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“When Government Succeeds”: Surrounded By Examples Of Government Success, Which Republicans Don’t Want You To Notice

The great American Ebola freakout of 2014 seems to be over. The disease is still ravaging Africa, and as with any epidemic, there’s always a risk of a renewed outbreak. But there haven’t been any new U.S. cases for a while, and popular anxiety is fading fast.

Before we move on, however, let’s try to learn something from the panic.

When the freakout was at its peak, Ebola wasn’t just a disease — it was a political metaphor. It was, specifically, held up by America’s right wing as a symbol of government failure. The usual suspects claimed that the Obama administration was falling down on the job, but more than that, they insisted that conventional policy was incapable of dealing with the situation. Leading Republicans suggested ignoring everything we know about disease control and resorting to extreme measures like travel bans, while mocking claims that health officials knew what they were doing.

Guess what: Those officials actually did know what they were doing. The real lesson of the Ebola story is that sometimes public policy is succeeding even while partisans are screaming about failure. And it’s not the only recent story along those lines.

Here’s another: Remember Solyndra? It was a renewable-energy firm that borrowed money using Department of Energy guarantees, then went bust, costing the Treasury $528 million. And conservatives have pounded on that loss relentlessly, turning it into a symbol of what they claim is rampant crony capitalism and a huge waste of taxpayer money.

Defenders of the energy program tried in vain to point out that anyone who makes a lot of investments, whether it’s the government or a private venture capitalist, is going to see some of those investments go bad. For example, Warren Buffett is an investing legend, with good reason — but even he has had his share of lemons, like the $873 million loss he announced earlier this year on his investment in a Texas energy company. Yes, that’s half again as big as the federal loss on Solyndra.

The question is not whether the Department of Energy has made some bad loans — if it hasn’t, it’s not taking enough risks. It’s whether it has a pattern of bad loans. And the answer, it turns out, is no. Last week the department revealed that the program that included Solyndra is, in fact, on track to return profits of $5 billion or more.

Then there’s health reform. As usual, much of the national dialogue over the Affordable Care Act is being dominated by fake scandals drummed up by the enemies of reform. But if you look at the actual results so far, they’re remarkably good. The number of Americans without health insurance has dropped sharply, with around 10 million of the previously uninsured now covered; the program’s costs remain below expectations, with average premium rises for next year well below historical rates of increase; and a new Gallup survey finds that the newly insured are very satisfied with their coverage. By any normal standards, this is a dramatic example of policy success, verging on policy triumph.

One last item: Remember all the mockery of Obama administration assertions that budget deficits, which soared during the financial crisis, would come down as the economy recovered? Surely the exploding costs of Obamacare, combined with a stimulus program that would become a perpetual boondoggle, would lead to vast amounts of red ink, right? Well, no — the deficit has indeed come down rapidly, and as a share of G.D.P. it’s back down to pre-crisis levels.

The moral of these stories is not that the government is always right and always succeeds. Of course there are bad decisions and bad programs. But modern American political discourse is dominated by cheap cynicism about public policy, a free-floating contempt for any and all efforts to improve our lives. And this cheap cynicism is completely unjustified. It’s true that government-hating politicians can sometimes turn their predictions of failure into self-fulfilling prophecies, but when leaders want to make government work, they can.

And let’s be clear: The government policies we’re talking about here are hugely important. We need serious public health policy, not fear-mongering, to contain infectious disease. We need government action to promote renewable energy and fight climate change. Government programs are the only realistic answer for tens of millions of Americans who would otherwise be denied essential health care.

Conservatives want you to believe that while the goals of public programs on health, energy and more may be laudable, experience shows that such programs are doomed to failure. Don’t believe them. Yes, sometimes government officials, being human, get things wrong. But we’re actually surrounded by examples of government success, which they don’t want you to notice.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 16, 2014

November 20, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Ebola, Federal Government | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Horrifying Worldview”: The Endless Arrogance Of Wall Street

The super wealthy apparently believe that they deserve constant deference.

