Friday, August 31, 2012

The Irony of Mitt

Excellent (and long) article from Rolling Stone discussing the irony that Romney, who owes his fortune to borrowing huge sums to take over companies and make money by slashing payrolls, is basing his campaign on reducing deficits and increasing employment.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reactions to Romney's speech

Quotes taken from this transcript.
Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. Hope and Change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.
There have been plenty of days I had better feelings about the job Obama's done than on Election Day, like the day he passed Obamacare, which will give millions more people access to primary care doctors, keeping them out of ERs and improving their health.  Or when he signed the bill ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", or when the last troops left Iraq, or when Wall Street reform was passed including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or when he cut out the subsidized banker middlemen from the federal student loan industry.

The President hasn’t disappointed you because he wanted to. The President has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction. He took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task. He had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs to him are about government.
This is an inconceivable attack.  Paul Ryan has way less private-sector experience than Barack Obama, and Romney chose him, out of all the people in the country, as his running mate.  Ryan was a Washington-based speechwriter and then was elected to Congress before he turned 30.  How is it possible to square this paragraph with his choice of running mate?  It can't be done!
 His trillion dollar cuts to our military will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs.
As previously discussed, there's no logical reason to think that military spending is any more likely to result in more jobs than any other kind of spending.  In fact, it's easier to imagine a school or a bridge leading to economic improvement than a billion dollar weapon.

Romney likely committed tax fraud

In 2009, in an effort to maximize tax revenue, the federal government offered amnesty to people who illegally hid money from taxation in offshore accounts if they agreed to pay back what they owed plus interest and penalties.  15,000 Americans came forward to accept the offer, ponying up cash to avoid felony prosecution.

Mitt Romney is somewhere around the 3,140th richest American.  He made his money in financially complex and opaque ways.  He has admitted to having bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Switzerland.  His massive IRA worth tens of millions despite relatively-tiny contribution limits indicates his ability and willingness to manipulate the tax code.  He has fought tooth and nail to avoid releasing any taxes from before 2010.

In light of these facts, one must ask oneself "is Mitt Romney one of the 15,000 most likely people to have participated in the amnesty program?"   Isn't the answer undoubtedly "Yes!"?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Random thoughts on the convention

In no particular order:

-Ryan repeated his ridiculous claim that Obama promised to keep a factory near Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.  This claim had previously been debunked, but Ryan continues to repeat it.  The plant closed in December 2008 (except for a skeleton crew kept around to finish out a specific contract), which of course was prior to Obama becoming President.  Obama also never actually promised to keep the plant open.  In Ryan's previous iteration of the lie, he blamed the closing of the factory on $4 gasoline and went on to use that "fact" as an example of how energy policy can affect employment.  Given that the factory went belly-up after 8 years of two former oilmen in the White House, and at a time when gas prices were under $1.65/gal, it's clear that Ryan's just flinging shit at the wall and seeing what sticks.

-In discussing generational differences between himself and his running mate, Ryan pointed to their differing musical tastes.  As proof of his younger tastes, Ryan said something like "my playlist starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin".  AC/DC formed when Ryan was 3 and were international stars when he was 6.  Led Zeppelin formed 2 years before his birth and released Led Zeppelin IV, one of the best-selling records of all-time, when he was in diapers.  If Ryan's musical tastes are the hip young side of the pair, Romney must be a big fan of doing the Charleston.

-I'm flabbergasted by Rand Paul sticking with the GOP after how his father and his campaign have been treated this week.  The party changed its own rules to try to prevent Ron Paul's name from even being mentioned during the actual delegate voting, and they refused to seat duly-elected Paul delegates, particularly from Maine.  How can the Pauls think they have any future in a party that clearly hates them?  What do they need the Republican Party for, anyway?  The Libertarian Party would, I'd imagine, be happy to give Rand Paul their line on the ballot in all 50 states in every election for the next 30 (edit: not 3) years.  If he left the GOP but promised to still caucus with the GOP, a la Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, is there any chance that Kentucky Republicans would put up their own candidate to split the conservative vote in a state where the Democrat got 44% last time?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Leading with falsehoods

Just got done watching the first night of the Republican convention.  I can't believe that with all the legitimate criticisms of and attacks on Obama at their disposal, the speakers kept coming back to attacks which are demonstrably false, that Obama has eliminated welfare-to-work requirements, and the "you didn't build that" smear.  Do they really think these lines will hold up when people are paying attention, say, at a debate?  Any moderator worth their salt would throw the welfare to work thing out for discussion, and Romney would be eviscerated.

