Friday Talking Points [459] -- Deficits Don't Matter, Again (Neither Moral Nor Financial)

[ Posted Friday, October 27th, 2017 – 17:29 UTC ]

There's an easy test to see whether Republicans in Congress care about financial deficits: Is there a Democrat in the White House? If so, then deficits are so important that the situation requires threats of government shutdowns and defaulting on the national debt to fight deficit spending. However, if there's a Republican in the White House, then (as Dick Cheney so eloquently put it) "deficits don't matter." This was on full hypocritical display once again this week, as congressional Republicans voted to blow a $1.5 trillion hole in the national debt, so that the wealthy and big corporations can enjoy massive tax cuts.

We haven't seen precisely what these tax cuts will entail. But from the absolute horse manure Republicans are already spouting about it, expect it to be pretty blatantly tilted towards the upper end of the income scale. Just one single change Republicans are considering would save Donald Trump a whopping 81 percent of his own federal income taxes, although few have noticed this fact yet. This week, unconcerned with the reaction to cutting the state and local income tax deduction, Republicans pondered cutting the tax-free deduction for 401(k) plans. When questioned whether all of these changes would cause taxes to actually rise on much of the middle class, we got a world-class "Big Lie" from Kevin Brady, chairman of the tax-writing House committee:

"In about a week, you will be able to see the reforms proposed and where we are heading with it," Brady said. He said he couldn't guarantee that every American would see their taxes go down because of the changes, but he could "guarantee that every American will be better off because of a simpler tax code that lowers those rates and improves their paychecks."

To reiterate: your taxes may be going up, but you will be "better off" because the simpler tax code will have "improved" your paycheck. This is flat-out insane on the face of it. A smaller paycheck is an improved paycheck? In what universe? All so Trump can save four out of every five dollars he used to owe. Winning!

It might be helpful, at this point, to take a quick look back at how the George W. Bush tax cuts worked out (which we wrote about earlier in the week, highlighting a new study). The evidence is pretty clear:

High-income taxpayers benefited most from these tax cuts, with the top 1 percent of households receiving an average tax cut of over $570,000 between 2004-2012 (increasing their after-tax income by more than 5 percent each year). Despite promises from proponents of the tax cuts, evidence suggests that they did not improve economic growth or pay for themselves, but instead ballooned deficits and debt and contributed to a rise in income inequality.... [T]he Bush tax cuts (including those that policymakers made permanent) would add $5.6 trillion to deficits from 2001 to 2018. This means that the Bush tax cuts will be responsible for roughly one-third of the federal debt owed by 2018.

Something to keep in mind, while wading through the inevitable tsunami of false promises Republicans are about to make on the wonderfulness of trickle-down economics, over the next few weeks.

The real winners this particular week, however, were the big Wall Street banks, who successfully pushed a bill through to strip consumers' rights to enter into class action lawsuits against them. Now they will be free to screw their customers over without having to worry about big lawsuits in response. Winning!

Sexual harassment (or worse) was another all-consuming subject this week, with the list of prominent men accused by multiple women being expanded almost daily. This week saw the addition of Mark Halperin (one of the smarmiest political commentators around) and George H. W. Bush, who apparently grabs women by the ass (from his wheelchair, no less) while telling them the following "joke": "Want to know my favorite magician? David Cop-a-feel!"

You just cannot make this stuff up. And it needs to end, now.

Of course, in politics, accusations of this sort haven't had the same sort of effect they've had elsewhere, or at the very least they are applied pretty selectively. After all, Congress conveniently exempts itself from normal federal workplace rules on harassment, which isn't likely to change any time soon:

"It is not a victim-friendly process. It is an institution-protection process," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has unsuccessfully pushed to overhaul how harassment cases are handled [by Congress]. "I think we would find that sexual harassment is rampant in the institution. But no one wants to know, because they'd have to do something about it."

And, according to the Trump White House, every woman who has ever accused Donald Trump of bad behavior, is obviously a liar:

"Obviously, sexual harassment has been in the news," Jacqueline Alemany of CBS News asked [Sarah Huckabee] Sanders. "At least 16 women accused the president of sexually harassing them throughout the course of the campaign. Last week, during a press conference in the Rose Garden, the president called these accusations 'fake news.' Is the official White House position that all of these women are lying?"

"Yeah, we've been clear on that from the beginning, and the president's spoken on it," Sanders said, before quickly pivoting to another reporter to ask a question.

This was on top of Trump repeatedly calling a Gold Star mother a liar this week, it bears pointing out. Speaking of double standards, just imagine how Republicans would act if a Democratic president ever did such a thing! But this just fits in with the current White House's "everyone who says anything bad about Trump has to be lying" worldview. So much for all those "Support the troops!" Republicans, who have been completely silent (with the exception of a few, but we'll get to Jeff Flake in the talking points later on).

In other conspiracy-theory news, most of the final files on the assassination of John F. Kennedy were released -- although something like 300 files are still being withheld from the public. Astoundingly, this is one area where Americans widely agree -- in a remarkably bipartisan fashion -- that their government is still lying to them. It's like an adult version of the board game "Clue" -- it was the C.I.A., on the Grassy Knoll, with an umbrella gun!

