The Four Corners

Tuesday, July 01, 2003
 

George W. Bush raised your taxes, part deux Remember when I stated this, but was unable to support it with concrete numbers and was poo-pooed by my colleagues as an abstract argument? Well some one did my work for me.

You'll never guess who. Paul Weinstein, a senior fellow at PPI and ex-White House advisor who now teaches part time at John Hopkins. "In Ohio, for example, a family with an income of $66,000 and two children attending public universities paid $864 more in taxes and fees in 2002 than it did before Bush's 2001 tax cuts," Weinstein writes. $864? That isn't much money you say. But it is if you are promising a tax cut for everyone. By the way, this is just the 2001 tax cuts, just wait until the 2003 edition exacerbates the problem.

Why did he take state and local taxes into consideration? Because that is the grand sum of what individual taxpayers pay. But you say, "Bush isn't responsible for state and local taxes." Au Contraire mon frere! What about the lack of support for Homeland Security measures (which adds up to billions of dollars), the lack of help with exploding Medicaid payments (either through gasp reform or double gasp a one time hit of money), the lack of help with Special Education (the feds are supposed to pay for 40%, but of course Bush is no where near that) or the President's new education bill (a few more billion short for new testing and other federal mandates)? The $80 billion or so that the states are collectively short by could be alleviated by the federal government, if it held up its end of the bargain.

In fact, PPI's senior economist, Jeff Lemieux, says "these tax changes are part of a longer-term strategy to shift the tax burden toward labor income, personal consumption, and the middle class. Therefore, the Bush tax cuts are better described as 'tax shifts,' from current to future taxpayers, and from businesses and high-income investors to middle-class taxpayers." Don't believe them? Try out the Washington Post, who did articles on this a month or so ago.

The ultimate goal? Not to stimulate the economy, which it wouldn't do anyway, but to kill the government and all its "communist" programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Head Start, TANF, food stamps, HUD loans, AmeriCorps, etc. How? By "starving the beast" -- bankrupting the government through repeated, enormously irresponsible tax cuts and forcing the government and congress to cut things they wouldn't to pay for absolute necessities like the military. Who is behind all this? Super-lobbyist and Bush ally Grover Norquist.

As DLC Policy Director and New Dem Daily writer Ed Kilgore writes, "It's clear the 'starve the beast' theory offers Republicans the political equivalent of a bottomless crack pipe." Now that is something Bush really can relate to.


Thursday, June 26, 2003
 

Court's out for summer! After many months of waiting and wondering, the Supremes finally showed up and made some respectable discisions.

First, they made a middle of the road ruling on Michigan's affirmative action programs. Striking the point system while honoring diversity. Some said it sounded like Justice O'Conner's swang song, I sure hope not.

Next, they just decided to strike an anachronistic Texas law that criminalizes sexual behavior (sodomy), which asked the state to intrude on your bedrooms. In a 6-3 Decison, the justices said the law violated due process guarantees. Thank you! Now Texas will have to cook up new ways to be homophobic. And yes Jerry, there is something wrong with that.

PSSorry for the lax blogging. Also note that the Michigan case ruling was due in large part to Amicus briefs filed by corporate heavyweights and retired Generals like Wesley K. Clark and "Desert Stormin'" Norman Schwartzkopf. Good work! At ease gentleman!


Tuesday, June 17, 2003
 

Jessica Lynch: "The True Hollywood Story" Even though it has been well over a month since Private Lynch was recovered from an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, the details remain stretchy.

Despite hard work from many reporters including the recent report by Post reporters Dana Priest, William Booth and Susan Schmidt, the facts remain elusive. But one thing is for sure, the Hollywood firefight version the Pentagon and Washington Post played up was deeply flawed.

The real story goes more or less like this: Lynch, with her Company, were traveling up "route Blue" a code for a particular Iraqi highway. Orders had come that they need to take another route "Jackson" --another highway-- but somehow, the message didn't get down to her convoy. It seems they were in and out of radio contact and as much as 12 miles behind the main group. So they stayed on the old path, only to take a wrong turn and get ambushed by Saddam's private army-- the one still killing Americans in Iraq today.