Smears like the Swift Boat stuff works because there was no clear answer; no one really knew the truth.  That's not the case here.  There are facts, and they're not on the GOP's side.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Romney wrong (or lying) about the stakes

In an interview with CBS broadcast today, Romney brushes aside a question about the GOP's no abortion no matter what plank by saying ""Recognize this is the decision that will be made by the Supreme Court.  The Democrats try and make this a political issue every four years, but this is a matter in the courts. It's been settled for some time in the courts."

Leaving aside that it's of course not only the Democrats who campaign on abortion, it's striking how Romney is trying to minimize what would be a tremendously important result of a Romney presidency, which would be the likely end of Roe v Wade.  Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas are likely to vote to overturn, so abortion rights in a Romney-led USA would depend on the continued vitality and good health of the other five justices, some of whom, as previously discussed, are somewhat fragile.

Romney's guiding light in this campaign has been to minimize anything that distracts from making the election a referendum on the economy.  A broad realization that abortion rights depend on the outcome would be catastrophic for Romney, and that's what he's trying to tamp down with his response.

But try as he might to focus the electorate on the economy, his party has an unmistakable and recent (2010) record of campaigning on the economy and then focusing on abortion once in office.  If Justice Ginsburg kicks it at some point in the next four years, is there any reason to suspect Romney might fight his party and nominate a justice who agrees with his view that abortion should at least be legal in cases of rape, incest and to save the health/life of the mother?  He has shown no inkling of backbone in opposing his party on anything, including the aforementioned abortion plank which disagrees with his own view.  As the nominee of the party, having control of a huge majority of the delegates.  If he wanted to steer the GOP in a different direction on the issue, this is his chance.  That he doesn't seem inclined to take it indicates that women's abortion rights would almost certainly go to the grave with the next liberal/moderate justice.

Of course the nation's views on abortion will change as the years go by, and if enough voters want the law to change, it will.  This is not, however, the sort of change that should sneak through without full and honest discussion.  As shown after the 2010 elections, Republicans are perfectly happy to sneak it by us.  I wonder if voters will let them.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Will everything be decided by libertarians?

Ron Paul has been denied a speaking slot at the convention because he refuses to endorse Romney, saying "That would undo everything I’ve done in the last 30 years. I don’t fully endorse him for president."

I don't envy the decision libertarians must make in the next few months.  Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson will likely be on the ballot in all 50 states, offering an alternative to those who can't hold their noses and vote for Romney.  With as close as the race may well be, a few thousand votes for Romney or Johnson could decide the election.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In Defense of the Earned Income Tax Credit

As far as social welfare programs go, I've always liked the concept of gleaning.  In Old Testament Israel, Jews were required to leave the corners of their fields unharvested, allowing widows and orphans to gather food to survive.  There are no freeloaders; if one is willing to put in some work, their basic needs will be met.

Conservatives also emphasize encouraging people to work for their keep.  During discussions of social welfare, they worry that ours "is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency", as described by Paul Ryan.  Romney's campaign has spent millions attacking Obama with utterly false claims that Obama eliminated welfare-to-work rules, claiming "Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check."

Most can agree that it's reasonable to support enabling people to work hard to improve their lot in lives, particularly if those people are currently getting unemployment checks or welfare.  One seemingly obvious way to encourage poor people to work, even at low-paying jobs, is to subsidize working.  Since enacted by Gerald Ford and expanded by Ronald Reagan, the Earned Income Tax Credit has accomplished that goal by offering monetary incentives for people working low-paying jobs, particularly for people who have children.  It provides refundable tax credits of up to $5,666 for a worker with kids working full time for minimum wage, which works out to a pre-EITC income of $14,500.  That's a pretty substantial added incentive to get to work, even at a minimum wage job.

Before anyone derides the EITC as some sort of socialist scheme, it's worth mentioning that the EITC is more conservative than the negative income tax plan devised by libertarian economist Milton Friedman, in which there was no requirement to work to get the tax credit.

Although he wouldn't be caught dead admitting it, the EITC is likely in danger under a Romney administration.  Given the mathematical difficulties of his tax plan overall and factoring in the tax expenditures Romney's already put off-limits, the EITC, with its nearly-$60 billion price tag, is one of the few targets capable of offsetting a significant chunk of the revenue lost from Romney's rate reductions.