In other mind-bending news, Trump finally followed through (kind of) on his two-month-old promise to declare a national emergency over the opioid crisis. Nothing like waiting two months during an emergency, eh? Trump, though, only labeled the crisis a "public health emergency" rather than a "national emergency," which means lots of federal money and resources now won't be available to fight it. The statement frees up one federal account to fight the crisis... that has less than $60,000 in it. Nancy Pelosi reacted to this news by telling Trump: "show me the money." There are even other changes to federal regulations that could easily be made, but probably make too much sense for the current Congress to even consider.

In an extraordinary mea culpa column in the Washington Post, an evangelical leader fully admits how his own reaction to the opioid crisis differs from his reaction to the 1980s crack epidemic:

So what I am struck by now is how my perspective has changed. Sure, I'm a few decades older and have learned some things, but it's worth noting what crack meant to us. It meant black street crime.

Today, what the opioid epidemic means for many of us: Whites need treatment.

This isn't from a spokesman for Black Lives Matter or anything, mind you, it is from the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He does apologize profusely for his own past behavior -- better late than never, we guess.

Let's see, what else? An energy company with only two employees was given the exclusive $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid, and the company just happens to be from the same town that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is from. What a coincidence! Nothing swamplike about that deal, right?

The National Park Service was in the news this week, first for floating the idea of hiking the entrance fees to popular parks into the stratosphere. But anyone who thinks "if the parks need more money, why not hike the fees?" should know the facts of the matter:

[I]t would take more than 161 years for that extra annual revenue to wipe out the entire $11.3 billion [parks maintenance] backlog -- to say nothing of the maintenance needs that would arise between now and then. On top of that, the fees would offset less than one-quarter of the $297 million Park Service budget cut proposed by the Trump administration.

And, sadly, the N.P.S. has denied a permit for a 45-foot statue of a nude woman to be displayed on the National Mall. Their excuse for denying the permit? She'd be too tall, by a foot or so. Our reaction was that the statue actually should have been a few feet taller, which would have made The Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman jokes so much easier to make.

Speaking of things that are sky-high, public support for marijuana legalization just reached an astounding all-time high of 64 percent. This is up four points from last year, and a whopping 52 points since Gallup first began asking the question, back in 1969. Also for the first time, even 51 percent of Republicans now favor outright legalization. The new numbers led Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon (who has been fighting against the federal War On Weed for years now) to predict: "this controversy will be over in less than five years." We certainly hope you're right, Earl.

And finally, we have to end with the cutest of the cute -- political cats online! In New Zealand, "Paddles" the cat will soon officially take office as the @FirstCatofNZ, as his owner (Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern) will soon become prime minister. This led to congratulations from the British First Cat (@Number10cat) as well as many others. Paddles already loves to tweet, from the mundane: "hey dad. love you. please bring home some fish," to the self-promotional (accompanying a photo of Puddles being presented to the press): "Thanks Mum for bringing me out so I can speak to the press. Must give the people what they want -- and what they want is me. Prrrrp."

Prrrrp, indeed!


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards this week, one as a follow-up on the MIDOTW from last week, and one looking forward.

Last week, Senators Tim Kaine and Michael Bennet were honored for introducing their plan for "Medicare-X" (their version of "the public option") into the healthcare debate. So this week we feel honor-bound to award Senator Brian Schatz of Hawai'i his own MIDOTW. Here's the full story:

On Wednesday, Schatz unveiled the "State Public Option Act," which would allow states to create a version of Medicaid open to people shopping for insurance on their own through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges.

The coverage available through the new program would not be identical to coverage that Medicaid recipients get now. States could design plans with significant deductibles, for example, or without every single benefit that Medicaid provides. But they would have to abide by all of the ACA's standards, including an overall ceiling on out-of-pocket expenses and requirements that plans cover mental health, maternity care and other "essential" services.

The coverage would be available to everybody regardless of pre-existing conditions.

People who qualify for the ACA's tax credits could use them to help pay premiums. And for those who don't get the ACA tax credits, the law would cap premiums in the new Medicaid program at 9.5 percent of household income. That ceiling is critical, because it would help the people who struggle the most under "Obamacare" -- namely, people who are too wealthy to qualify for government subsidies but who, today, can't find private coverage without paying high, sometimes exorbitant premiums.

We're not going to get drawn into a debate over the relative merits of this plan versus the one introduced last week, or for that matter how they both stack up against Bernie Sanders's "Medicare For All" plan. Because we're more concerned with applauding all such legislative efforts.

Democrats should not try to beat Republicans next year with nothing. They need to offer something, instead -- concrete examples of what Democrats stand for, in other words. Sure, these bills will not pass a Republican-led Congress, but they might just help convince voters that their lives could improve in tangible ways if Democrats regain power on Capitol Hill.

Standing up for something always beats sitting on the sidelines and sniping at the other party. All of these healthcare efforts in the Senate achieve this goal. We can debate their relative merits and drawbacks later -- say, when Chuck Schumer is Senate Majority Leader.