Lynch tried to fire her gun, but it jammed severely and somewhere along the way, her HumVee smashed into a giant trailer/truck carrying supplies. This killed some in her vehicle and severely injured her, as well as knocking her unconscious. [Some claim that her injuries might be from Iraqi beatings with the end of a weapon, but I doubt it]

Afterwards, Iraqi doctors tried their best to tend to her injuries, both through the motivation that she would make a good human shield/bait/hostage and out of humane concerns. After being treated in a military hospital, she was moved to a civilian one with a guard stationed outside her room.

American soldiers were naturally cautious when learning of her location, thinking it sounded too good to be true. The BBC report that the siege on the hospital was staged seems unfounded. While it turned out that resistance was minimal, I truly doubt any such claim of firing blanks.

Speaking of blanks, Lynch herself can't remember much of what happened. This is part injury, trauma, and "national security." Maybe some day we will get to bottom of what really happened. But until then, all those movie producers and novelists are going to have to change it to BASED on a true story.


Monday, June 16, 2003
 

Media savvy 101 This weekend proved the value of good PR.

Before interviewing General Wesley Clark, Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert played a radio ad by a grassroots group called DraftWesleyClark.com and did screen shots of the website.

Does any other Presidential Candidate have anything close to that level of free advertising? Or any advertising for that matter [Dean is prepping work for $300,000 worth of TV ads in Iowa over the next two weeks, sounds like he is running out of steam]?

The media attention (CNN has also played excerpts of the radio ad) and, more importantly, Clark's performance on MTP was a proverbial gold mine for the Clarkies: On Friday at 5pm, the Meetup numbers for Clark were at 520, on Monday at Noon, they were at 980, a 188% increase! Similarly, webmasters for the various Draft Clark sites told me they were getting petition letters from supporters at the rate of a letter every 90 seconds. I assume this has slowed up somewhat since Sunday.

Clark's appearance at the New Democratic Network's (a soft/hard money fundraising group for moderate DLC-style Democrats) annual meeting tomorrow should similarly generate lots of media buzz and excitement from supporters in DC (Meetup numbers suggest their are 50-60 in the greater DC area).

In stark contrast, poor Sen. "Sponge" Bob Graham "Cracker" (D-FL) can't seem to catch a positive break by the media, who have labeled him, in a word "boring." Most insiders talk about him as a VP candidate, and not a serious contender. Why?

Slate's William Saletan explains, "The trouble is, Graham doesn't seem to know what he wants to do with the job." "Graham has had many chances to make his case [on why he is running for President] ... Each time, I've come away baffled at his failure to explain why anybody should vote for him rather than one of the other Democrats seeking the job." Ouch!

Graham has spoken at the April 9 Children's Defense Fund forum, the May 3 South Carolina debate, his May 6 campaign kickoff, a May 17 AFSCME conference, last weekend's Iowa Democratic Party picnic, and a town hall hosted by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, where Graham spoke and answered questions for 90 minutes. No one knows what he stands for besides his resume. And by the way, he has been passed by on 3 occasions for the Vice Presidential nod, what makes him think this is the time?


Thursday, June 12, 2003
 

A preemptive strike on the Supreme Court The U.S. Supreme Court, the most secretive and undemocratic of American government institutions, is under siege with regards to its most controversial ruling Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling in 1973 that made abortion legal nation-wide.

So where's the news you ask? Well, there is no case before the Supreme Court. What is getting the left and right so excited is the mere possibility of one or more justices stepping down over the summer, when the court is out of session.

Who's up? Well William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, and maybe even John Paul Stevens are often named as retirees. The most likely is Rehnquist, which would be a double whammy of who gets to be chief justice and who will fill the seat.

For the pro-choice camp this is sort of hard to get rallied up about, despite common wisdom. Slate's William Saletan explains, "In terms of policy, that's bad news for pro-lifers, because Rehnquist is part of the court minority that opposes Roe v. Wade. But in terms of politics, it's bad news for pro-choicers, because it's hard to motivate their troops for the ensuing confirmation fight when there's no threat to the court's pro-Roe majority."

Leading leftist women's groups, such as NOW, Feminist Majority, and NARAL are linking arms to march on DC in April of next year but are raising a stink down to lay down the gauntlet for the upcoming presidential race to make sure Senate Democrats tie the senate up in knots (trust me, that is one thing they can do) over any pro-life nominee.

