Archive for September, 2012

Twin challenges facing the U.S. political system

NOTE: This post includes some material published in earlier blog posts. It is posted here as the electronic version of today’s AJC print column:

As marriage counselors will attest, more marriages are broken up by fights over money than for any other reason. That’s particularly true during tough economic times, when dreams falter and tough choices have to be made. That reality also helps to explain the current state of American politics, which is bitter and highly emotional. The 2012 campaign season is at root a battle over money, with two partners each angrily insistent that the other one has lost all contact with the real world.

In trying to sort it all out, however, it’s important to acknowledge that we are actually struggling with two related yet very distinct challenges, and it’s important to think each of them through on their own terms.

Let’s start with this one: How do we finance our government? It is undeniably true that the U.S. government is living beyond its …

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A sordid trek through the right-wing fantasy swamps


I just returned from a trek through the fever swamps of the right, and I have to say, the trip was a bit unnerving. My goal was to track a particular piece of right-wing nonsense down to its source, in hopes that I might learn something about those who generate such stories, those who disseminate them and those who are willing to swallow them hook, line and sinker, time and time again.

This time, our trip starts with this rather startling headline from Redstate:


Now, if true, that would be a major story to say the least. It would also be the most stupid act of political suicide imaginable. It is inconceivable to any sane person that any American administration would consider releasing the mastermind of attacks on the World Trade Center that killed six Americans, injured more than a thousand and served as the precursor for the later attacks of Sept. 11. There is no rational universe in which that could be true.

Ahhhh, but the Redstate post contains actual links that …

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Who are Mitt Romney’s freeloading 46 percent?

Who are these 46 percent* of Americans who pay no income taxes (but who do pay a variety of other federal taxes, including payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare)?

The Tax Policy Center, which generated that statistic in the first place, breaks it down for us. They are:

  • Fifty percent of those not paying income tax are “tax units” — someone filing as an individual or a couple filing jointly — that simply make too little money. For example, ” … a couple with two children earning less than $26,400 will pay no federal income tax because their $11,600 standard deduction and four exemptions of $3,700 each reduce their taxable income to zero.” These are often working people — janitors, nursing home aides, Walmart clerks, etc. An income of $26,400 breaks down to one full-time job paying roughly $12.70 an hour.
  • Two-thirds of those who do not pay income taxes do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. The combined payroll tax on their labor of 15.3 percent exceeds the …

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Smile, Mitt Romney. You’re on Candid Camera!

UPDATE at 7:20 a.m.: Initially, some had attempted to brush this off as a “nonstory.” The Romney campaign itself has proved that claim wrong. You don’t call a late-night unscheduled televised press conference, as Romney did, to get ahead of a “nonstory.”

It’s also not true that this is something Romney has been saying on the campaign trail anyway. To my knowledge, he has sunk to this line of argument only once, back in the primaries. If I’m mistaken and he has done so more regularly, I’m sure that will surface.

In policy terms, Romney clearly believes that 47 percent of Americans — for the most part, the poorer 47 percent — ought to pay more in income taxes. There’s no other way to interpret the remarks, although some will surely try to give them imaginative new meaning. The recession has a lot to do with the increase in those not paying income tax, but a larger driver was the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. To build political support for tax cuts at the top end, President …

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How do GOP’s ‘pro-growth’ policies work? A quick review


That’s the number of people employed full-time in the private sector in January, 2001, when President George W. Bush raised his right hand to take the oath of office.


That’s the number of people employed by the private sector in January, 2005, after four years of supposedly “pro-growth” tax and regulatory policies almost identical to those now being proposed by Mitt Romney.


That’s the number of jobs “gained” in the first term of President Bush, even after major tax reductions in 2001 and 2003 that were supposed to jump-start hiring by giving more affluent Americans an incentive to invest.


That’s the number of people employed by the private sector in January, 2009, at the end of President Bush’s second term in office.


That’s the total number of private sector jobs “gained” by the U.S. economy in the eight-year period from January 2001 to January 2009 under President Bush.


