"The Republicans' problem is their voters are white, aging and dying off," said David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, who studies minority political engagement.
"There will come a time when they suffer catastrophic losses with the realization of the population changes."
Remember, there was a time, in my lifetime so not too long ago, when Republicans were the liberal party and Democrats were the racist bigots. Had that dynamic not changed, a lot of us would be battling each other right now, defending which party actually was the more liberal.
Hard to believe, I know.
Diversity is a good thing. It generates new ideas and solutions. Look at the Republicans. Their entire platform can be summed up in four words: tax cuts for the rich. This is the same message they've run on since 1980 and on the whole it's been an epic failure, dramatically highlighted by the fact that when Democrats have managed to reverse some of those deep cuts and given them to the middle class, the economy has soared.
The problem with diversity is precisely what the DNC is facing right now. You have Blue Dog Dems and progressive Dems and DLC centrist Dems and the struggle for the soul of the party is going on right now. Our leadership, incluing President Obama but more in Congress (Pelosi and Reid) tout modestly progressive policies with the occasional nod towards populism, but they can't even get the flanks of their party to line up behind them.
It makes one long for the days of an LBJ or even Tip O'Neill, a day when the rank-and-file would join in on a vote.
Republicans have demonstrated that kind of party unity until very recently. The rise of the Teabaggers has seen that unity torn asunder under what amounts to loyalty oaths (Norquist's tax pledges) and threats to primary mavericks like Orrin Hatch and the recently deposed Richard Lugar.
Ironically, it is this demographic shift that makes these pledges and threats untenable. Sure, you might retain a Republican seat but if the electorate around him is shifting to a more Democratic-favorable population, then you lose the long-term battle that a moderate might win (I know, calling Hatch and Lugar "moderates" is a little like calling peanut butter "lubricating").
Even more ironically, these demographic shifts are occuring in the very states that have gone out of their way to make themselves a) insular and b) refuges for businesses.
That's right. It is the right-to-work states that have seen the largest influx of Latinos, meaning even more job pressure on the residents there. Those Latinos will work even cheaper than the poor white folks, so I expect to see "white-to-work" laws being rammed down the throats of the legislatures in those regions.
After all, look at what happened in Georgia and Alabama when anti-immigrant legislation was passed: crops practically withered and died until Hispanic groups and local farmers pushed back against the legislation.
Really. When the kindest thing your entire party can say about Hispanics is that they'll "self-deport" in the face of challenging economic times (Romney), you've jumped the shark on the entire demographic.
Latinos comprised the fastest-growing demographic in the south and are directly responsible for giving many if not most of the new Congressional seats apportioned to states like Texas and Georgia. Eventually, those groups will demand the political power that comes with this gift. Republicans have done yeoman work to make sure they won't be the party to benefit.
I said that diversity was a good thing, generally, and that means we really need a Republican party, too, but we need one that is vital and vibrant, generating ideas and solutions, not the same old failed mantras parrotted for decades.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
There's no way to go back to busing or 70s integration methods. Racism might be a factor, but the biggest problem is self-interest. People worry that integration will harm their kids and their property values.
One has a hard time discerning whether McKenna is talking about society at large or her own mind.
Not everyone is thrilled by the prospect of radical life extension. As funding for anti-aging research has exploded, bioethicists have expressed alarm, reasoning that extreme longevity could have disastrous social effects. Some argue that longer life spans will mean stiffer competition for resources, or a wider gap between rich and poor. Others insist that the aging process is important because it gives death a kind of time release effect, which eases us into accepting it. These concerns are well founded. Life spans of several hundred years are bound to be socially disruptive in one way or another; if we're headed in that direction, it's best to start teasing out the difficulties now.
But there is another, deeper argument against life extension---the argument from evolution. Its proponents suggest that we ought to avoid tinkering with any human trait borne of natural selection. Doing so, they argue, could have unforeseen consequences, especially given that natural selection has such a sterling engineering track record. If our bodies grow old and die, the thinking goes, then there must be a good reason, even if we don't understand it yet. Nonsense, says Bennett Foddy, a philosopher (and flash game developer!) from Oxford, who has written extensively about the ethics of life extension. "We think about aging as being a natural human trait, and it is natural, but it's not something that was selected for because it was beneficial to us." Foddy told me. "There is this misconception that everything evolution provides is beneficial to individuals and that's not correct."
The short answer to this silly conundrum is, evolution is designed for survival of the fittest, which implies adaptation not talent or ability. If our intelligence is the key to unlocking almost-permanent longevity-- I figure I have a 60% chance of living to 200, and a 10% chance of immortality-- then evolution is not going to make a value judgement on this. It's either going to encourage it or discourage it through the interplay of evolutionary factors.
For instance, if it's an inefficient strategy for the population as a whole, then we'll either not achieve it or we'll find the cons to achieving it more than outweigh the pros. Whether we pay attention to those signals is irrelevant: if another species finds a way to become the dominant one on this planet or we begin to die off, evolution will have had its say.
Monday, May 21, 2012
As a result, some gay advocates are calling on the court to give Ravi probation instead of prison time.
Among them is Aaron Hicklin, editor of Out magazine, who said in an article that Ravi was being made a scapegoat for Clementi's suicide.
Another, E.J. Graff, who writes about gay and lesbian issues, said in her column in The American Prospect, "I fear that Ravi is an easy scapegoat for a complicated problem."
Jim McGreevey, the gay former governor of New Jersey, and Dan Savage, a gay columnist, are others who say that Ravi's behavior, while wrong, is being dealt with too harshly.
At least one gay advocacy group, Garden State Equality, is pressing for prison time for Ravi, although less than the maximum 10 years.
"Justice is best served by his serving some jail time for the crime committed," Garden State CEO Steven Goldstein said. "The moderate position is not to throw the book at this young man, nor should he get off Scott free."