Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sen. Jim Webb's response to Romney on veteran's benefits

(At the end, Sen. Webb is referring to this.)

Who doesn't pay income tax?

One thing that disturbs me about the 47% rhetoric - which Romney certainly didn't invent - is that it's based on dividing Americans into Us vs. Them.

In this narrative, there are makers vs. takers, producers vs. parasites. These are descriptions of who someone is, their essential nature. The makers and the producers work hard and always take care of themselves. The takers and the parasites are, by their nature, lazy moochers who will always have their hands out for their government checks.

In fact, getting a government check isn't something that's a permanent condition for the vast majority of Americans who get one. Most of us get a government check at some point in our lives. "Government checks" include student loans, veterans benefits, disability payments, social security benefits, disaster assistance, medicare.

The vast majority of Americans work and pay taxes for most of their adult lives to pay for those benefits. But from year to year, our circumstances change. The economy is good, the economy is bad. We find a job, we get laid off. We have a baby or get seriously ill. At some point we either die or get old.

Most of the children who get free lunches while they're in school grow up, get a job and pay taxes that in turn provide free lunches for another generation of poor children. Most people who collect unemployment benefits do so only until they find another job. The very old get Medicaid to help pay for their nursing home care after a lifetime of work and paying taxes.

So who doesn't pay federal income taxes?

The key point in looking at this graph is that it shows a snapshot of who's not paying federal income taxes at one point in time.

People who don't pay income taxes are:

On social security - 10.3% of Americans pay no federal income taxes because they are elderly, drawing a Social Security "government check," and most, if not all (depending on your total income) of Social Security benefits are non-taxable income. But of course, they worked and paid taxes before they retired.

Romney's view of retired Americans on social security: " All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims . . ."

Veterans - Disability pensions for combat-related injuries are not subject to federal income tax. Veteran's education benefits aren't either. I suspect that most of my students who are veterans don't pay income tax because those education benefits are the biggest part of their income. Most have families, are full-time students, working hard to get the education they need to do well in a new career now that they're out of the military. Many were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Ordinary military pensions are taxable, but like many retired people on social security, between their retirement income being lower than what they were making when they were working and the extra deduction for being over 65, they don't owe any income tax.

Romney's view of veterans: " All right, there are 47 percent . . . who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them."

Deployed troops - pay received while serving in a combat zone is non-taxable. Romney's view of our troops serving in a war: " . . . my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility . . ."

Disabled people - Supplemental Security Income is not taxable, Social Security Disability Insurance is covered by the same rules as regular social security benefits, so most people on Social Security Disability Insurance won't have a high enough income to have to pay income tax. About 5% of Americans, receive SSDI or SSI, so they're most of the "Nonelderly, income under $20,000" in the chart above.

Romney's view of disabled Americans: "All right, there are 47 percent . . . who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them . . ."

Working but don't owe income tax - 28.3% of Americans pay no federal income taxes, but they do pay Social Security (FICA) and Medicare tax, so that tells us that they have a job or are self-employed. More than a quarter of all Americans are working and paying federal taxes, they're just not paying federal income taxes.

Why don't these working Americans - more than half of Mitt's 47% - pay federal income taxes? For most of them it's because the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) and the Child Tax Credit zeroes out the federal income taxes they would otherwise owe.

For millions of American families, this is a common story: They have a baby, one parent - usually mom - quits her job and stays home with the baby for a year or two, then she goes back to work. While they're living on one income, the family doesn't owe that much in income tax and then the EITC and the Child Tax Credit wipes that out. And most Americans who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit only claim it for one or two years. Source

Romney's view of working class and middle class families with children: ". . . there are 47 percent . . . who pay no income tax... my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

And of course all of these Americans pay all kinds of state and local taxes - sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, etc.

So who are Romney's 47%? This is who they are:

The thing is Romney didn't come up with this 47% nonsense himself. Right wing bloggers and talk show hosts have been going on about "Half of Americans don't pay (income) taxes!" for at least the past year that I've been hearing it. We heard it at the Republican primary debates and on the campaign trail.

There were demands that all of these moochers should have to pay taxes so they would have "skin in the game."

