Saturday, September 24, 2016

The myth of the 'Death Tax": another Republican misrepresentation.

Recently two people I know and respect were apparently upset over a proposal from the Clinton campaign to raise the top rates of the federal estate tax*, one of whom wrote: "That money was already taxed and most likely at the highest rate possible and now they want to take MORE at a time when children/heirs are grieving?!?! Pfffttt...how in the hell is double taxation constitutional in the slightest?"

One of the political shenanigans which confounded me during the 2002 off year elections was the Republicans making the estate tax- which they renamed the "death tax" for political reasons- an issue during that year's campaigns. I was incredulous at the argument that this was "double taxation," referring to the Republicans' contention that the estate tax taxed the money when it was earned during the lifetime of the deceased, then taxed the same money again when the heirs received the estate. Another objection- and this was used in Republican campaign commercials- was that the estate tax would "destroy small businesses and family farms." And a lot of people who never could have been subject to the estate tax (anyone who wasn't a millionaire) were fooled into thinking that Democrats were going to take their money before it could pass to their children. Apparently that misrepresentation still works in 2016, mainly because the media and the Democrats haven't figured out how to meet those lies head on. Here's one way to deal with the issue:

1. THE MYTH THAT EVERYONE- INCLUDING SMALL BUSINESSES AND FAMILY FARMS- PAYS THE ESTATE TAX: The only estates subject to the tax at the time (2002) were in excess of $600,000.00. That number was quickly raised to well over a million dollars, which meant that under current federal law estates under a million dollars had no federal tax whatsoever. Hillary Clinton's recent proposal to raise the top rate to 65% would only hit the estates of about a hundred or so people in the entire country- billionaires all. Actually, her proposal would start the tax at 50% for those with estates valued at $10 million, and go to 65% for those with estates starting at $500 million- $1 billion for married couples.** http://www.wsj.com/articles/hillary-clinton-proposes-65-tax-on-largest-estates-1474559914

2. THE MYTH OF DOUBLE TAXATION: The most oft heard complaint is that the estate tax is "double taxation" because the money was taxed when earned during the lifetime of the deceased, then taxed again when it passes to the heirs. Ignoring for the moment the assumption that a billionaire (like a Hilton or Wal-Mart heir or a stock market speculator) actually earned that money by the sweat of his or her brow, as opposed to acquiring it through inheritance, capital gains, interest, or dividends- all of which are taxed at lower rates than ordinary wages for a factory worker or laborer- the complaint ignores the fact that EVERY WAGE EARNER'S money is taxed more than once. And that money is taxed while he or she is still living and actually needs the money to feed or clothe his or her family.

As noted, the inherited wealth (remember- starting at $10 million) was probably taxed before- but that paled in comparison to a wage earner's wages, which aren't double taxed before he or she receives a pay check- they are quadruple taxed (!!!), and the wage earner also pays taxes on the money that he or she paid in taxes! Here's the analysis: A wage earner works 40 hours in a week at $12.00 an hour and earns $480.00 gross. However, that wage earner pays 4 taxes on that $480.00, even though after paying the first tax (I'll arbitrarily put them in order as: Social Security (roughly 8%), Medicare (about 1%), Federal (say 10%) and State (say 6%)), the second, third, and fourth taxes are all taxed on the now mythical $480.00. But after the first tax is taken out (8% of $480 is about $38), the second tax isn't taken out of what's left- $442- but out of the $480! And so on for each of the other taxes. The last tax actually taxes money that has been taxed three times before, without ever subtracting anything from the $480, so it is a tax of a tax of a tax of a tax. So if a person is going to be angry and upset and vote against a Democrat who proposes taxing the estates of the top 100 or 200 billionaires in the country (out of 330 million people), then why not oppose the taxes on tens of millions of wage earners being hosed four times over? My answer is: if someone is going to pay more in taxes, it's hard to argue that dead billionaires and their offspring who may have never worked a day in their lives should somehow be treated better than living wage earners who in many cases risk (or lose) life, limb, or their health to feed their families.