Imagine it's February 2013, and Romney is in the process of implementing his agenda.  The Congressional Budget Office announces the cost of his rate reductions, and Washington begins fighting over which tax deductions and credits will be axed to keep things revenue-neutral.  While the EITC boasts an impressive record of lifting around 6 million people out of poverty every year, the people who benefit directly from the EITC don't have quite the resources to hire K Street lobbyists as other beneficiaries of large tax expenditures, like oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce.  How likely is it that the EITC emerges from such a situation unscathed?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Punting a longer post til tomorrow

I'm working on a longer post, and to be honest I have plans to go out tonight, so I'm going to punt the post til tomorrow.  I'll be looking at an topic on which liberals, Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan and Old Testament Jews can all agree.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Narrowing down Romney's tax plan

In an interview this week with Time, Romney stated support for continuing deductions (or, if you prefer, loopholes) for mortgage interest, charitable donations and health insurance.  As shown in the now-famous Tax Policy Center study (.pdf), it was already going to be pretty tough to design a revenue-neutral plan even when those expensive deductions were on the table.  Putting them off limits makes any actual plan that much more unlikely to ever happen.

Romney will eventually be backed into a corner.  There are only so many kinds of deductions whose elimination would raise enough money to make Romney's math work.  Since Romney has passed on the chance to ax these deductions, he'll eventually have to announce his position on other costly tax expenditures like the child credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit.

It continues to amaze that he's able to give speeches across the country promising lower tax rates for everyone and receive cheers from audiences who don't concern themselves with how he might ever make it happen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Metaphor for the Medicare "cuts"

Paul Ryan got lots of rave reviews for this discussion of alleged "double counting" in the pay-fors for Obamacare, including the now-famous $716 billion (estimated at the time at more like $500 billion) in Medicare "cuts" he and Romney have been attacking Obama over.  The basis for their attack is that Obama's math supposedly counts the $716 billion as both extending the life of Medicare and also paying for part of Obamacare, and it can't do both, therefore Obamacare will add to the deficit.  Here's an article with a fantastic metaphor that illustrates how the situation isn't actually double counting.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Akin misunderstands liberals

Embattled GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin tweeted this evening "I apologized but the liberal media is trying to make me drop out. Please stand w/ me tonight by signing my petition at..."  As a liberal, I'd like nothing more than a continued Akin candidacy.  From a practical standpoint, it makes a Democrat-controlled Senate much more likely.  More generally, Akin's continued presence lends more support to Democrats' warnings of extremist Republicans running amok should they gain control.  That Akin and Paul Ryan have a similar voting record on social issues doesn't hurt, either.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Empty threats from RNC, Rove

Following the Todd Akin "legitimate rape" fiasco, national Republican organizations are pulling their funding from Akin's Missouri campaign for Senate.  Akin won the recent Republican primary by  carrying much of the Tea Party vote, so he owns the Republican line on the ballot.  SuperPACs and national committees are trying to force Akin out of the race so someone else's name can get the coveted 'R' in a red state.

But Akin has no reason to go anywhere.  Withdrawing under these circumstances ends his career, but if he holds on and wins, which is at least possible enough to merit discussion, he's likely got a powerful job for life.  So what's his motivation to get out of the race?  And it could very well be the case that his race will decide who controls the Senate.  If it's the middle of October and Akin is looking like the 51st GOP Senator, Karl Rove & Co will be back.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who are the radicals? Don't let the "Hussein" throw you

The left-wing media have been falling over themselves to show the video of Paul Ryan from 2002 arguing in favor of a stimulus bill proposed by Bush.  They point out his former explicit support for Keynesian economics and contrast it with his current positions and call him a hypocrite.  And they may or may not be true.  I'm prepared to give the man some leeway to change his positions.  They're missing the actual important point of Ryan's past comments, which is that Ryan admits that the bipartisan consensus of the "no doubt, this is what you do every time" thing to do is to provide stimulus measures much like President Obama has been proposing.