Right. Apparently this is how Republicans see tax fairness:

Old people on social security? Tax 'em! Honor our troops injured in war? Tax 'em! Fighting in a combat zone? Tax 'em! Disabled people struggling to get by? Tax 'em! Stay home with your kids while they're small? You need more taxes! The maid who cleans your motel room for minimum wage, the single mom with two kids? Tax her!

Given his description of the 47% of Americans who don't pay income tax in a given year, you'd think he thinks that they're all on welfare. Well, as I said before, I guess that depends on your definition of "welfare." Unlike Mitt, I think most Americans don't think social security benefits, combat pay, veterans benefits, disability payments, etc. are "welfare." Or maybe he knows very well that that's not true and he's just lying and pandering to his wealthy donors.

But I think he really doesn't know. And not just because he's so rich that he's out of touch. (Though there is that - see the heart-warming story of how he and Ann struggled during their student days when they had to - gasp! -sell some stock that their parents gave them to get by.)

No, I think what ails him is a combination of narcissism and gullibility. He just believes whatever talking points the TV talking heads and radio talk show hosts are repeating at the moment. He really has no curiosity about the vast majority of Americans. He just doesn't care enough to give any thought to why 47% of Americans do not pay income taxes in a particular year. He thinks they're parasites. It's their nature. He has no idea that most of them paid income tax in the past and will again in the future. Not to mention all of the other taxes (payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, etc.) they pay.

But can we afford a president who has no idea why 47% of Americans don't pay income taxes?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Nobody says it like Samuel L. Jackson

NSFW, of course. It's Samuel L. Jackson, for fuck's sake.

Manufacturing jobs

On the radio as I drove to work today, listening to Romney rant about how many manufacturing jobs have been lost and that this proves that "trends are going in the wrong direction under Obama." Looks like it's Bushes (both of 'em) that tend to make American manufacturing jobs disappear.

The BGOV Barometer shows U.S. factory positions have grown since early 2010, arresting a slide that began toward the end of the 1990s. It’s the best showing since the era of Bill Clinton … “This is the first sustained increase we’ve seen in a long time,” Macpherson said. … The progress so far also contrasts with the job losses seen during the recovery from the 2001 recession, when George W. Bush was president, he said.

Monday, September 10, 2012


It would even reach the once inconceivable point—with Joe Biden’s speech, and John Kerry’s, and veterans striding across the podium—where Democrats had and have the advantage on national security.

And that wasn’t just about the death of Osama bin Laden, who, as Kerry observed, is not better off than he was four years ago.

The GOP ceded—inexplicably, yes, idiotically ceded—the high ground here when their nominee failed to mention the war in Afghanistan or to deign to acknowledge the Americans fighting there and finally coming home.
I honestly think they just plain forgot our troops and our veterans. They're not people they think about very often. When asked why he never mentioned the troops at the convention, Romney's response?
ROMNEY: When you give a speech you don’t go through a laundry list, you talk about the things that you think are important.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Romney: Troops? What troops?

OK, so he never served in the military himself. Instead he spent the Vietnam years being a missionary in France, which he lied about (not exactly a new thing for Romney). Conveniently, although most Mormon missions are for one year or two, Romney spent almost three years in France missionarying which of course kept him from getting drafted.

He was totally gung ho for the Iraq war, but none of his five sons served, memorably explaining that “It’s remarkable how we can show our support for our nation, and one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected, because they think I’d be a great president." Because working on your dad's political campaign is totally the same sacrifice as serving in Afghanistan.

Our veterans and those who serve are just . . . well, "those people." I'm reminded of a story I read two or three years after the war in Iraq started that was written by an Army recruiter. They went to a high school, as they often did, and kids who were interested could sign up for the recruiters to come by their house, talk to the parents, etc. When they went to one house they were sure there was some mistake. It was a very wealthy neighborhood, and they'd never gotten a request from anyone in a neighborhood like that. A middle aged woman answered they door wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with an American flag. When they explained why they were there, she appeared shocked. "No, no, there must be some misunderstanding. We . . . don't do things like that. The military? No, no. Our son would never . . ." All the while, they could see the boy who'd signed up for a visit (they remembered him from the school) standing behind her.