At a press event on Tuesday, NOW president Kim Gandy claimed that "Roe v. Wade hangs by a thread [of 5-4] and rumored anti-abortion replacements on the Supreme Court could serve for the next 40 years. In other words, the reversal of Roe would last for generations, and the entire reproductive life of my 10-year-old daughter hinges on what we do in the coming year. NOW will be mobilizing women and men across this country to March on Washington for our mothers, for our daughters, and for ourselves - there will never be a more important time to stand up for women's lives."

In other words she is saying, "maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the next 40 years Roe could be overturned, so we liberals must act now!"

I say, lets starting a betting pool on who leaves when, and who gets to be chief justice. Much more fun, and more profitable. [My money is on Rehnquist leaving first, and Scalia replacing him as CJ]


Wednesday, June 11, 2003
 

Tax Cuts=Service Cuts says universally respected, or at least highly read New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman in his latest bit called Read My Lips. The point he is trying to make is, when conservative Republicans push for tax cuts now, what they are really pushing for is permanently disabling government in the future.

If you want some proof, go back to uber-conservative and extremely influential anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist's Washington Post column this Sunday where he argued that "The Bush administration -- wisely -- has not proposed fundamental tax reform in a single piece of legislation. But the president has been taking deliberate steps toward such reform with each tax cut. There are five steps to a single-rate tax, which taxes income one time: Abolish the death tax, abolish the capital gains tax, expand IRAs so that all savings are tax-free, move to full expensing of business investment rather than long depreciation schedules and abolish the alternative minimum tax. Put a single rate on the new tax base and you have Steve Forbes and Dick Armey's flat tax. Each of the Bush tax cuts, past and proposed, moves us toward fundamental tax reform."

What kind of "fundamental tax reform" is this-- a flat tax, the most regressive tax scheme out there. Ever notice how people with tons of money think this is a good idea, while you never hear poorer folks scrambling for a flat tax? That's because, beyond being a huge boon to the uber-rich, it is also a way of debilitating government so it doesn't have to pay for services for those un-social Darwin adapted poor.

House Republicans are trying to do to Medicaid and Headstart what they did to Welfare in 1996, make it a block grant to the states and remove federal control. That was a great idea for Welfare in the booming mid-90s, when states were flush with cash and ideas on how to run the program more efficiently to get more people into work and off welfare rolls. But it is a bad idea for the other two since states are facing a financial crisis unseen since the Great Depression and the two programs were designed in response to a failure by the states (in the areas of health care for the poor and early childhood education).

To add insult to injury, these same House Republicans are refusing to take up Sen. Blanche Lincoln's $10 billion compromise proposal that gives minimum wage families and $110-150k families the same per child tax credit that other middle class Americans will get next month [which, by the way, passed the Senate 94-2 last week].

"Ain't going to happen," Mr. DeLay told the Times, reiterating his stance that the credits would be approved only as part of a much larger tax-cut bill, an $82 billion package that House Republicans unveiled later in the day and plan to bring to the floor tomorrow. Even Bush, smelling the same blood that Democrats have been circling around, is telling DeLay to stop, well delaying, and pass the Senate bill.

What other cuts have been made for the tax cuts you ask? How about the next GOP phony Rx drug benefit plan Under this plan, seniors pay premiums of nearly $500 a year to get help for half their costs between $250 and $3,450. After that, they get no help until their costs exceed $5,300. Thus, many seniors could find themselves paying premiums while receiving no benefits. No privately offered insurance plan would ever dare to do something like that. Of course to fill that huge gap in the bill, it would cost $200 billion more than the $400 billion price tag. And Republicans are "fiscal conservatives," remember?


Tuesday, June 10, 2003
 

Washington Post's Eilperin reports, ex-DC Westar [a Kansas-based energy company] lobbyist Richard Bornemann "attended at least seven" DC fundraisers sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Chair Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), "held on behalf of vulnerable" House GOPers. The emergence of Bornemann's role "paints a clearer picture of how" KS power company Westar "planned and delivered campaign donations" to orgs. linked to Tauzin, Barton, House Maj. Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) All have said "they never suggested the company would receive any special treatment in return for political donations" of $56,500 by a company that had sought a "seat at the table" [according to internal e-mails released on Westar's website as a result of a DOJ/FEC probe] as key Republicans worked out details of the Bush administration's energy bill.