Our second MIDOTW award goes to Tom Steyer, for the ad he's currently running nationwide. Steyer is a big Democratic donor, and he spent $10 million of his own money (he's a billionaire), plus "a seven-figure social media buy" to get his message across:

The ad, titled "Join Us" features Steyer as the narrator.

"[Donald Trump has] brought us to the brink of nuclear war," Steyer said in the ad, referring to heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Steyer said Trump obstructed justice in his firing of former F.B.I. director James Comey. "And in direct violation of the Constitution he's taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth."

"If that isn't the case for impeaching and removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become?" Steyer asked. "I'm Tom Steyer, and like you, I'm a citizen who knows it's up to us to do something. It's why I'm funding this effort to raise our voices together and demand that elected officials take a stand on impeachment."

Also from the ad:

"A Republican Congress once impeached a president for far less, and today people in Congress and his own administration know that this president is a clear and present danger," Steyer says in the ad, which directs viewers to a NeedToImpeach website.

Amusingly, Steyer bought ad time on Fox And Friends, which as everyone knows is one of Trump's favorite TV shows. Trump took the bait, tweeting back: "Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer, who has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning, never wins elections!"

Steyer has reportedly been considering tossing his own hat into the political ring, perhaps for the California governor's race or perhaps for Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat. This is, obviously, him testing the political waters.

Whether he decides to run or not, Steyer deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week for the ad alone, and for putting up the money to insure that even Trump got to see it. As more and more people figure out who exactly it is who is "wacky & totally unhinged," Steyer will be seen as getting out in front of the impeachment idea.

[Contact Senator Brian Schatz on his Senate contact page, and Tom Steyer via his NeedToImpeach webpage, to let them know what you think of their actions.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We hate to beat up on the guy by quoting right-wing news sources, but in this instance, it is deserved.

For the second week in a row, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Perez was trying to push an idea for how to change presidential elections, but he just flat-out got his facts wrong:

Perez made the comment while speaking at Indiana University Law School's Sixth Annual Birch Bayh Lecture. "The Electoral College is not a creation of the Constitution. It doesn't have to be there," he said. "There's a national popular vote compact in which a number of states have passed a bill that says we will allocate our vote, our electoral votes, to the person who wins the national popular vote once other states totaling 270 electoral votes do the same." Perez went on to note the first state to pass such a measure was Maryland. Contrary to Perez's claim, the U.S. Constitution establishes the Electoral College in Article II.

Ouch. While we do agree with Perez that the N.P.V. movement is worth a look, with the political position he holds he should know full well what is in the Constitution and what is not. Section 1 of Article II outlines in great detail the Electoral College's existence. It is indeed "a creation of the Constitution." He can't even make the excuse that he was confused because it was later added as an amendment or anything -- it's been right there since the beginning.

We expect better from the Democratic Party's national leader, to be blunt. If you're going to make sweeping statements in public speeches, you really need to check your facts first. Most especially when it comes to our founding documents.

[Contact Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez on his contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 459 (10/27/17)

We have two completely unrelated notes before we begin today: (1) We'd like to wish Martin Luther's 95 theses a happy 500th anniversary! Protestantism is now officially a half-millennium old. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the news of the week, but how often do we get to celebrate a quincentennial? And (2), for those of you who were expecting to see pumpkins today, we decided that our annual Hallowe'en column will be running Monday this year rather than Friday. Since the holiday falls on Tuesday night, if we had carved jack-o-lanterns for today's article, they'd be nothing but mush by the time the trick-or-treaters arrived. So you'll have that to look forward to next week.

With that out of the way, welcome to a rather unusual talking points section, because we are turning the whole thing over to contrarian Republicans this week, on the subject of moral deficits emanating from the White House. Denouncing Trump seems to be spreading, meaning the "Resist!" movement is now making serious inroads among the ranks of Republicans, in rhetoric if not in actual votes.

Before we get to the GOP senators, however, a quick preface. People in the White House just cannot seem to stop themselves from speaking about President Trump as if he were a toddler. Here's this week's example, in reaction to the news that the White House is cutting Trump's trip to Asia short rather than have him attend the East Asia Summit in the Philippines, despite it being scheduled to fit in to Trump's trip. The reason?

Multiple administration officials told me there was a lengthy debate inside the Trump administration about the summit, but officials close to Trump were concerned the president did not want to stay in the region for so long and worried he could get cranky, leading to unpredictable or undiplomatic behavior.

"Cranky"? Seriously? Maybe someone should start a #TrumpAsToddler hashtag, or something. When in all of American history have the words "worried he could get cranky" been applied to a president -- by a member of the White House staff, no less?

But that certainly wasn't the worst thing Republicans said about Trump this week. Senator Bob Corker made the rounds of the morning news shows bright and early Monday morning, to denounce Trump in as many ways as he could think of. Here's just one example out of many to choose from:

"I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way that he does, but he does," Corker said, adding that he wasn't sure Trump was a good role model for children.

Trump, of course, mean-tweeted back, mocking Corker as "liddle" once again -- less than 24 hours after Melania Trump warned children about the evils of cyberbullying. Talk about instant karma!