So Romney is itching for war with Iran, but of course, no one in his family or even anyone he knows will end up fighting it if he gets his way. Which must be why the troops still fighting completely slipped his mind when he accepted his party's nomination in Tampa.

Conservative columnist Bill Kristol asks, What War?
The United States has some 68,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan. Over two thousand Americans have died in the more than ten years of that war, a war Mitt Romney has supported. Yet in his speech accepting his party's nomination to be commander in chief, Mitt Romney said not a word about the war in Afghanistan. Nor did he utter a word of appreciation to the troops fighting there, or to those who have fought there. Nor for that matter were there thanks for those who fought in Iraq, another conflict that went unmentioned.

Leave aside the question of the political wisdom of Romney's silence, and the opportunities it opens up for President Obama next week. What about the civic propriety of a presidential nominee failing even to mention, in his acceptance speech, a war we're fighting and our young men and women who are fighting it? Has it ever happened that we've been at war and a presidential nominee has ignored, in this kind of major and formal speech, the war and our warriors?

A more personal question about why Romney apparently forgot the troops serving in Afghanistan from Mormon mom Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches:
I spent my Labor Day on the beach at Coronado—home to the North Island Naval Station—with two military families we count among our closest friends.

As we watched our kids play jump rope with kelp strands, a friend recalled something Mitt Romney left out of his keynote address to last week’s Republican National Convention.

“No mention of the men and women deployed in Afghanistan,” she said, echoing a concern voiced by conservative commentators like Bill Kristol. “If it’s not worth mentioning us in a national political convention, maybe we shouldn’t even be in Afghanistan.”

Her husband faces possible deployment to Kandahar in February.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The President at the DNC

One of Sullivan's readers:
I felt like he was being square with me. But more than that, I felt not so much hopeful as proud. I'm a liberal, and mostly a cynic about politics and patriotism - but last night, I felt proud! I feel like what Obama accomplished last night was to co-opt all the best values and aspirations of the formerly moderate Republican party - hard work, self-reliance, frugality, the notion that change is best when it is slow and steady - and stitch them seamlessly into everything that is good about the values of the Democratic party - inclusiveness, shared sacrifice, community, generosity, fearless forward thinking. And it seems to me that's quite an accomplishment.

Comment of the day

The firebaggers aren’t really to the left of you—or at least, they aren’t really to the left of me. Most of them aren’t really about policy, or even politics. They’re full of outrage-for-the-sake-of-outrage, and some weird psychological kink makes them lash out not at the enemy but at the savior whose buckle isn’t quite swashed enough for their taste. They’re the emotional equivalents of the teabaggers in congress: if it’s not one thousand percent of what I ask for, then burn it all down.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jobs, anyone?

From Bloomberg:
Private Jobs Increase More With Democrats in White House

The BGOV Barometer shows that since Democrat John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures.

Democrats hold the edge though they occupied the Oval Office for 23 years since Kennedy’s inauguration, compared with 28 for the Republicans. Through April, Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 additional private-sector paychecks per month over that period, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans...

Private payrolls grew by 130,000 and, for the first time under President Barack Obama, surpassed the total in January 2009, when he took office. Total employment stayed below January 2009 because there are 607,000 fewer federal, state and local government employees, the Labor Department reported May 4...

Obama focused his remarks on the improvement at non- government employers. “Our businesses have now created more than 4.2 million new jobs over the last 26 months -- more than 1 million jobs in the last six months alone,” Obama said at a May 4 event in Virginia.

Through April, private employers have added an average of about 900 jobs per month since Obama’s inauguration. During the two terms of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, private payrolls shrank by an average of 6,700 jobs per month.

On a monthly basis, Democrat Bill Clinton averaged 217,000 new private-sector jobs. Democrat Jimmy Carter had an average of 188,000, followed by Republican Ronald Reagan’s 153,000, according to Labor Department data...