Tauzin's office said on 6/9 that Bornemann "brought checks from" Westar CEO David Wittig. Bornemann "also attended a Tauzin fundraiser" in LA during 6/02, but according to Tauzin spokesperson Ken Johnson, Tauzin "recognized Bornemann ... and ordered his staff to throw him out." Johnson said Tauzin "had barred Bornemann from his office years earlier after the lobbyist misled Tauzin on a railroad matter." FEC records show, six weeks later four Westar execs "wrote checks" to Tauzin's Bayou PAC totaling $2.8K (6/10).

Meanwhile, AP's Yost reports, "Engaging in a public spat" on 6/9 Tauzin and Bornemann "disagreed with each other's accounts" of how the GOP "candidates ended up getting help" from Westar. Tauzin "said he was unaware" of legis. "being sought by Westar until news reports about it last week." [Yeah right. He's the Chairman of the most powerful committee whose big bill that year was the Bush-Cheney energy bill] Tauzin "denied seeking donations" from Westar, and said through Johnson that Bornemann "made the initial contact with Tauzin's fundraisers and asked for a schedule of fundraising events."

But Bornemann said "he was simply responding to faxed invitations from the organizers" and "produced one of the faxed messages to back up his claim." However, Johnson "insisted" that Bornemann "asked for" the list, and added: "He said he had a client who wanted to participate and he was then faxed a complete rundown of events." Bornemann again in reply said he was "shocked, hurt and surprised" at the "criticism from Tauzin's office"

The Kanas City Star has a timeline of other sleazy Westar GOP contributions here. Weren't these all the same guys that voted against McCain-Finegold (or Shays-Meehan)?

The sad part is that the deal [that Westar was seeking in conference committee] would have been made, except that the failing energy utility came under investigation. The firm's exemption was at first put in the energy plan, but later jerked when the company troubles became known. Only fear of jail time made Barton think twice.


 

Comparing Apples to Oranges True, the uber-Wealthy pay much more of their income in taxes than I do, but they still have tons of money left over when it is all over.

See a Slate cartoonist's efforts to compare your future tax cut to a big name CEO. Looks like I will be getting $200 or less, while the CEO of HP will be getting nearly $150k back from Uncle Sam.

As Brookings Fellow Robert Shapiro (ex-Undersec. Of Commerce) explains it, "the president has said that 91 million taxpayers will get an average tax cut of $1,126 this year. But averages are deceiving when a small share of the people receives most of the benefits. In this case, the 83 percent of American households will get less than that average—including 50 million households that receive no tax relief at all and another 24 million that can expect $100 or less—could judge it a failure, or at least a disappointment. The administration has also promised that the changes will create jobs, because 2 million small business owners receive an "average tax cut" of $2,209 this year. Again, 83 percent of those with small-business income will receive much less—including more than one-third who get less than $100—providing scant incentive or means to create jobs."

As to the business incentives in the Bush tax cut (accelerated depreciation, the SUV write off by DeLay, the dividend tax cut, etc), Shapiro says, "Why invest more, when one-quarter of industrial and commercial capacity is already idle because of slack demand? The test for these provisions will be whether business investment revives despite all that unused capacity." He also rightly asks, "Why is a conservative administration trying to manage stock prices at all, a form of government intervention that liberal administrations have never contemplated?"

Most importantly, it costs too much and doesn't help-- the tax cut will actually hurt us. "Even at $350 billion, the econometric model used by the president's Council of Economic Advisers projects that the policy will slow growth five years out, as higher deficits crowd out private investment. The CBO reached the same conclusion. If the act increases deficits by another $1 trillion, every economic model and all economic experience say that long-term investment, productivity, incomes, and growth all will slow measurably. And that doesn't include the implicit "opportunity costs." Using $1 trillion for these tax cuts denies us the opportunity to deploy those resources in ways that could produce larger benefits—for example, defraying tuition costs for every college-bound young American, or saving the $1 trillion for the Social Security and Medicare bills looming round the corner."

Where are your priorities, Mr. President? Oh yeah, I remembered now, repaying those debts to your friends that got you in the Oval Office.