Greg Sargent is rightfully stunned by the entitled petulance of Wall Street bankers who are shocked—shocked—that President Obama would do anything other than praise their indispensable brilliance:

Wall Streeters are so upset about Obama’s harsh populist rhetoric that they privately called on him to make amends with a big speech — like his oration on race — designed to heal the wounds of class warfare in this country. […]

Of course, their exaggerated weariness notwithstanding, the “wounds of class warfare” haven’t been borne by Wall Streeters, who remain fabulously wealthy even after causing the worst downturn since the Great Depression. If there’s anyone waging class warfare, it’s the radicalized representatives of the rich, who have successfully engineered government to enhance their wealth at the cost of our shared responsibilities. As such, the actual victims of class warfare are the ordinary Americans who face stagnant wages, rising costs, and a tattered safety net.

After going through the insanity of Wall Street complaints, Sargent ends his post on this note:

One wonders if there is anything Obama could say to make these people happy, short of declaring that rampant inequality is a good thing, in that it affirms the talent and industriousness of the deserving super rich. It certainly seems clear that they won’t be satisfied until he stops mentioning it at all. [Emphasis mine]

If you think the bolded section is an exaggeration, you should take some time to read Adam Davidson’s New York Times profile of Edward Conard, a former partner at Bain Capital—Mitt Romney’s investment fund—who now works as an apologist for the ultrawealthy. Conard believes three things. First, that millionaires and billionaires earned every penny of their wealth through merit and hard work:

God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”

Second, that immense wealth is the just reward for any and all risk taking:

“It’s not like the current payoff is motivating everybody to take risks,” he said. “We need twice as many people. When I look around, I see a world of unrealized opportunities for improvements, an abundance of talented people able to take the risks necessary to make improvements but a shortage of people and investors willing to take those risks. That doesn’t indicate to me that risk takers, as a whole, are overpaid. Quite the opposite.” The wealth concentrated at the top should be twice as large, he said.

And finally, that extraordinary income inequality is a net plus for society. Those who use their wealth for charity, Conard argues, are depriving the world of investment and gain:

During one conversation, he expressed anger over the praise that Warren Buffett has received for pledging billions of his fortune to charity. It was no sacrifice, Conard argued; Buffett still has plenty left over to lead his normal quality of life. By taking billions out of productive investment, he was depriving the middle class of the potential of its 20-to–1 benefits. If anyone was sacrificing, it was those people. “Quit taking a victory lap,” he said, referring to Buffett. “That money was for the middle class.”

For those of us who don’t see wealth as the ultimate end, who see value in other, non-monetary pursuits, and who understand the power of chance and fortune, this is a horrifying worldview. Conard seems oblivious to the fact that there are people who work hard—punishing their bodies with physical labor—in order to scrap by with the basics of life. It’s not that these people are lazy, it’s that they didn’t win the cosmic dice game that put them in a position to reach the heights of American society.

There is a disturbing corollary to Conard’s worldview, that he expresses in his conversation with Davidson—if the wealthy are supremely virtuous for their pursuit of wealth, then those who reject that choice—regardless of what they do—are unworthy of our respect or admiration:

Conard, who occasionally flashed a mean streak during our talks, started calling the group “art-history majors,” his derisive term for pretty much anyone who was lucky enough to be born with the talent and opportunity to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism but who chose instead a less competitive life.

Given their friendship and close connections, one thing to consider is whether Mitt Romney holds views close to Conard’s. Judging from his domestic policy plans—huge income tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, combined with tax cuts on investment income, and a dramatic reduction in social services—the obvious answer is yes, of course he does. And indeed, at the end of his profile, Adam Davidson offers the strong suggestion that Romney’s thinking has more in common with his friend than it does with any of us.

 

BY: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, May 2, 2012

May 3, 2012 Posted by | Class Warfare | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Huge Benefit For The Rich”: Warren Buffett Is Right

The revelation that Mitt Romney received an income of $21 million in 2010 and paid just 13.9 percent of that in federal income taxes has highlighted an enormous problem in our tax code. Income from investments (or income that is manipulated to appear to come from investments) is taxed at lower rates than income from work. And this is a huge benefit for the rich.

Technically, the breaks that Romney enjoys are available to anyone with investment income, but the vast majority of this type of income goes to the rich. We recently calculated that about a third of taxpayers with incomes exceeding $10 million get the majority of their income from investments and consequently pay an average effective tax rate of 15.3 percent.