Ryan is of course free to change his mind and to argue fervently for his new position.  But Republicans have to admit that it is their proposals, not the suspiciously-named man in the White House, who has the radical policy proposals which depart from those which have guided our country for decades.  It doesn't mean that Obama's proposals are necessarily correct, but Republicans need to drop their rhetoric on Obama being the one who is somehow un-American/other/radical.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Pathetic defense of Ryan's foreign policy experience

One clear weakness of the Republican ticket is that neither Romney nor Ryan has any sort of foreign policy experience.  Romney ran the Olympics and hides a bunch of money overseas.  Paul Ryan said today that his foreign policy experience is better than Obama's because he's been in Congress voting on stuff like invading Iraq.  I'm sure being a reliable vote for party leadership on a topic that's clearly not his forte or area of interest is totally the same thing as being Commander-in-Chief.

Friday, August 17, 2012

So much for specifics

A Politico article quotes an unnamed Romney adviser who says
“What you’re going to see is a campaign that has clear direction, but not a Simpson-Bowles or Ryan-budget level of detail.  It’s not only politically unwise to do that, but it’s not how the voters engage in a presidential campaign.”
He also said
“The nature of running a presidential campaign is that you’re communicating direction to the American people.  Campaigns that are about specifics, particularly in today’s environment, get tripped up.”
Well, shit.

It's completely legit if they want to run a campaign on "direction".  But they are making specific promises, like 12 million jobs created by the end of his first term, that the rich will pay the same share of taxes and the middle class will get a cut (despite analysis (.pdf) to the contrary), or balancing the budget by the end of a second term while not touching Medicare or Social Security and expanding military spending.  Specific promises have to be backed up by specific proposals, or else they can't be taken seriously.  Obama has to put out specific plans, by virtue of having to govern, so why shouldn't Romney?

If Romney's plan is to slide into office without actually proposing anything, why would he choose Ryan, a man who causes a very specific plan to pop into voters' minds, as his running mate?  In the absence of specific Romney proposals, voters are left with specific (and unpopular) Ryan ideas.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Romney makes meaningless tax claim

Mitt Romney once again tried to put the issue of his tax history to bed today by announcing that he has paid at least a 13% tax rate every year for the past decade.  This claim is meaningless, because he doesn't make clear what it is that he's paid 13% of.  If he's referring to his adjusted gross income, or his income that's not in a foreign account, then the 13% number is not what really matters.  If, for example, he made $10 million but only $1 million was reported as taxable income, he could claim that he paid a 13% rate but it was actually only 1.3%.  He might have accomplished such a deception by keeping money overseas, or stashing it in his huge IRA, or other accounting tricks like carried losses.

Without more specifics, Romney's statement today is meaningless, and hopefully he isn't allowed to wriggle off the hook so easily.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ryan gives away the game

The Tax Policy Center study from a couple weeks ago greatly increased the pressure on Romney to firm up his tax policy plans by showing those plans seem to be mathematically impossible.  Despite voters' legitimate concerns about what a Romney presidency would mean to their taxes, his running mate told Fox News that they won't decide on their tax policy until after the election.  But that somehow doesn't stop them from making specific promises, like the share that wealthy people pay won't go down, and it will be revenue-neutral.  Hopefully as more voters start engaging in the race it will become untenable to not release a detailed plan.

Romney's promises on the spending side are also starting to get more scrutiny.  An excellent article by Ezra Klein breaks down the implications of Romney's claims to cap federal spending at 20% while restoring $700 billion to Medicare, not cutting anything from Medicare or Social Security and actually expanding our military spending.  Klein's calculations show that the rest of the budget, which includes student loans, the EPA, veterans' benefits, the VA and, well, everything else, would have to be cut by 40% by 2016 and by 57% by 2022.

Promises to balance the budget within 8-10 years don't look so good when you have to tell people about the costs.

In the Fox News interview, Ryan admits that they have no idea when the budget would be balanced  if they were elected, as they "haven't run the numbers".  One would think that having an economic plan would necessarily involve running the numbers, at least to the degree where you'd have a pretty good idea when your "revenue" and "expenditure" lines might cross.  If you haven't run the numbers, why should anyone pay any attention to what you say you can deliver?

It really is remarkable to watch Ryan dance around the emptiness of his position.  Watch the next minute or so starting at 4:48 in the interview.  I really can't imagine Republicans can feel good about that exchange.  This is their budgetary wunderkind demonstrating he has no earthly idea what sort of budget Mitt Romney might propose.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Would Romney veto the Ryan plan over Medicare cuts?