Corker, however, is getting better at his countertweeting: "Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDayCareStaff." Gotta love that hashtag!

This all happened before Trump had lunch with all the Republican senators, which was supposed to be (as Trump put it later) a "lovefest" for Trump. Some Republicans weren't taking this very seriously, notably Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who tweeted an image of him getting some popcorn with the text: "Ready for lunch with POTUS and @SenateGOP." With a popcorn emoji, just for good measure.

When the lunch ended, GOP senator John Kennedy of Louisiana got in another snarky dig (with a hat-tip to Dan Aykroyd): "A very positive meeting. Nobody called anybody an ignorant slut or anything."


But all of this turned out to be only the appetizers for the real anti-Trump broadside of the day. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona rose on the Senate floor to announce he wouldn't be running for re-election, because to win his Republican primary, he'd have to run a race he would be disgusted with.

Before we get to excerpting Flake's words, though, one point needs to be made. Sure, it's fun for Democrats to see Republicans badmouth Trump and all of that. But let's keep it all in perspective. For instance, just because George W. Bush gave an anti-Trump speech last week shouldn't mean we all engage in false Bush nostalgia, since he really set the scene for much of Trump's style and substance.

Just because Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are denouncing Trump doesn't mean that they aren't just as conservative as they've always been -- for instance, both men voted for the odious bank bill this week, which strips consumers' rights to sue banks. This was a close vote, too -- Vice President Mike Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote (Lindsey Graham and the aforementioned Aykroyd-channeling John Kennedy voted against it, to their credit). Flake and Corker have been coy about whether they'll support the Trump tax cuts or not, but in the end they'll likely vote to blow up the deficit along with all the other hypocritical Republicans. So one speech doesn't exactly equate to a profile in courage or anything.

Even so, Flake's speech was astonishingly direct. Which is why we're using the talking points to highlight exactly what he said. The following two excerpts are rather long, but we felt they were important enough to extensively quote, due to the seriousness of Flake's charges. Everyone should read Flake's speech in its entirety, in fact, but here are the things that we felt stood out:

In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order -- that phrase being "the new normal." But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue -- with the tone set at the top.

We must never regard as "normal" the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country -- the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that this is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as "telling it like it is," when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength -- because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.

It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, "Why didn't you do something? Why didn't you speak up?" -- what are we going to say?

. . .

A Republican president named Roosevelt had this to say about the president and a citizen's relationship to the office:

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile." President Roosevelt continued. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

. . .

It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party -- the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.

There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal -- but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

Flake then followed this speech up with an opinion piece he wrote for the Washington Post, where he drew a parallel to another dark time in American history.

As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.

On June 9. 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, Welch, who was the chief counsel for the Army, famously asked the committee chairman if he might speak on a point of personal privilege. What he said that day was so profound that it has become enshrined as a pivotal moment in defense of American values against those who would lay waste to them. Welch was the son of a small prairie town in northwest Iowa, and the plaintive quality of his flat Midwestern accent is burned into American history. After asking Sen. Joseph McCarthy for his attention and telling him to listen with both ears, Welch spoke:

"Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness."

And then, in words that today echo from his time to ours, Welch delivered the coup de grace: "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

The moral power of Welch's words ended McCarthy's rampage on American values, and effectively his career as well.

After Welch said his piece, the hearing room erupted in applause, those in attendance seemingly shocked by such bracing moral clarity in the face of a moral vandal. Someone had finally spoken up and said: Enough.

By doing so, Welch reawakened the conscience of the country. The moment was a shock to the system, a powerful dose of cure for an American democracy that was questioning its values during a time of global tumult and threat. We had temporarily forgotten who we were supposed to be.

We face just such a time now. We have again forgotten who we are supposed to be.

There is a sickness in our system -- and it is contagious.

How many more disgraceful public feuds with Gold Star families can we witness in silence before we ourselves are disgraced?

How many more times will we see moral ambiguity in the face of shocking bigotry and shrug it off?

How many more childish insults do we need to see hurled at a hostile foreign power before we acknowledge the senseless danger of it?

How much more damage to our democracy and to the institutions of American liberty do we need to witness in silence before we count ourselves as complicit in that damage?

Nine months of this administration is enough for us to stop pretending that this is somehow normal, and that we are on the verge of some sort of pivot to governing, to stability. Nine months is more than enough for us to say, loudly and clearly: Enough.

The outcome of this is in our hands. We can no longer remain silent, merely observing this train wreck, passively, as if waiting for someone else to do something. The longer we wait, the greater the damage, the harsher the judgment of history.

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post


33 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [459] -- Deficits Don't Matter, Again (Neither Moral Nor Financial)”

  1. [1] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    "Expect it (the tax cuts) to be pretty blatantly tilted toward the upper income end of the income scale."

    Well yeah, we are still talking about income taxes, right? And the people at the lower end of the income scale (the bottom half of all Americans) aren't even included in the federal income tax system. Not surprising that even crooked politicians can't come up with a way to reduce taxes on people who don't even pay taxes!

    Also, I can certainly sympathize with the women who complain that ex pres. Bush Sr grabs their asses, but ya gotta remember, when you're 93 yrs old and confined to a wheelchair, asses are pretty much the only thing that you can reach!