We then looked at taxpayers with incomes between $60,000 and $65,000 and found that just over 2 percent get the majority of their incomes from investments. In fact, over 90 percent of the $60,000-$65,000 group get less than a tenth of their income from investments, and consequently pay an average effective tax rate of 21.3 percent. That’s a higher effective tax rate than those multimillionaires who get most of their income from investments.

How do multimillionaires justify their low effective tax rates? Many, like Warren Buffett, admit that there is no justification at all, and have asked the president and Congress to reform the tax code. Buffett finds it offensive that he pays federal taxes at a lower effective rate than his secretary does.

Others argue that special breaks for investment income are necessary to encourage investment. This is absurd, given that people with money invest in order to profit and that is motivation enough. But this argument is even more absurd in the case of wealthy fund managers like Romney, who use a loophole to characterize even their income from work as investment income to enjoy the lower tax rates. (This is the loophole for “carried interest.”)

Still others, including Romney himself, argue that much of their income represents corporate profits that have already been subject to the corporate income tax of 35 percent before they were paid out as stock dividends. This is nonsense. At least a third of Romney’s income took the form of “carried interest,” which is actually compensation for his work in managing other people’s money, and this is certainly not corporate profits.

Even in the unlikely event that all of the rest of Romney’s income did come from corporate stock dividends or gains on the sales of those stocks, there’s no reason to think that the corporations involved paid 35 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes. We recently studied most of the Fortune 500 corporations that have been profitable for each of the last three years and found that their average effective tax rate over the three-year period was just 18.5 percent. Thirty of these companies paid nothing at all.

Warren Buffett is right. People like him, and Mitt Romney, should pay more to support the society that made their fabulous fortunes possible.

 

By: Scott Wamhoff, Legislative Director of Citizens for Tax Justice, Published in U. S. News and World Report, January 31, 2012

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Class Warfare, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Conservatives Hate Warren Buffett

Maybe only a really, really rich guy can credibly make the case for why the wealthy should be asked to pay more in taxes. You can’t accuse a big capitalist of “class warfare.” That’s why the right wing despises Warren Buffett and is trying so hard to shut him up.

Militant conservatives are effective because they are absolutely shameless. Many of the same people who think the rich should be free to spend unlimited sums influencing our politics without having to disclose anything are now asking Buffett to make his tax returns public. I guess if you’re indifferent to consistency, you have a lot of freedom of action.

Buffett has outraged conservatives by saying that he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary. He’s said this for years, but he’s a target now because President Obama is using his comment to make the case for higher taxes on millionaires.

Thus did the Wall Street Journal editorial page call on Buffett to “let everyone else in on his secrets of tax avoidance by releasing his tax returns.”

Somehow, the Journal did not think to ask its friends who battle vigorously for low taxes on capital gains to release their tax returns, too. But aren’t they just as engaged in this argument as Buffett? Shouldn’t accountability go both ways? Nor did the Journal suggest that the Koch brothers could serve the public interest by releasing a full accounting of all their political spending.

Buffett’s sin is that he spoke a truth that conservatives want to keep covered up: Taxing capital gains at 15 percent means that people who make their money from investments pay taxes at a much lower marginal rate than those who earn more than $34,500 a year from their labor. That’s when the income tax rate goes up to 25 percent. (For joint filers, the 25 percent rate kicks in at $69,000.) For singles, the 28 percent bracket starts at $83,600, the 33 percent bracket at $174,400.

So if an investor such as Buffett pockets, say, $100 million of his income in capital gains, he pays only a 15 percent tax on all that money. For everyday working people, the 15 percent rate applies only to earnings between $8,500 and $34,500. After that, they’re paying a higher marginal rate than the multimillionaire pays on gains from investments. Oh, yes, and before Obama temporarily cut it by two points, the payroll tax added another 6.2 percent to the burden on middle-class workers. That levy doesn’t apply to capital gains or to income above $106,800, so it hits low- and middle-income workers much harder than it does the wealthy.