In an effort to take the offensive on Medicare, an issue which was returned to prominence by the Ryan nomination, the Romney campaign has been relentlessly attacking Obama over the "cuts" to Medicare discussed yesterday.  Romney's attack on Obama over the "cuts" in Medicare ring hollow because he has never mentioned the $700 billion as a critique of the Ryan budget.  He frequently states his intention to repeal these cuts.  But he also often speaks highly of Paul Ryan's budget, which fails to restore the pre-Obamacare funding.  This is, by his own accounting, a $700 billion difference between the Ryan budget and where he thinks we should be, judging based on his attacks on Obama.  This difference isn't worth a veto, apparently, or even mentioning.

As recently as Sunday, a top Romney surrogate said Romney would have signed the Ryan budget if it were on his desk as President.  Someone needs to ask him if he would have insisted on restoring the money before signing the plan, and if not, why should we take his attacks seriously?

ADDENDUM: After posting, came upon this report of Romney's statements today on differences between himself and Paul Ryan.  Let's look at a couple quotes:

-“We haven’t gone through piece by piece and said, ‘Oh, here’s a place where there’s a difference', but my plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan."

So Romney is claiming that he just hasn't had time to look closely enough at the differences between himself and his own running mate to form an opinion on the $700 billion disagreement.  He's either lying or utterly incompetent, and there's no in-between.

Romney continues:

-...but my plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan, which is ‘Do not change the program for current retirees or near-retirees but do not do what the president has done and that is to cut $700 billion out of the current program.'

That is clearly not true.  The budget that Romney, Ryan and 200+ House Republicans approved of did not have to include reversing those cuts to get their support.  So I guess that shows how much Romney really cares about the issue.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Who cuts Medicare better?

Let's say you're a President looking to reform health care.  You come up with a scheme that will insure tens of millions of people, but now you have to pay for it.  It seems reasonable to start by asking those who would profit from more people having insurance to chip in.  Expanding insurance means lots of extra money for hospitals, as there would be fewer uninsured people potentially sticking the hospital with the bill for their care.  Doctors similarly will not feel as obligated to care for as many people cost-free, a common practice currently.  Pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers, as previously discussed, would profit tremendously if more people are able to pay for their products.

Given that hospitals will save hundreds of billions in formerly-free care, Medicare can drop their reimbursement rates by some amount in order to pay for the system which allows those hospitals to save all that money to begin with.

This concept for hospitals/providers, along with eliminating subsidies to insurance companies to cover Medicare beneficiaries, is the origin of the $700 billion that Romney et al say Obama "stole" from Medicare.  Yes, Medicare payments to hospitals will drop, but taken in toto, the hospitals turn out ok.  Large hospital groups and the AMA supported passage of Obamacare despite the drops in Medicare reimbursements because they realized the money they were "losing" was the house's money, which they wouldn't even have if not for Obamacare.

Contrast this approach with Paul Ryan's budget, which eliminates the expanded coverage provisions of Obamacare while keeping the $700 billion in Medicare cuts.  Without the benefits to providers resulting from more people having insurance, those cuts will actually mean worse quality or increased costs for seniors, unless private insurance miraculously becomes more efficient at controlling costs than Medicare, despite decades of evidence to the contrary.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ryan nom means actual debate

In April, I predicted that Paul Ryan wouldn't be the VP nominee because
Romney has dedicated his campaign to being a blank, generic candidate who won't take a firm stand on anything. Paul Ryan is the personification of a controversial, explicit policy. Therefore, Romney will not choose him as his running mate, because it he did, he couldn't "etch a sketch" his way out of supporting/defending it.
So imagine my surprise when Ryan was named the nominee.  Romney could have chosen anyone he wanted, and he chose the author of a controversial budget (discussed here and here) that has essentially become official Republican dogma.  Despite Romney's protestations to the contrary, by nominating Ryan he has endorsed Ryan's budget.

Instead of having an election about whether or not people think Obama's doing a bad job, the race will now become a contest of two clear visions of the role of government.  Ryan's budget is nothing less than a destruction of the New Deal and Great Society.  It's likely what Romney & Co. were going to do anyway, but with Ryan on the ticket they have to be more explicit about it.  That's good for everyone, as voters will have more info on which to base their decision.

I can't imagine they're going to like what they see.  Romney got in hot water when his tax plan (cutting rates by 20% and fiddling with deductions to make everyone's share similar) was shown to be impossible.  Ryan's plan, which drops the tax rate even further (from 35% to 25%, instead of 28% in Romney's plan), would necessarily result in an even larger shift of the burden away from the rich.