That’s the number of people employed fulltime in the private sector as of August 2012, the most …

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Mitt’s economic adviser spills beans on middle-class tax hike

Martin Feldstein, a conservative Harvard economist, served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan. He is also an adviser to Mitt Romney. In that role, Feldstein recently undertook a study of Romney’s proposed tax “plan” to try to prove that it is indeed mathematically possible to accomplish the three basic promises of the Romney approach. They are:

– Cut individual tax rates by 20 percent across the board;
– Make up revenue lost through the lower rates by eliminating tax deductions.
– Ensure that taxes are not raised on the middle class.

Romney has since seized upon the Feldstein study as confirmation that his plan — vague as it is — holds together mathematically. However, there are at least three* rather large and well-documented problems with Feldstein’s study:

1.) To make the math work and maintain the fiction that taxes on the middle class won’t rise, Feldstein begins by redefining that middle class. Under his formulation, every household …

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Charter-school amendment not about charter schools

According to its backers, the proposed charter-school amendment on the ballot in November is intended to empower parents. As Gov. Nathan Deal put it back in May, “Georgians all across this state embrace the idea that parents should have more options and that parents should be more involved in the process of the education of their children.”

Parental involvement is good. Empowering parents is good. And charter schools have a legitimate, even important role to play in education in Georgia, which is why local school districts already have the power to create them, and why they continue to use that power. However, it’s one thing to embrace charter schools as an educational option. It is something else entirely to claim that creation of a new centralized state charter commission — a commission that is appointed, not elected, that has the capacity to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars, and that is not answerable to voters — somehow moves power closer to the people. …

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Tonight, a requiem for a friend

I lost a great, close friend last night — a brother from another mother. His name, like mine, was Jay. He was exactly one week older than I was. We each had two daughters, a matched set age wise, and today our daughters are as close as sisters.

Jay was the extrovert, I was the introvert; he was conservative, I was liberal. But in most of the ways that matter, we were a lot alike.

Of course, Jay would tell you that he was the taller one, the good-looking one, the smart one and the funny one. Ordinarily I would give him two of those, but tonight I’ll concede all four. (And yes, Jay, you now know that you have died and gone to heaven, because only in heaven would I let you have the last word like this.)

We also shared a similar taste in music. As often as our wives would let us — and on occasion more often than that — we’d hang out in the blues clubs and jazz clubs, trying not to get in too much trouble.

This was one of his favorite songs (and please forgive the occasional …

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I guess Romney ’sympathizes with those who attack America’

One of the following two statements is a “disgusting” bid to sympathize with and apologize to those who hate and attack America. It is an act of weakness.

The other, apparently, is nothing of the sort.

If you could explain to me the difference between the two, I would be deeply appreciative. Because I’ve read them over and over again and I confess I just do not get it.


“… the idea of using something that some people consider sacred and then parading that out a negative way is simply inappropriate and wrong. And I wish people wouldn’t do it. Of course, we have a First Amendment. And under the First Amendment, people are allowed to do what they feel they want to do. They have the right to do that, but it’s not right to do things that are of the nature of what was done by, apparently this film.”

“…. I think him making it, promoting it, showing it, is disrespectful to people of other faiths. I don’t think that should happen. I think people should have the common …

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Under President Romney, Mideast would be calm? Really?

From The Washington Post:

Advisers to Mitt Romney on Thursday defended his sharp criticism of President Obama and said that the deadly protests sweeping the Middle East would not have happened if the Republican nominee were president.

“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign policy adviser, said in an interview. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”

Williamson added, “In Egypt and Libya and Yemen, again demonstrations — the respect for America has gone down, there’s not a sense of American resolve and we can’t even protect sovereign American property.”

I’m sorry: That has to be one of the more ridiculous statements I have seen in a long time. Who’s running this campaign, Honey Boo-Boo?

So we are to believe that Mitt Romney, by the sheer Mitt-normity of his Mitt-strength, would square his Mitt-jaw …

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