Republicans, campaigning on pledges to cut government spending and programs, had a relatively better record at creating public-sector jobs. Since January 1961, federal, state and local government employment grew by 7.1 million under Republican presidents and 6.3 million when Democrats were in the White House.
Bottom line: You want jobs - vote for Democrats.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Big Dawg speaks

This is our ex-president. Where was the Republican's ex-president last week? Hmmmmmm.

One of my favorite tweets from the night: "Bill Clinton should be the Secretary of Explaining Things." [Tom Levenson]

Michelle . . .

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fashion report

Ann Romney at the Republican National Convention. Oscar de la Renta, $4,000. And Ann, really?

Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention. Tracy Reese, $400. Also, Barbara Tfank.

Michelle wins.


Monday, September 3, 2012

No, we don't need Chinese money

Dylan Matthews at Benen's blog:
In Rob Portman’s speech at the Republican National Convention:

“China manipulates its currency giving it an unfair trade advantage. So why doesn’t the president do something about it?” Portman asked ...

One problem: China has stopped manipulating its currency. Joe Gagnon, an international finance expert at the Peterson Institute, explains that China hasn’t added to its reserves of other countries’ currencies in over a year now...

That makes the claim that we need the Chinese to buy our bonds to keep interest rates on U.S. debt low highly dubious. What’s more, Gagnon explains, even if all manipulators stop buying US bonds, the Fed can step in and buy them to keep US interest rates unchanged. Deficit-financed spending would be no more difficult than it was before.

But let’s suppose manipulation starts back up again in January 2013. Is Obama or Romney better positioned to tackle it? It’s hard to say, but Gagnon faults Romney for not offering many specifics for how he’d “get tough” on China. Obama, by contrast, has a pretty good record on the issue. “China’s manipulation really took off and peaked under George Bush,” he explained. “Under Obama it has gradually disappeared.”

[Portman was ranting about "Obama's trillion dollar deficits." Just a reminder about whose deficits we're dealing with, here.]

Just for the record

I'm really tired of hearing this, and I hear it from both Democrats and Republicans. As Benen describes it:
The stimulus wasn't big enough? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. There's no comprehensive immigration reform? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. There was only one big jobs bill? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. And so on.
Please folks, it wasn't that long ago. They had a super majority for four months, not two years. Given that, I think they did pretty damn good to get access to healthcare for 40 million Americans passed - health reform that both Democrats and Republicans have promised and failed to produce since fucking Truman. And a stimulus bill that didn't magically fix the economy but it worked a hell of a lot better than the austerity measures demanded by the Republicans. Here's how that works:

See the green line. That's how the Democrat's way - the stimulus, worked for us. See the blue line, that's how the Republican's way - drastically cut spending - worked for Europe. So we didn't get single payer on the health care reform. Unemployment is still too high. True. However, not bad I think for four months. Which was all they had, to tackle the two biggest domestic problems in my lifetime.

Reminder. Here's why the Democrats had a filibuster proof majority - which was necessary to get anything at all passed since the Republicans filibustered everything the Democrats proposed - for only four months. Thanks, Steve, for laying it out so clearly.
In January 2009, there were 56 Senate Democrats and two independents who caucused with Democrats. This combined total of 58 included Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose health was failing and was unable to serve. As a practical matter, in the early months of Obama's presidency, the Senate Democratic caucus had 57 members on the floor for day-to-day legislating.

In April 2009, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter switched parties. This meant there were 57 Democrats, and two independents who caucused with Democrats, for a caucus of 59. But with Kennedy ailing, there were still "only" 58 Democratic caucus members in the chamber.

In May 2009, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was hospitalized, bringing the number of Senate Dems in the chamber down to 57.

In July 2009, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was finally seated after a lengthy recount/legal fight. At that point, the Democratic caucus reached 60, but two of its members, Kennedy and Byrd, were unavailable for votes.

In August 2009, Kennedy died, and Democratic caucus again stood at 59.

In September 2009, Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) filled Kennedy's vacancy, bringing the caucus back to 60, though Byrd's health continued to deteriorate.

In January 2010, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) replaced Kirk, bringing the Democratic caucus back to 59 again.

In June 2010, Byrd died, and the Democratic caucus fell to 58, where it stood until the midterms.