But if any Republican is capable of defending Ryan's view of the role of government, it's Ryan, so I'm looking forward to the rest of the race.

Thrilled about Ryan

Say what you will about the man, but he put an idea/plan out there.  Will make for an interesting campaign.  More tomorrow

Friday, August 10, 2012

Romney cries foul for attacking his strength

In an interview with NBC, Romney said “[O]ur campaign would be-- helped immensely if we had an agreement between both campaigns that we were only going to talk about issues and that attacks based upon-- business or family or taxes or things of that nature.”   NBC rightly asks "Is Romney really saying that scrutinizing his business record -- which he has held up as one of his chief qualifications to be president -- is personal?"

Romney can't run on his record as governor.  He can't run on political skill or rhetorical brilliance.  His business record is all he's got, so it's legitimate for all sides to discuss.

Fox News lies again

A recent Fox News article discusses the executive order issued by Obama a couple months ago that stops deportation of young illegal immigrants in some circumstances.  While the order contains no pathway to citizenship, the Fox News article states "Under the DREAM Act-style guidelines now being followed by the Obama administration, an illegal immigrant in her position can stay while following a path to citizenship."

This is completely and utterly false.  A complete lie presumably done to whip up the conservative base, or something...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Repeal the 22nd Amendment, save the 17th

The 17th Amendment lets voters elect US Senators directly.  Prior to that, state legislatures decided who goes to the Senate.  Some conservatives and libertarians have advocated repealing the 17th Amendment in order to increase the power of states.  If Senators knew they had to go back every few years and have state legislators vote to send them back, they wouldn't want to piss off the states by expanding the national government's powers.  It actually makes sense as a method of preserving states' rights.  But I have a better method!

If you've got enough voters to make repeal happen, you've got enough voters to elect politicians who support states' rights and can do so directly, without all the problems that come with introducing a Constitutionally-required electoral middle-man.  This 51% of voters can vote out politicians who don't properly respect states' rights, rather than depending on 51% of legislatures to do the same.

Term limits can be decided similarly.  Instead of slapping a hard limit of 8 years on a Presidency, voters can decide when new blood is required.  I'm all for an argument about whether Obama should be elected for a third term, but voters should at least have the option.  If enough of us think Obama needs to go, whether it's because we believe that two terms is enough or that he's a anti-colonial Marxist, he goes.  If a majority think he should get another term, the nation isn't deprived of four years of what that majority thinks is the way to go.

Why should we let people in 1951 strip us of the right to vote for four more years of Reagan or Clinton (or Bush, I guess...)?  What tremendous insight into the effects of eight versus twelve years in the White House in the 21st century did they possess then that we can't trust 51% of us to recognize now?

Let the voters decide.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Romney attacks Obama's expansion of states' rights

Republicans talk all the time about states' rights.  Romney's entire defense of his health care plan is that states should be free to tailor programs to the peculiarities of each state, as Romney explained in an interview on Fox News, saying:
What we did in Massachusetts was right for Massachusetts. I've said that time and time again, that people of the state continue to support it by about 3-1, but it's also designed for Massachusetts, not for the nation, and at the time our bill was passed, and that was brought forward as an issue, there were people who said, is this something you'd like to have the entire nation do? I said no. This is not a federal plan, it's a state plan. And under the constitution, states should be able to craft their own plans.
One person who would agree with absolutely everything Romney says here is President Obama.  Obama shows his agreement by offering states waivers from Obamacare if they come up with a solution that might be better.  He also recently gave states the right to apply for a waiver from "welfare to work" rules if they demonstrated an approach that would more effectively get people on welfare back to work.  Despite this mutual recognition of the power of allowing states to experiment, as well as Romney's past request for a similar waiver when governor of Massachusetts,  Romney chose to attack Obama for instituting the new welfare policy.

I continue to be impressed by the ability of Republicans to portray Obama as a radical even as he institutes their own policies.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Priebus drops a bomb

In news sure to reverberate around schoolyards across the nation, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus busted out the rare "triple down".  He was driven to such an extreme action after Harry Reid discussed on more than one occasion his accusation that Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years, leading to multiple reports that Harry Reid "doubled down" on the accusation.  Although Reid never actually used the phrase himself, and the link of the phrase to Reid is the result only of its journalistic convenience for headline writers, Priebus felt it appropriate to adopt the time-honored one-upsmanship of who can say the highest number.

