Archive for January, 2012

Why do Newt and Mitt pay such different tax rates?

Mitt Romney has told reporters that he pays an effective tax rate of roughly 15 percent on his income. Newt Gingrich, wealthy but not in the same league as Romney, has released tax returns that indicate he paid an effective rate of 32 percent, more than twice as high as Romney’s rate.

How is that possible? Well, we still don’t have Romney’s tax returns, so all we can do is make highly educated guesses at this point. Romney tells us that “my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past,” and under federal law those dividends and capital gains are taxed at only 15 percent.

In Romney and Gingrich, then, we’ve got useful examples of two types of taxpayers: those who receive most of their income through investments, what used to be called unearned income; and those who receive most of their income through actual work, such as serving as historian to Fannie Mae. Those who earn their money directly pay much higher taxes than those who receive it through …

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Unlimited gift-giving is legalized bribery

The argument that I’ve heard and seen repeatedly against passage of a ban on expensive gifts from lobbyists comes down to this:

“If we try to limit lobbyist gifts, they’ll just go underground and keep doing it anyway. The best thing we can do is simply require them to report the gifts and leave it up to voters to decide whether the gift-taking is excessive.”

It’s a curious argument, especially coming from people who assure us that our elected representatives here in Georgia are generally good, ethical people. Boiled to its cynical essence, the argument tells us that our elected representatives are so addicted to free trips, meals, golf junkets and sports tickets that they’ll accept them even if it means breaking the law.

So rather than make them outlaws, we should allow the practice to continue?

Maybe you find that line of argument reassuring. I don’t. But if you want to find an expert on the subject, I suggest that you listen to Jack Abramoff, who was one of the most powerful …

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A critical debate for Republican hopefuls

Three things to watch for in tonight’s GOP presidential debate from Charleston, S.C.:

– In recent days, Mitt Romney hasn’t handled questions about his Bain years and his tax returns very smoothly. We can now add questions about large sums of money being held in offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands. That may be well within the legal rights of a private citizen; it’s less certain that voters will find it acceptable in a president. Romney will have repeated opportunities to address such concerns tonight.

– Asking your wife to accept an ongoing affair with a younger woman is also not unknown in private life. Whether voters find that acceptable in a potential president is again another matter. Newt Gingrich has had a great few days, beginning with a starring performance in a debate Monday. With a repeat performance tonight he could go a long way toward winning South Carolina and extending the contest with Romney.

– In tribute to the recently departed Rick Perry, I forget the …

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‘You have to admit it’s getting better…’

The auto company that Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans wanted to leave for dead on the side of the road is alive and well and employing more than 200,000, as the Detroit Free Press reports:

“It’s official.

General Motors surpassed Toyota and Volkswagen to reclaim the crown of world’s largest automaker with global sales of 9.03 million vehicles in 2011.

That was 11% higher than Volkswagen, which last week reported 2011 global sales of 8.16 million. Toyota has not yet reported its final 2011 sales, but last month the Japanese automaker estimated it sold 7.9 million vehicles globally last year….

GM’s 2011 sales rose 7.6% from 2011. Sales in the U.S. led the way for Chevrolet with total vehicle sales of 1,775,812, up more than 13%.

And then there’s this from Bloomberg:

Jan. 19 — Claims for jobless benefits last week dropped to the lowest level in almost four years, pointing to an improvement in the U.S. job market that may help bolster spending in the new …

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Perry dropping out, deferring to Newt

Oh boy, things are getting interesting.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry will reportedly drop out of the race today and endorse Newt Gingrich. One poll released today by Insider Advantage already shows Gingrich leading in South Carolina. Another shows Gingrich and Romney tied, with the former speaker carrying a lot of momentum into the final days of the primary scheduled for Saturday.

That sets up a high-stakes battle in tonight’s GOP debate on CNN. Personally, it is still inconceivable that the GOP has become so dysfunctional as to nominate Gingrich as its champion, but if Newt wins South Carolina, he’ll have a good claim to being the anointed conservative alternative to Romney and can at least make a race of it in Florida.

I guess I’ll be watching CNN tonight.