  2. [2] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Also, I can certainly sympathize with the women who complain that ex pres. Bush Sr grabs their asses, but ya gotta remember, when you're 93 yrs old and confined to a wheelchair, asses are pretty much the only thing that you can reach!

    Would you say the same thing if he was biting men on their junk? Probably not. I doubt that Bush Sr. is an equal opportunity groper with his “David Cop-a-feel” joke!

  3. [3] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Great column again, CW. You covered alot of ground this week, so forgive me if this comment ends up covering too little (or too much).

    On taxes: As you noted Wednesday, the Bush tax cuts were an actual real-world test of the 'trickle down' theory, and it didn't work out as planned - we ended with anemic growth and ballooning deficits. Republicans had a slew of excuses for that, but the bottom line was that Clinton had done better after his tax hike in '93 than Bush did with his 'historic' tax cuts in '03. Obama's results were mixed, mostly due to the fact that he threw lots of tax cuts into the Stimulus Bill in the hope that it would bring GOP votes into his camp. It didn't, and Republicans still managed to savage the effort. And despite the fact that it included the largest chunk of public works expenditures in a half century, the left found plenty to hate about it too. Bi-partisanship at its best. ahem.

    At the bottom of the comments section to that column, C.R. and I had a back-and-forth that I thought was pretty good, in case you missed it, about 10 posts in all (not that long - Michale used to do that much per hour!). Since then, I've found another useful article about Who Pays Income Taxes from Pew Research that has good up-to-date numbers.

    My question is: if it were actually true, as conservatives like to say, that 50% of Americans don't pay any taxes, why require them to file, and the IRS to process all of those tax forms, when it would be simpler and cheaper to simply figure the taxes themselves for us (allowing the option for us to 'correct' their math later, if necessary), and just cut checks for for refunds and mail them out?
    Or do they just like to harass folks for no reason?
    This wasn't my idea, but it sure seems like a good time to bring it up.

    On the harassment scandals: about time the pussy-grabbers got their turn in the spotlight, after making nice guys like me feel inadequate since grade school for not being as crass as they were. Here's hoping the grabber-in-chief doesn't escape from this one unscathed again, as he managed to do during the campaign.

    Good news about public support for legalization. I just wish it would hurry up - at this rate, it will be legalized in my state at about the same time I start breathing through a tube, which would remind me too much of my high school years.

    About Flake: best quote of the week about this was from Stephen Colbert, who called Flake and Corker out for quitting just as they were beginning to make sense: “They finally grow a set," said Colbert, "Then they say, ‘I’m taking my balls and going home.’”

    Finally, I'm a bit disappointed that you again missed the opportunity to give the MIDOTW to Rep. Frederica Wilson for continuing to stand her ground in the face of withering attack from the GOP media, and lies from the White House (Maher quipped tonight that the GOP loves cowboy hats - except for when black women wear them).

    Another that I'd applaud is San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who is, after a month and eight days, still the only US official able to get the press to remember that the humanitarian crisis hasn't abated there. Honestly, if she wasn't still raising hell about it, would anyone still be talking about it?

  4. [4] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    P.S. Forgot to mention that the Republicans finally got serious about investigations this week - of Hillary Clinton. This follows the build-up given to a trumped-up (sorry) story by conservative reporters from The Hill that resurrected an old beef republicans had regarding the sale of a uranium mine in Canada (that I wrote about in some detail in the comment section of last week's FTP).

    Two investigations, in fact. Turns out, I guess, that Republicans are so enamored with the past that they can't even let go of old enemies.

  5. [5] 
    neilm wrote:

    Typo Alert CW:

    Steyer was trying to push an idea for how to change presidential elections, but he just flat-out got his facts wrong:

    Should read "Perez was trying ..."

  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Be it known, all CW followers, that this old geezer has finally seen the error of his ways. After a couple of weeks of exchanging philosophical/ideological ideas and viewpoints with Balthasar and others who frequent Chris's forum, I have experienced an epiphany that will surely be recognized as equivalent to that of Saul on the road to Tarsus!

    As a result of that experience, I suddenly recognize what it actually is that is wrong with America. All of our problems can be epitomized in the single hateful fact that the highly productive among us, in an egregious manifestation of greed and avarice, are unwilling to share the fruits of their labors with the rest of us in any measure that we would ever be willing to settle for.

    Of course, the practical implications of my epiphany serve to greatly simplify political life in general, and governmental policy in particular. All that has to happen is, everybody's gotta vote for Bernie Sanders or his clones for evermore!

    Voila! Problems solved. Bet nobody ever dreamed it could be that easy.

  7. [7] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Thanks, Don Harris, for some interesting thoughts on various ways to manipulate the Electoral College system without actually abolishing it and its state-based assumptions about who, actually, is 'electing' the president.

    My take on Perez's foolish-sounding statement is that he was trying to say, not that the Electoral College is not in the Constitution, but that the way the College presently operates is not in the Constitution. The Constitution does not say states must observe a winner-take-all rule; it does not say that the people must elect the Electors in a democratic election; it does not say that Electors must be identified by party and/or by a candidate they are pledged to vote for if he or she wins a majority in the state. So Perez earned his ridicule by speaking carelessly, but he had a serious point he was trying to make. Very little of the EC system as we currently practice it is "in the Constitution."