No word yet if Reid will respond with the dreaded "quad", but Ron Paul warns this loose "down" policy will inevitably lead to a Maury Povich-like hellscape of people saying higher and higher but still completely meaningless numbers.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Reasons to stay up late/get up early

Early tomorrow morning, at 1:31 Eastern, a NASA rover called Curiosity will attempt to land on Mars.  It is much larger than Spirit and Opportunity, being twice as long, five times as massive, and carrying 10 times more scientific equipment.  It also cost $2.5 billion, so let's hope it's successful.

Next week, the annual Perseid meteor shower will peak, delivering around 60 meteors an hour.  These occur when our orbit takes us through the debris left behind by a comet.  The best time to view is before dawn, as that's when you're at the location on the Earth that is facing "forward" relative to our motion around the sun, so that's when your section of sky smashes into the most stuff.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

This is no way to have an election

In 2008, Ohio allowed voters to vote, in person, for weeks before the election.  They called it "in person absentee voting", and tens of thousands of Ohioans used that option.  Perhaps they had to work on Tuesday and weren't able to get off.  Ohio, to its credit, was able to accommodate these people.  Democratic organizations were more ready to get their people to vote on these days.  It's not surprising, then, that when Republicans took power in 2010, they moved to eliminate in-person absentee voting in the three days before the election.  Civilians are allowed to vote early in person prior to 6pm on the Friday before they election, but after that, they can't.  Republicans did carve out an exception for military members, who would continue to be allowed to vote in the last three days.

As there is no good reason not to allow any eligible citizen to vote on those days, since workers have to be there anyway to let the military vote, the Obama campaign sued to reinstate civilian voters' right to vote on those three days too.  The campaign is in no way advocating that we don't allow soldiers to vote on those days.

Of course, Republicans blew up, claiming that "Obama campaign sues to restrict military voting in Ohio".  On Fox News, a "news" presenter said “If President Obama gets his way, the special voting rights of some of America’s finest will be eliminated.  The campaign is suing to keep members of the military from having extra time to cast their ballots in one key battlegound state.”  Even Romney himself released a statement saying:
"President Obama's lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state's early voting period is an outrage.  The brave men and women of our military make tremendous sacrifices to protect and defend our freedoms, and we should do everything we can to protect their fundamental right to vote. I stand with the fifteen military groups that are defending the rights of military voters, and if I'm entrusted to be the commander-in-chief, I'll work to protect the voting rights of our military, not undermine them."
Romney's statement is willfully ignorant of the true goal of Obama's suit, which would in no way affect soldiers' ability to vote.  Romney dishonestly implies that Obama is trying to undermine that ability.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Making them get specific

The Republican approach to taxes sounds great on its surface.  Cutting the tax rates and making up the difference by ending some tax deductions/credits/loopholes seems like a reasonable, fair way to simplify the tax code.  While it sounds great in theory, there can be tremendous shifts in the tax  burden with such proposals, depending on the magnitude of the changes to rates and deductions.  For an example of a plan which does a poor job of fairly introducing cuts, let's look at the tax plan proposed by Mitt Romney, as well as an analysis (.pdf) of that plan by the Tax Policy Center.  By taking the tax debate out of the realm of hand-waving, general discussions which sound good and into actual, specific policy, the deception at the heart of Romney's policy is laid bare.

Romney proposes cutting the tax rate at every income bracket by 20%, dropping the top rate from 35% to 28% and the lowest rate from 10% to 8%.  He would make up the lost revenue by getting rid of tax deductions and credits.  He has not as yet been specific about which deductions and credits would go, but given where the money is when it comes to deductions/credits, he'd have to end some fairly popular things like the child tax credit, health insurance deductions, or Medicare benefits not counting as income.  He had been hoping that he could continue promising the good things without anyone asking about where they come from.

The study by the Tax Policy Center looks at the actual effects of Romney's plan.  It accepts Romney's premise that the plan would not result in lower revenues for the government.  It assumes that certain tax benefits would be untouchable, such as the capital gains tax rate, which Romney has said he will not raise, or the tax-exempt status of veterans benefits.  They then pursue the effects of Romney's proposals on people from different income brackets to test Romney's claim that everyone will still pay a similar share to what they pay now.  Their conclusion is that even if every single tax benefit (that's not on the untouchable list) for people making over $200,000 a year, it is mathematically impossible to arrive at a situation where the rich don't get a big cut while taxes go up on people making less than $200,000.