SIDE NOTE: In early 2002, when this issue first arose, I spent about an hour on the phone with the then legislative director and later the campaign manager for (then) Georgia U.S. Senator Max Cleland. My argument was that instead of jumping on board the Republicans' faux concern for small businesses and family farms to disguise their efforts to protect the wealth of dead millionaires and billionaires, the Democrats should join together and dedicate all proceeds of the estate tax to a cause that would be unassailable. For instance, take the billionaires' estates and dedicate the taxes to prescription drugs for the elderly poor who need those drugs to survive, or dedicate them to the care of injured veterans and the families of deceased veterans. If the Democrats had done that one simple thing- dedicate all proceeds of the estate tax to an unimpeachable cause like that, it would have reversed the political effects of the Republicans' pernicious campaign ads. Max didn't buy my argument, he supported the Republican efforts to defang or repeal the estate tax, but he ended up losing anyway to a Republican candidate (Saxby Chambliss) who ran the then most infamous television ad in Senate campaign history, linking Senator Cleland to pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKFYpd0q9nE

http://www.politico.com/story/2008/11/cleland-ad-causes-trouble-for-chambliss-015561
***

* "The Clinton campaign changed its previous plan—which called for a 45% top rate—by adding three new tax brackets and adopting the structure proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont during the Democratic primaries. She would impose a 50% rate that would apply to estates over $10 million a person, a 55% rate that starts at $50 million a person, and the top rate of 65%, which would affect only those with assets exceeding $500 million for a single person and $1 billion for married couples." WSJ

** In 2014, just 223 estates with a gross value exceeding $50 million filed taxable estate-tax returns, according to the Internal Revenue Service. WSJ

Saturday, September 03, 2016

GEE, WHOEVER WOULD HAVE GUESSED THAT WAS THE REASON FOR THE VOTER "FRAUD" PHOTO ID LEGISLATION?


(from Digby, Hullabaloo: http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/)

"Longtime Republican consultant Carter Wrenn, a fixture in North Carolina politics, said the GOP’s voter fraud argument is nothing more than an excuse.

“Of course it’s political. Why else would you do it?” he said, explaining that Republicans, like any political party, want to protect their majority. While GOP lawmakers might have passed the law to suppress some voters, Wrenn said, that does not mean it was racist.

“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was,” Wrenn said. “It wasn’t about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat.”"

MY BET FOR DONALD TRUMP


During the 2008 McCain - Obama contest, John McCain claimed that ACORN (a grassroots organization dedicated to registering new voters nationwide) was committing voter fraud and was going to steal the election. In the final 2008, debate, John McCain said: "ACORN is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." http://www.dailykos.com/…/-Factchecking-the-lies-about-ACORN.

That assertion was a complete fabrication- in fact ACORN had been the VICTIM of fraud when unscrupulous employees turned in fictitious names of voters (famously, the entire Dallas Cowboys football team was turned in as new voters in Nevada) Of course, it would require someone with half a brain to analyze this story and realize that because the ACORN contractors were being paid by ACORN according to the number of voters they signed up, that ACORN was the victim- not the perpetrator of the fraud. Since none of the fictitious voters would ever actually turn up to vote (i.e. Tony Romo, Cowboys QB, wasn't going to show up in Nevada to vote), there was 0 voter fraud that was going to occur. And that is what happened- or, more accurately, that is what DIDN'T happen- in the 2008 election. Apparently that required more brainpower than McCain was able to muster, or else he deliberately lied, and every right wing commentator bought the lie or willingly spread it. (check out the reprise of this false allegation in Georgia recently: http://www.newsmax.com/…/jay-delancy-…/2014/09/23/id/596420/).

So, when Donald Trump now claims that he is going to lose because the election is rigged http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-election-rigged…, I am tempted to make the same bet I made publicly to McCain in 2008: DONALD TRUMP: I will pay you $1,000 for every voter greater than the number of 10, nationwide (where more than 120 million votes will be cast) who turns out to have been a person impersonating another person who was actually registered to vote, if you will pay me $1,000,000 (that's ONE MILLIION DOLLARS) for every number less than 10- i.e., if the number is 9 nation wide, you pay me one million dollars. If the number is 0 nation wide (as it was in 2008), you pay me $10,000,000.00 (that's ten million dollars). What do you say Donald, is this election going to be rigged by voter fraud? Put your money where your mouth is.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY....


Perhaps the most classic example of a top politician making grand pronouncements with a complete abdication by the media on reporting the truth- until Edward R. Murrow's "See it Now" program unmasked Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy.