No wonder partisans of low taxes on wealthy investors hate Warren Buffett. He has forced a national conversation on (1) the bias of the tax system against labor; (2) the fact that, in comparison with middle- or upper-middle-class people, the really wealthy pay a remarkably low percentage of their income in taxes; and (3) the deeply regressive nature of the payroll tax.

(Because this column appears in The Post, I should note that Buffett heads a company that owns a substantial minority share in The Washington Post Co. and for many years held a seat on the company’s board of directors.)

It’s worth noticing that while conservatives who talk about religion get a lot of coverage — and I will always defend their freedom to speak of faith in the public square — what really get the juices flowing on the right these days are tax rates. I’m not sure that a politician who renounced the Almighty would get nearly the attention Buffett has received for his renunciation of low capital gains taxes.

Advocates of higher taxes on the wealthy do not want to “punish” the successful. Buffett and Doug Edwards, a millionaire who asked Obama at a recent town hall event in California to raise his taxes, are saying that none of us succeeds solely because of personal effort. We are all lucky to have been born in — or, for immigrants, admitted to — a country where the rule of law is strong, where property is safe, where a vast infrastructure has been built over generations, where our colleges and universities are the envy of the world, and where government protects our liberties.

Wealthy people, by definition, have done better within this system than other people have. They ought to be willing to join Buffett and Edwards in arguing that for this reason alone, it is common sense, not class jealousy, to ask the most fortunate to pay taxes at higher tax rates than other people do. It is for this heresy that Buffett is being harassed.

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 28, 2011

September 29, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Corporations, Economy, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This Texan Ain’t Shooting Straight: Rick Perry’s Double Talk On Social Security And The Constitution

This we know: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the apparent GOP 2012 front-runner, doesn’t like Social Security.

He has, for example, described it in his recent book as not only a “Ponzi scheme,” but “by far the best example” of a program “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles,” and as having been put in place “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.” Elsewhere he has said that the Constitution’s “general welfare” clause does not cover Social Security and Medicare. In other words not only is Social Security bad policy, Perry believes, but actually in defiance of our founding principles in general and the Constitution in particular.

While he and his campaign had appeared to dance away from these characterizations, Perry was at it again in Iowa over the weekend, calling the program a “monstrous lie,” and saying that he stood by everything in his book (including, presumably, Social Security’s unconstitutionality).

So here’s what I want to know: What would President Rick Perry do about Social Security?

It’s one thing to note that Perry makes crazy comments. As Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen notes, “Perry is positioning himself well outside the American mainstream. It’s going to impress the Republican Party’s far-right base, but it won’t impress anyone else.”

But there is a necessary connection between views and policies. What would Perry’s policy toward Social Security be in the White House?

As it happens, he answered that question, in part, during his Iowa campaign swing. This from the Houston Chronicle:

He told the Ottumwa crowd that for people who are drawing Social Security or near eligibility “like me,” he wasn’t proposing a change in the program. But he said there should be a national conversation about potential changes for others, including raising the age of eligibility and establishing a threshold based on a person’s means.

“Does Warren Buffett need to get Social Security? Maybe not,” he said.

Huh? Let me see if I understand this. Social Security “violently tossed aside any respect for our founding principles,” and was instituted at the “expense of respect for the Constitution.” And his solution to these problems is … means testing? And a national conversation about entitlement reform?

Those responses seem awfully conventional for a pol who is so self-consciously talking such a big, radical game about one of the nation’s beloved government programs. Either he’s tossing cow chips when he decries the program, or has something else under his hat when he spouts mealy-mouthed solutions to what he sees as its problems. But either way, this Texan ain’t shooting straight.

Reporters should press Perry on Social Security—does he really believe the program is unconstitutional? If so, doesn’t he have an obligation to defend the Constitution by ending the illegal program (including for people drawing it or nearing eligibility)? And if not, what exactly does he mean when he says that the program violently tosses aside respect for the Constitution? And if it is constitutional, what is its constitutional basis, if not the general welfare clause?

If that all seems a bit much, maybe the moderator of the next GOP debate can boil it down simply: “Raise your hand if you think Social Security is unconstitutional.”

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, August 29, 2011

August 30, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Middle Class, Neo-Cons, Politics, Press, Public, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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