    The problem with 'reforming' the EC system, of course, is that each party will only support suggested reforms that ensures a higher percentage of presidential victories for itself going forward.

    To end-run a reform or abolition by constitutional amendment, which won't happen ever, leads to jerry-rigged ideas like the NPVC or Don's alternative "State Compacts"; or, from the GOP side, the simpler and more achievable strategy of voter suppression and gerrymandering on a state by state basis.

  8. [8] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    CR [8]: Okay, sarcasm. But you've missed my point entirely, and insisted on turning it, again, into a matter of good v. bad people, which it isn't either.

    Nor am I a Bernie Bro., as many here can attest. I generally appreciate and agree with his goals, but dispute the path that he would take to achieve them.

    Let me illustrate: imagine a tribe of cow-herders, and that in this tribe the cows are very unevenly distributed. Some folks have many cows, others have one, two, or three, but some have no cow at all, and others are too lame or elderly to raise a cow.

    But one year there is a famine, and the Chief convenes a council to decide how best to feed everyone.

    The communists say, redistribute the cows, so that everyone has one.

    The socialists say, keep the cows in a general pen, and use them as needed.

    The progressives say, take a cow from the villager with the most cows, butcher it, and distribute the meat to those with no cow. In the spring, distribute calves to them and see if they can raise them.

    The conservatives say, require those with fewer cows to work for those with more cows; eventually there will be enough leftovers generated so that those with no cows can eat. In the spring, maybe they can try to buy a calf.

    The totalitarians say, let he with the most cows decide who gets to eat and who doesn't.

    The authoritarians say, you're the Chief, you decide who eats and who doesn't.

    And the libertarians say, why intervene at all? Those with cows will eat, and those without, won't.

    Now imagine that you're the Chief, and your sibling is among those with no cow. How would you decide?

  9. [9] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    I see at least one glitch in your scenario. You never indicated that this tribe has a bull? Where are the calves going to come from for distribution to the cow-less??

    In a more serious vein, of course as a result of the enlightenment arising from my recent epiphany/conversion (above), I would now go with your "communist" solution, even knowing full well that by the following spring after the cows had been equally distributed, the same people who had no cows prior to the distribution would once again be cow-less. That's inevitable with the unproductive.

    But PRIOR to my epiphany/conversion, I would have said the first thing to do would be to segregate the cow-less according to the reason(s) for their cowless-ness. Some would be cow-less because they were too young, some because they were too old, some because they were too ill or otherwise physically handicapped, some because they were too incompetent/dumb, and some because they were too lazy.

    Then I would levy a graduated "progressive"tax on those with cows, with which I would support the too young, the too old, the too sick/handicapped, and even the too incompetent, but I'd tell the too lazy they were on their own.

    Then I'd abdicate my position of decision-maker, and let the people fight over that thing where "the devil is always found" - you know, the details, meaning at what LEVEL should the various cow-less by supported?

    Hey, waddya ya know, that's right we ourselves are right now!!

  10. [10] 
    TheStig wrote:


    ..."ya gotta remember, when you're 93 yrs old and confined to a wheelchair, asses are pretty much the only thing that you can reach!"

    Bush Sr. is 93 years of age and suffers from vascular Parksinson's. Cognitive deficits, including changed/inappropriate behavior are recognized signs of the disease. I'm surprised the press hasn't brought this possibility up, especially since Bush Sr. was known for upper class standards of etiquette tuned to any occasion. Ass grabbing was not part his routine, at least not in public appearances.

    The Bush family may be reluctant to publicly acknowledge his cognitive declines out of respect for his dignity. Nobody likes to see an old lion lose his teeth, or his marbles for that matter, but mental decline and changes in personality are some of the many hazards of living a very long life.

  11. [11] 
    TheStig wrote:


    "Mark Halperin (one of the smarmiest political commentators around)"

    He's no Morton Halperin. This apple rolled far away from the tree, into the gutter and got squashed by a truck.

    Meanwhile, Republican apologist media has been busy making false equivalency arguments of Clinton:Trump collusion with Russia. In fact, Clinton is guilty, Trump is innocent (and shuffling his feet with hands behind his back. All old wine in new bottles, so why now? Won't work outside the Core Contemptibles. Ah, but it appears somebody in Trumpville is about to be indicted, possibly on Monday. It's time to for the Orange Squid Man to generate some smoke and scuttle away.

  12. [12] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    The Stig

    Well understood. I'm only a couple steps behind Bush Sr. myself, but I'm still upright so for the time being at least, I have more options where to squeeze.

  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    bush senior was always incredibly well-respected by members of both parties. while his mental deterioration is a tough thought to countenance, it beats the alternative.

    now about those cows... it's the cows who have calves and give the milk, while the stable workers do all the milking, butchering, husbandry and so forth. yet it is the people who own the cows who are categorized as "productive."

    but how can the chief order any cows to be shared when they don't really belong to the owners themselves. legally they belong to the owners' imaginary friend CowCO, who lives on a faraway island where he stores millions of stored-up steaks that the chief can't access. further, neither the owners nor their imaginary friend can be held responsible for all the cow chips that are polluting the entire tribe's drinking water.

    that's externalities for ya.