One of the major problems in our society is a general, pervasive, lack of knowledge of the people who comprise a large part of our electorate. Lack of knowledge of our history, of our laws, of science, of religion, of crime statistics, of the Constitution, you name it. And the media, by and large, no longer sees its role as making up for that lack by providing historical or scientific or statistical perspective to candidates or elected officials who make pronouncements (some of which are the opposite of true) about current events. So when a Ronald Reagan kicks off his 1980 Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi with a call to the audience that: "I believe in States' Rights," it is incumbent on every news outlet reporting it to put in the proper context. That context being that the location Reagan chose was the location of the infamous murders of civil rights activists (trying to register black voters) James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, in 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan, including local Sheriff's Deputies. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/13/opinion/13herbert.html…. And that the phrase "States' Rights" wasn't just the code phrase for supporting slavery (no dog whistle there), but the actual justification for the continued legalization of slavery used by Southerners in Congress before 1860 and in support of Jim Crow segregation laws for the 100 years after the Civil War.


And in modern times, when considering why the Republican Party's incarnation in the latter half of the 20th century and the 21st century appeals to the racists, bigots, and xenophobes, you have to put it in the context of the passage and signing in July of 1964 of a landmark Civil Rights bill and the presidential election later that year between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson, so wonderfully portrayed in the HBO movie, "All the Way" starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ. The passage of that bill- non-controversial today- meant that Black people and women would have equal rights in employment, and that public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, etc.) could not refuse to seat people because of the color of their skin. And that year and that bill was the genesis for the 180 degree turnabout in the South of Southern Democrats, who left that party and joined the Party of Lincoln, which had originated as an anti-Slavery party in 1854. The election of their candidate in 1860 precipitated the Civil War, as the South (which voted Democratic) saw that election as the beginning of the end of slavery (you can look it up- it's even in the South Carolina legislature's Articles of Secession and in speeches given by Jefferson Davis).


So, the Republican Party, which in the 1860's passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments (Google them if you don't know what they are or what they did), is now the main impediment to the cause of civil rights in this country. They are now the party which passes voter ID bills in jurisdictions where there has never been a case of a person impersonating another voter to cast a vote in person at the polls (that only happens in absentee ballots), something so obviously intended to suppress black voters that courts (most recently in North Carolina) have struck down the more onerous bills. In 2012, one of their loose lipped brethren in my home state bragged about how that legislation would help elect Repbulican candidate Mitt Romney (obviously, by suppressing black, mostly Democratic leaning, votes:

"(CNN) – Pennsylvania Democrats are fuming over a comment made by a Republican state representative, who said a controversial voter identification law will help Mitt Romney carry Pennsylvania in November." http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/…/pennsylvania-lawmak…/.

So when you read some of the crazier stuff said by one particular candidate, and the media just reports what he says without any context (except for The Daily Show, of course), then blame the ignorance of the voters and the cowardice of the highly paid media members.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Trump v. Cruz.... Not so Fast!

Cruz bears a remarkable resemblance to the last great demagogue in American politics, including a disdain for truth, facts, and the United States Constitution (that's "Tail Gunner" Joe McCarthy, Republican Senator from Wisconsin, who, after terrorizing innocent Americans, in and out of government, was eventually taken down in 1954 by a CBS expose by Edward R. Murrow in his "See it Now" program, featured in the 2005 George Clooney movie, "Good Night and Good Luck.")

For those who are looking for a "savior" to stop Donald Trump's quest for the Republican nomination and the presidency, think twice before hitching your wagon to Ted Cruz. The differences between them are night and day- and not to the benefit of Cruz. Trump is bombastic, narcissistic, thoughtless, a misogynist, rude, crude, and incurious. Trump just wants to be president because he likes the attention. He has no agenda and couldn't identify a single policy proposal he would enact if elected- other than a vague and impossible promise to build a large wall on our southern border and somehow make the people he wants to keep out pay for it. (Never mind that net immigration from Mexico is now below zero- more go back there than come here, and the vast majority of illegal immigrants within our borders entered the country legally, then overstayed their visas. A problem which no wall would solve, no matter how tall.)

Cruz, on the other hand is an excellent orator- although his dramatic pauses (a debate technique) get old pretty quickly, who has a specific agenda he would do everything in his power to enact if elected. He would do everything possible to degrade or destroy virtually every governmental program that helps the least of us- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food stamps. He would have a litmus test for federal judges that would allow only those with a disdain for the First Amendment's Establishment Clause (which protects minority religions from having Congress establish a national religion) to be seated on the bench. In effect, Cruz wants his version of Sharia law enacted- only instead of favoring Islam, it would cater to a fundamentalist Christian outlook on the world. He would derail any attempts to forestall the global climate and water crisis looming over America and the rest of the world. And in foreign policy, if he meant what he said about turning desert sand into glass- there is only one weapon in our arsenal that is capable of raising sand to that temperature, and it has been used only twice in our nation's history, both times in Japan in August of 1945.