UPDATE: According to ABC News, Marianne Gingrich claims that Newt wanted to be “shared” between her and Callista in an open marriage. That may be enough to make me rethink my assessment that her comments won’t have much impact. …

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Romney still likely to limp into the winner’s circle

So Rick Santorum, the comeback kid, comes back to win the Iowa caucuses two weeks after they ended, defeating Mitt Romney in the final count by 34 votes with results from eight precincts still and forever missing. According to the Des Moines Register, “GOP officials discovered inaccuracies in 131 precincts, although not all the changes affected the two leaders. Changes in one precinct alone shifted the vote by 50 — a margin greater than the certified tally.”

This, from a party so obsessed with election security.

Meanwhile, polls show Newt Gingrich making his own bid for the “comeback kid” title, closing the gap with Romney both nationally and in South Carolina as well. His attacks — and Romney’s fumbling response — have for the first time opened up serious doubts about Romney’s general-election electability, which has been the foundation of his campaign.

The Republican theme going into the 2012 elections was that they were defending capitalism, not wealth. There is now …

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Obama about to delay Keystone pipeline

The Obama administration has reportedly decided not to allow construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, at least along the currently proposed route. The potential environmental dangers of running a major pipeline over one of the most important aquifers on the continent were simply too large, the administration has decided, especially in light of a truncated, 60-day review schedule forced upon it by congressional Republicans.

A different route, it has suggested, might produce a different decision.

That has touched off outrage among Republicans, even though the decision has not officially been announced yet. They hope to use the decision to dramatize their claim that the Obama administration is trying to discourage energy production in this country and has no interest in the additional jobs that would be created.(For a discussion of why those job estimates are vastly overstated, see here).

As Mitt Romney put it, “If Americans want to understand why …

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Mitt Romney and his ‘not very much’ problem

As an aside in acknowledging that he pays roughly 15 percent of his income in taxes, a lower share than many middle-class Americans, Mitt Romney also mentioned that he “gets speaker fees from time to time, but not very much.”

Campaign disclosure forms express that “not very much” in stark numerical terms: $374,000 in speaking fees from February 2010 to February 2011, when Romney ceased accepting paying gigs in order to run for president full time.

From Romney’s point of view, his description of that income is correct and understandable. If you have an estimated net worth of $270 million, $374,000 truly is “not very much,” a mere 0.14 percent of your wealth. On the other hand, from the point of view of most Americans, that same sum is really quite a lot. In fact, Romney’s income from speeches alone would put him in the fabled top 1 percent in terms of household income.

The issue is relevant not because it feeds some sort of voter envy over Romney’s wealth. It’s relevant in …

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Tea Party demands repeal of transit-funding law

Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, stood in the rotunda at the state Capitol last week and brandished a piece of paper for the TV cameras.

The paper contained a pledge, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal back when he was campaigning for office, in which Deal promised the taxpayers of Georgia that he “will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

So Dooley had a question: How can the governor square a pledge to oppose “any and all efforts to increase taxes” with his statements urging voters to approve a regional one-penny sales tax to raise money for transportation? Isn’t it pretty obvious that by offering such support, Deal violates his public commitment?

As she noted, other Republican leaders — Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, Senate President Tommie Williams, House Speaker David Ralston — have signed a similar no-tax pledge sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based pressure group.

If they intend to honor that pledge, …

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What Muhammad Ali can teach us about politics

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In boxing, it’s said that “styles make fights.” There was no better example of that truth than the three classic confrontations between the late Joe Frazier, who died in November, and Muhammad Ali, who today celebrates his 70th birthday.

Ali was the boxer, the stylist who could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Frazier was the fighter, always in your face, ready to take a few punches if it meant getting a chance to deliver a vicious, paralyzing left hook to the body. In the ring, the contrast between their two styles brought out the best in both fighters.

However, the maxim that styles make fights is also true in reverse: Styles make mismatches. Frazier, for example, is considered one of the top 10 heavyweights in boxing history, and in 1971 he defeated Ali, who had proclaimed himself The Greatest. Yet three years later, when Frazier climbed into the ring against a young George Foreman, his willingness to take punches proved his undoing. Frazier’s style played …

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