  14. [14] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Thanks, C.R., Don, JL for getting into the Great Cow Debate(heh). [12,ff] Interesting. I had meant for it to be rhetorical, as in, 'everybody's got an agenda', but either overshot or seriously undershot my point.

    Anyway all of the answers have been interesting, and each was idiosyncratically original.

    C.R. pointedly dismisses the communists, and then suggests 'progressive' taxation in his solution, but then inexplicably ends by conjuring a scapegoat class: 'lazy' villagers, who don't exist in the setup question, but who, by his reckoning, deserve to die just for being so uninspired. wow.

    Don, however, makes a strong bid to top him by raising the issue of Food Consent. Sir Paul McCartney is with you Don, as he's avowed publicly that he won't eat anything that ever had a face.

    So is my Waffle house waitress, who suggested milking the cows, rather than slaughtering them, and living on cheese. You could make a binding contract...

    JL tops everyone, I think, with the conjuring of Cowco, corporate overlords and oppressors of the Chief and his villagers. Well, it has been "Conspiracy Week", so why not?

  15. [15] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Well if you ask me....

    The cows having grown tired of the constant cycle of slaughter while being the productive members in the equation have decided to breakaway and declare independence in Cowtelonia.

    CowCo CEO is upset at the attempted breakaway of the cows and has sacked the heardmaster for allowing the Cowtelonian movement to gain steam and have rallied the cows loyal to CowCo to protest the breakaway.

    The leaders of the Cowtelonian movement have stated they are willing to talk as long as they can get a better policy regarding slaughter and working hours for producing milk. Angus B. Cow the leader of the movement stated "why can't the villagers just use our chips to help grow more vegetables so more of us don't have to be slaughtered for CowCo intrests? Why won't CowCo diversify? They already have to many steaks."

    Will the status quo prevail or a new order be established that forces the villagers to eat more vegetables?

    Only time, tweets, and backdoor negotiations with the leaders of Cowtelonia will determine.

    Stay tuned for breaking news, up next in the Situation Room endless loops of the same stuff you just spent 30 minutes watching with vowel by vowel analysis by Wolf Blitzer. If you haven't already gone numb we will see you after the break.

  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:

    Oh where is Spicer when you need him to explain again what a "limited role" Manafort played in the Trump campaign and how former National Security Advisor Flynn was simply a campaign "volunteer"? Anyone trying to convince you that Manafort had a "limited role" in the Trump campaign and that we should all be focusing on Hillary Clinton is someone who thinks the majority of Americans are stupid people.

  17. [17] 
    TheStig wrote:

    "Paul Manafort, Come On Down!

    Paul appears to be the first contestant to participate in Legal Jeopardy, the latest incarnation of the durable Merv Griffin staple.

    Contestants are presented with evidence of questionable activities (such as, "buying condos with bags of cash") and must answer with an applicable crime, phrased as a question (What is money laundering?) Criminal Activities are arranged in order of sentencing guidelines, increasing from left to right across the board. Contests hope to choose the hidden "Pardon Box" and avoid the dreaded "Double Jeopardy" for failing to answer in the form of a question.

  18. [18] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Mixed game-show metaphors?

    I think the "Come on down" hearkens back to "The price is Right", not to "Jeopardy".

  19. [19] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I'll cop a plea on that...but it fit so well.

  20. [20] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    In case anyone is interested: the entire indictment against Manafort can be read at:

  21. [21] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    There's a better copy at the Justice Dept website:

  22. [22] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Manafort seemed to have a talent for coming up with boring names for his shell companies, but one stands out for me - "Black Sea View, Ltd."

    It was precisely a 'Black Sea view' for the Russian fleet that Putin was seeking when he invaded Crimea!

  23. [23] 
    Paula wrote:

    Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos!

    Was he wearing a wire? Does it matter? If Blotus/Gang think he might have been wired…whooo boy!

  24. [24] 
    Paula wrote:

    And here’s the rub: This is only Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s opening salvo.

    As opening salvos go, it’s a doozy.

  25. [25] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Here is the statement of fact for Papadopoulos...

    Makes for good reading.

  26. [26] 
    TheStig wrote:

    goode trickle -33

    A good read indeed. It looks US intelligence was reading a lot of Russian E-mail and listening to a lot of Russian phone calls.

    Papadop's goose was cooked before the FBI ever interviewed him. A lot of Trump's friends, family and staff must be very worried....which is the whole point as far as the FBI is concerned.

  27. [27] 
    Kick wrote:


    Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos!

    I know, right! Turns out there are sealed indictments. Who knew? ;)

    Was he wearing a wire?

    Signs point to yes ~ Magic 8-Ball

  28. [28] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Paula - 32

    Also a very interesting read. Gives some idea of why the no knock search was approved. Trump can go stuff his "nothing to it" tweets up his Putin hole.

  29. [29] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Now perhaps it is just me...