In short, America, the Constitution, our civil liberties, and the rest of the world would have a far better chance of surviving a Trump presidency than a Cruz Administration.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

21st CENTURY "CONSERVATIVES" LIVE IN A FACT FREE WORLD

So I saw this on a person's Facebook timeline: "Obamacare has failed our nation. We, as Americans, deserve a new patient-centered and market-driven solution. It’s time for Americans to choose their healthcare. Join me if you agree."

And I have to ask: what is the problem with people's brains- their analytical ability- that they can come to a conclusion based on.... propaganda instead of facts? Is the Health Care Reform Act of 2009 the best possible method of providing coverage to Americans previously not covered by insurance? Of course not. A single payer plan, a public option, an expansion of Medicare (or Medicaid). Any would be preferable. However, has the HCA failed? Not by any statistical measure I've seen. For instance, every report I've seen has reported that there are an additional 10 or 20 million covered who didn't have health insurance before 2010. And Gallup reported the percentage of uninsured adults declined dramatically. "According to Gallup the uninsured rate was 11.9% for the 18 – 65 demographic in the 1st quarter of 2015, down from a high of 18% in 2013. By the second quarter of 2015 the uninsured rate fell to 11.4%" http://obamacarefacts.com/sign-ups/obamacare-enrollment-numbers/

But some people won't believe the facts that are right in front of them- either anecdotally from their friends, or statistically from the media-- other than Fox News, of course. Their "pundits," and top Republican officials in the House and Senate, and every Republican presidential candidate except John Kasich (a Republican governor compassionate and intelligent enough to accept the Federal funding from the HCA to expand Medicaid rolls in Ohio) have decried the HCA (which they call Obama Care) and claimed it is an awful failure; an abomination, as it were.

Here was a report from the land of fantasy that slammed Kasich for living in the land of reality: "Americans for Prosperity (AFP), one of the largest conservative activist groups in the United States, held their annual “Defending the American Dream Summit” in Columbus, Ohio, this week, but the state’s Republican Governor John Kasich was not invited.

Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare—a move that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was optional and up to state discretion—is a sore subject for fiscal conservatives and led to him being, not just left out of an event held in his backyard, but attacked by several of the event’s speakers, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and AFP President Tim Phillips." http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/08/23/john-kasichs-obamacare-medicaid-expansion-slammed-at-ohio-afp-event/

But the real question, again, is why? Why do the so called "conservatives" (who don't want to conserve anything- not the land, not oil, not the oceans, not civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights- other than the 2nd Amendment) have to not only deny reality- but claim that in their world, it is the opposite of reality. From vaccinations, to flouridation (from the old John Birch society- the original climate deniers/science deniers), to global climate change, to the effects of tax cuts on the economy, to the effects of deficit spending on inflation (wrong every single time the last 36 years, since the era of Reagan), to the desirability of having a federal law that would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or putting life time caps on benefits that would leave sick children outside the tent of coverage for serious illnesses- why claim that these are all bad things, or the opposite of what is happening. What is wrong with the brains of these people, and why do otherwise intelligent people (I put Rush Limbaugh in that category, along with Paul Ryan) try to foist these falsehoods on the dullards and ignoramuses who make up their flock? I just don't get it. What's in it for them? How tough would it be for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to say: the HCA is working, but not well, and we can make it better (by adding a public option, for instance, instead of all of these separate market places- just let people purchase Medicare at cost, for gosh sakes)? If anyone has an answer, pass it along and enlighten me.


Here's another question: how is it that the media lets them get away with the fact free statements about how they need to "repeal and replace" the HCA? Will someone from the main stream media please ask the next Republican who mouths that absurdity: "Well, sir (or m'am), your political party controlled both the presidency and one or both houses of Congress from 1981 through 1993, and 2001 through 2009. Name one bill that was passed and put on a Republican president's desk that would have expanded the number of Americans covered by Health insurance?" And if the bloviator claims that the "Medical Savings Accounts" would have accomplished that, then ask: "how do people making less than $50,000 a year put enough money in a Medical Savings Account to cover their sick child who needs an operation and hospitalization that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars? Aren't MSA's only for the very rich to avoid taxes?"

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Killing us softly.... no, loudly, with these guns....


Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said: you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

An example of an opinion is that having unrestricted access to guns is a good thing. A fact is that there are numerous countries- Australia, Japan, United Kingdom, and so forth, which have very strict gun control laws, yet have not seen increases in violent crime, and have a gun death rate one one thousandth- or lower, than ours. That's a fact- and nothing any 2nd amendment defender says can change it. It is possible to severely limit and restrict long guns, eliminate all hand guns for civilians (only law enforcement and military), yet not lose one iota of freedom or security.

Here are some statistics: in 2014, total deaths from firearms in Japan: 6. That is so statistically insignificant in a country of 127 million people, that the number per 100,000 is effectively zero. In Australia, a very freedom loving (and free wheeling) country of about 24 million, originally founded as a transport country (convicts and the detritus of England-- ) the total was 226 in 2012, the most recent year I could find in a quick internet search. That comes to less than 1 in 100,000.

The stats also break down by suicide, accident, and homicide, although not by stranger homicide versus domestic or "friends." I would wager that most homicides by firearm are not the kind that would involve self defense against a burglar or a carjacker. In Australia, the rate per 100,000 for homicide is .11, but suicides are 6 times higher at .62 per 100,000 (that's a decimal point- so we are still talking way less than one.

And the rate per 100,000 in the United States? More than 10 times higher- in a country of over 300 million, annual firearm deaths are over 33,000 (about 10.5 per 100,000).

The fact is that firearm deaths can easily be reduced by outlawing hand guns completely, and requiring that only adults without criminal histories and with a certificate of firearm safety course be permitted to own long guns. And we can register those. Will criminals still have guns? Yes, of course. But the truth is, the myth of the good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun is just that- a myth.

Why is it a myth? Because we are the most gun loving and owning country in the world, yet of the civilized countries, we far and away lead them in firearm related deaths- suicide, accident, and homicide combined.

And no amount of good guys with guns will ever reduce- not even by one death- the day to day tragedies of 2 and 3 and 4 year olds playing with guns and shooting someone else or themselves.

So if your opinion is that you like guns, or you like to hunt, or you think that unfettered individual gun ownership or unrestricted access to guns is positive or a good thing, no one can take that opinion away from you. But if your opinion is that the U.S. is safer from firearm deaths to innocents (suicides, children, victims of domestic violence, accidents) than we would be with strict gun control, then your "opinion" is factually mistaken, based on the factual experiences of civilized countries that have strict gun control.

We have mass shootings here almost weekly, and we wring our hands and do nothing. We should take heed of Australia, which reacted to their 1996 mass shooting tragedy by imposing strict gun control- and it was a conservative prime minister who led the way. Aren't we at least as capable as Australia-- or Japan, or the United Kingdom- in stopping gun deaths while retaining our freedom and our security? I would hope so.

Monday, September 07, 2015

My FaceBook letter to Georgia's Democratic Chair, Rebecca Dehart


The last President who was not ashamed to be a "liberal" Democrat


Miss. Dehart:

My inbox seems to be filling up with e-mails from you- but the problem I have is that the Democratic Party- in Georgia, and nationally- simply refuses to learn from mistakes. I ran for public office in 2004, and I did so on a specific platform of practical solutions to real problems: getting us out of Iraq, reforming the health care system-- the financing part-- in general and medical malpractice cases in particular, restoring civil rights, and so on. My observation, having campaigned around the State in 2004, was that the Democrats were afraid to say the word "liberal" and worse, were letting Republicans define them, and never vice versa. More often that not Democrats ran trying to be Republican lite (Jim Marshall and John Barrow ran campaigns that were right down the center of Republican platform principles). I was on debate platforms and forums with a number of candidates, both Republican and Democrat; I sat next to Johnny Isakson at one due to alphabetic seating- he ended up winning the race, which was highly predictable, because we fielded the worst possible candidate, and it was pretty hard to tell the Democratic candidate from the Republican in most races. So, my suggestion to you, and to the party: #1: don't be afraid of who you are and what you stand for. Michelle Nunn actually refused to run the word "Democrat" in her primary ads, and failed to show up for almost every primary debate, including one I moderated in Albany at ASU. #2 run competitive races in every Congressional district and every State house and senate race. Recruit and groom potential candidates for the next election. #3 pay attention to what you did when you lose and don't repeat mistakes. Have an institutional memory on what worked and what failed miserably. If we are going to lose, let's at least lose not being afraid of who we are and what we believe.