Let's consider a gazillionaire whose tax bill would drop by a few million dollars as a result of the cut of the top rate from 35% to 28%.  While things like the child tax credit are significant for an average family, our gazillionaire doesn't give a shit if the credit goes away.  The drop from 35% to 28% overwhelms any effects the loss of a measly few credits.  According to the TPC, people making $200k to $500k would see a drop in their tax bill of $1,800, and the benefits only go up from there.  Meanwhile, for a family of four that actually cares about the child tax credit, their taxes would go up by $2,000.

The authors go on to make every assumption they reasonably can to help Romney's case.  They assume economic growth according to models developed by W's chief economist.  They assume every tax deduction is entirely eliminated for anyone making $200k+, to squeeze every penny out of them they can before taking away the middle class's benefits.

In response to the study's release, the Romney campaign has responded with ad hominem attacks against the authors and claims that massive economic growth would fix everything.  But they don't show their work.  They don't say "we think the economy will grow by X%, with Y thousand new jobs a month, so then everyone's taxes change by this much, and that's how it works!"  Why wouldn't they release the math behind their claims?  Could it be that the math just doesn't exist?  The TPC study indicates it's impossible that it ever could.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Finger ink catching on

My "Iraqi finger ink" proposal is catching on.

Working on a math post about Romney's tax proposals.  Relates to the Tax Policy Center study (.pdf) which shows that Romney's tax proposal amounts to a huge giveaway to the rich.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Diagnostic tests and the Republican assault on voting rights

Try to contain your excitement about another thrilling dive into the fascinating world of clinical pathology.  If you want to skip ahead to the bomb-throwing, my conclusion will be that just about all the Republican legislators of Pennsylvania are scoundrels who should be removed from office as quickly as possible.

We've discussed previously the concept of establishing a cutoff for a diagnostic test, such as "what blood sugar level means you have diabetes" or "what defines 'kidney failure'".  Click on that link and read the 2nd paragraph, the one under the graph image, for a refresher if needed.
So, with this concept of designing a diagnostic test in mind, we need to discuss the completely unacceptable revelation this week by Pennsylvania's chief voting officer, Carol Aichele, regarding the number of Pennsylvanians without the ID required to vote in the upcoming election, as a result of a GOP-passed bill.  She states that there was no significant effort made to estimate how many people would be denied their vote as a result of the bill.  To apply the diagnostic testing metaphor, the people who would be wrongly denied their voting rights would be the "false positives", who are incorrectly marked as fraudsters.

Aichele revealed that the state expected 100,000 people do not have ID.  This conflicts with earlier testimony by other officials who reported that there are around 889,000 names on the voting rolls in Pennsylvania that don't match a name on PennDOT's list of who has ID, along with 574,630 with expired ID.  That works out to something like 15% of people registered to vote without the most common forms of ID.  It's true that other forms of ID would work, like military IDs or student IDs, so a pollster (who, fair warning, was hired by opponents of the law) conducted a survey which put the number at 12.7% of registered voters without any valid ID.

Now, especially given the qualification above, I would be perfectly willing to accept an argument which shows how the Republican proponents of the bill arrived at their estimate of the number of "false positives".  If anyone were capable of mounting such an argument, one would think it would be the Republican in charge of voting in Pennsylvania, Ms. Aichele.  But when confronted with the higher projections above, she simply responded "I disagree".  She also admitted that an earlier Department of State estimate of 759,000 people without ID was calculated in less than a day by a single staffer who was told to come up with a number.  She later admitted she didn't know how many people don't have ID.

Ms. Aichele specifically, and the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania government generally, are responsible for protecting Pennsylvanians' voting rights, but they show such callous disregard for those rights that they have no idea just how many hundreds of thousands of voters will lose their ballots.  By Aichele's own admission, they were signing away voting rights for (by their numbers) 100,000 of their citizens, and they decided that was only worth one day of one staffer's time.  This is unacceptable in a democracy.

The unavoidable conclusion to all of this is that the Pennsylvania Republican legislators just don't see 100,000-1,400,000 of their citizens losing their right to vote as a bad thing.  I wonder how they would approach the issue if those hundreds of thousands were more likely to vote Republican.