Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bachmann finished?

Please for the love of God tell me that Michele Bachmann's support in the polls will vanish after today. She said that, in response to the British embassy in Iran being raided by "students" a few days ago, she would close our embassy in Iran. The only problem is that we haven't had an embassy in Iran since before I was born.

So seriously, fuck Michele Bachmann. This episode clearly demonstrates that she is willing to completely talk out of her ass on important matters. This wasn't a gaffe or a blunder. It was taking a policy position without having the slightest clue about the facts of the policy. It is indefensible, and it shows she has no place in public discourse.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Newt's K-Street history

While the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements disagree on many things, they both (early on, at least, in the case of the Tea Party) decried the rise of "crony capitalism". They recognized that the huge lobbying checks written to those in power cause huge, unfair distortions in the market, disproportionately helping the donors at the expense of the rest of us. The Tea Party in particular has been rabidly "anti-Washington". One would think that lobbyists and Washington insiders would be immensely unpopular with both crowds. The Tea Party's recent embrace of one Newton Leroy Gingrich demonstrates that this formerly-key principle of the movement has been abandoned, as Gingrich is entirely a creature of K Street, lobbying capital of the universe.

After Gingrich's resignation as Speaker, he spent the next decade making money off of his name and his connections in Washington. He set up numerous for-profit organizations to this end. These organizations are all located on K Street (as Rachel Maddow discussed yesterday; jump to 5:30 for the relevant section). He received at least $37 million just from health care organizations. While he never officially registered as a lobbyist, it's safe to assume that they weren't just paying him tens of millions for his perspective as a historian.

The Tea Party would lose all of its credibility if Newt, a literal creature of K Street, were to become the nominee. It would mark the completion of the Republican establishment's mission to subsume the Tea Party movement.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Romney will be the nominee

At tonight's CNBC debate, Rick Perry likely torpedoed both his own campaign and Herman Cain's. As a result, I will predict that by December 1 Newt Gingrich will be at least 2nd in the polls, if not 1st. More importantly, I would now project Mitt Romney to be the near-certain nominee.

Perry committed a huge blunder in the debate. He was attempting to discuss his plans to eliminate three cabinet departments, then couldn't name which three. He got Commerce and Education, but forgot the Energy Department.

If Romney, Gingrich, Huntsman, Santorum or Paul would have committed this mistake, it might not have been so bad for their chances. For Perry, however, the gaffe played into an already-established narrative that he's, to be blunt, too dumb to be President. This reinforcing nature of the gaffe is what makes it so fatal, just like Howard Dean's "I have a scream" moment killed him because it reinforced that he was unstable/angry or why Dan Quayle's "potatoe" gaffe defined his legacy.

It is, frankly, unacceptable for a Presidential candidate to not be able to rattle off every cabinet department, or at least the ones he plans to eliminate. Perry should have been able to catch himself, start a list of each department and arrive at the right one.

This gaffe will undoubtedly be run again and again on the news, and I think we can all predict with a fair degree of certainty what Saturday Night Live will open with this week. I predict that this will lead to a discussion of the intellectual requirements to be President, and that this (along with the sexual harassment stuff) will end Cain's reign at/near the top.

So why Gingrich? Truly, it's largely a process of elimination. Perry, Cain and Bachmann have already had their shot (and fail the intelligence test), Paul's too out there, Santorum and Huntsman too unknown, and Romney's Romney, so it's Gingrich's turn. He certainly meets the intelligence requirement. He's a true conservative, with 1994 Contract with America credentials. Perry and Cain are going down, and voters won't settle on Romney yet, so it's Newt's turn.

Does Newt have a chance of being the nominee? I truly doubt it. With the intensified attention that will come with improving in the polls, people will remember about his "right-wing social engineering" remark, his serial affairs, his ethics issues that led to reprimand by the House, etc. But for now, when poll respondents only remember the 1994 revolution and his recent debate performances, he'll have a rise.

But after his inevitable fall, we'll be left with Romney. I think Santorum's social stances are too extreme even for the modern Republican Party, and he's just not that likeable. Huntsman is too moderate/reasonable. So they're left with Romney. As previously discussed, I'm OK with that.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Perry's tax plan more viable than 9-9-9

The biggest non-sex-related* development in the Republican race in the last two debate-free weeks was Rick Perry's unveiling of his flat tax plan (.pdf). The main takeaway is that, like Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, it hugely decreases taxes on the wealthy. More importantly, in terms of politics, it represents a much more politically-feasible route to such giveaways than the Cain plan.

First, the numbers. Perry proposes to offer every taxpayer a choice between the current system and a flat tax of 20%. It also eliminates taxes on capital gains, the estate tax, increases personal exemptions to $12,500 per person in the household, and greatly reduces corporate taxes on profits earned overseas. It does not change the payroll tax.

Now, the math. So far as I can tell, the plan eliminates the Earned Income Tax Credit, which as previously discussed would be a disaster for the working poor. In a sane world, proposing to end an effective tool to help the poor which was instituted by Ronald Reagan would carry a political cost. In today's Republican Party, however, the problem is apparently the 47% of Americans who only pay sales, payroll, state/local and property taxes but don't pay federal income taxes, so screwing the poor is accepted party doctrine.

Where Perry's plan is politically superior to Cain's is its effects on the middle class. As previously discussed, Cain's plan would raise taxes on the average family of 4 by about $3,000 a year. For the vast majority (84%) of taxpayers, they could do the math and find that they would pay more under 9-9-9. Regardless of the arguments one might make for a tax proposal, if a vast majority of voters find it hurts them, it's probably not going to do very well at the end of the day.

Under Perry's plan, our family of 4 making $50,000 sees its federal income tax burden fall to $0, thanks to the increased personal exemption: $50,000 - 4 x $12,500 = 0 taxable income. Families making more than $50,000, their tax bill goes down under Perry's plan, except for a narrow band of people whose income is right around where the current income tax rate goes from 15% to 25%, which is $69,000 after deductions/exemptions. These people wouldn't actually see their taxes go up either, as they're allowed to choose to remain with the current plan.

For the rich, whose current income tax rate is 35%, 20% is a pretty great deal, particularly when they get to keep the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction actually phases out for incomes over $500,000, but the income tax rate savings more than make up for the phase-out. The wealthy also make a much larger percentage of their income from capital gains, the taxes on which drop from 15% to 0% under Perry's plan. They also no longer have to pay estate taxes, which only applies to estates of $5 million or more and currently tops out at 35%.

Cain's 9-9-9 plan at least attempts to be revenue-neutral (i.e., bring in as much money as the current code). Perry's plan would bring in much less revenue, exploding the deficit. Mainstream Republicans are under the impression that tax cuts for the rich are inherently revenue-neutral. They base this on the Laffer Curve, which states that there exists a level of taxation above which tax revenue will actually go down. While such a level exists, it's above the level of taxation where we currently are, so lowering tax rates will lower revenue, despite what Perry and others would have us believe.

Perry's plan would be terrible for the country, as the deficit would grow even more and force huge cuts in government programs. But, because taxes will go down on the middle class and way, way down for the rich, it is more politically palatable to voters, particularly those who put us at the wrong point on the Laffer Curve. By introducing the plan, Perry has positioned himself to potentially capitalize on an eventual Cain demise.

(*: I don't really care to comment on the particulars of the allegations against Cain. If you're interested in the story, has been the best source)