    I find the deafening silence in relations to Flynn very interesting...

  30. [30] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Good point, GT. The question with Flynn is, will he stay quiet, hoping for a pardon? Of all of the actors, he's the one with the least exposure to prosecution at the state level.

    On the other hand, like everyone else on this Orient Express, he seems to have had offices or business dealings in Alexandria and New York, so he's not entirely in the clear.

    And his lawyer already sent a letter to Senate Investigators indicating that he has "a lot to tell" in return for immunity. I imagine that Mueller believes him, but would remind him that Manafort also offered to sing for his freedom.

    So the game is afoot!

  31. [31] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    C. R. Stucki [1] -

    Yeah, yeah, the old Willie Sutton thing ("that's where the money is"), right?

    Most economists take the income scale in the US on a quintile basis (divide it into five groups). I'm not too concerned about the bottom fifth. As you point out, they pay no income taxes and therefore aren't included in any tax plan, for the most part (this is a broad-brush comment, but whatever).

    But did you notice that all the other tax brackets were slated to come down, but the bottom one went up from 10% to 12%? Please explain the GOP's reasoning for that one, because I don't understand it, personally. Let's tax the bottom MORE so we can tax the top LESS? That's baffling, politically.

    I'm also not too worried about the top fifth, because they will doubtlessly make out like bandits under any GOP tax "reform."

    But the middle 3/5ths is where the conversation is going to be centered -- and for many of them, their taxes will actually go up. To pay for big cuts to corporate tax rates. And THAT is what concerns me the most, personally.

    Balthasar [3] -

    My question is: if it were actually true, as conservatives like to say, that 50% of Americans don't pay any taxes, why require them to file, and the IRS to process all of those tax forms, when it would be simpler and cheaper to simply figure the taxes themselves for us (allowing the option for us to 'correct' their math later, if necessary), and just cut checks for for refunds and mail them out?
    Or do they just like to harass folks for no reason?
    This wasn't my idea, but it sure seems like a good time to bring it up.

    OK, one at a time. The GOP likes to say that half Americans don't pay taxes. This was Mitt Romney's "47 percent," if you'll remember. But what they really mean is "income taxes" and to get to that 47% figure, they add in everyone who is not actually working -- including college students, the disabled, retired people, whatever. The percentage of "working, paycheck-earning Americans" who don't pay income taxes is actually a lot lower.

    And what you suggest is already true. If you make less than a certain amount of money (where you start owing income tax) then you DO NOT NEED TO FILE a tax return each year.

    As for the gummint figuring the taxes, that would probably work well for people who today use the 1040EZ form, because their taxes are incredibly simple to figure. And they'd probably be thankful for avoiding the hassle of filling the forms out (I know several close friends in this situation, some of them on fixed incomes and retired).

    But I'm beginning to deal with Irish income taxes (long story involving my wife), and they do have some sort of system like the one you suggest. However, I have not wrapped my brain fully around it, so I will have to get back to you when I do figure it out to let you know if it actually is an improvement or actually adds layers to the contact you have to have with the IRS (or, to coin a phrase, the "Eire IRS").

    As for Bush and harassment, I tried harassment as a flirting technique in like seventh grade. It mostly consisted of "snapping bra straps" in the hallways in Jr. High. But I quickly discovered a basic fact: girls talk to each other and word would quickly get around if you were a jerk. So I stopped. Most of us learned a similar lesson at a similar age, but some never learned it, it seems -- in both parties, in politics, in entertainment, in frat houses, pretty much all over the place.

    As for legalization, I am sorely looking forward to January first of next year. That's all I'll say at the moment.


    Yeah, I saw the Colbert balls bit and thought it was funny! I also noticed that Jimmy Fallon used my "Flake News" joke, earlier in the week...


    And, OK, I hear your point on Frederica Wilson and mayor Cruz. Duly noted.

    neilm [6] -

    Whoops! Dunno how that one happened, musta been some mistaken copy-n-pasting. Thanks for pointing it out, I fixed it. Good eye!


    OK, I'm going to post this and continue in a new comment...


  32. [32] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    C. R. Stucki [8] -

    Paul on the road epiphany? Wow.

    I'd actually prefer voting for FDR clones, personally, but there don't seem to be too many of them around these days. That's a shame, because Trump would never have been possible if there had been a few strong Dems cut from that particular cloth...

    Don Harris [10] -

    I believe that if the minimum wage had been allowed to rise to cover the cost of living, then we wouldn't be in this mess today.

    If workers for McDonalds or WalMart didn't have to get government subsidies like food stamps just to survive and raise their families, then things would be a lot better for everyone. Average people would have more money in their pockets (due to wage pressure from the bottom up), the federal budget wouldn't have to give such corporate welfare out which would help things significantly, and a 40-hour week would mean being able to support yourself no matter who you worked for.

    OK, I'm going to have to continue answering comments tomorrow, but I promise I'll deal with the backlog!


  33. [33] 
    Paula wrote:

    [40] CW: I believe that if the minimum wage had been allowed to rise to cover the cost of living, then we wouldn't be in this mess today.

    Yes, yes, yes.

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