Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

New Tax Burden: Pay For The Rich!

 

The Brookings Institution has analyzed the new tax system overhaul that Mitt Romney has proposed and concluded that it would give big tax cuts to high-income households and increase the tax burden for middle- and lower-income households

Because Romney has yet to propose an actual tax plan, the researchers modeled a revenue-neutral income tax change that incorporates some of Mr. Romney’s proposals, which include lowering marginal tax rates, eliminating both the alternative minimum tax and taxation of investment income of most taxpayers, eliminating the estate tax and repealing the additional high-income taxes passed with the Affordable Care Act.

All by themselves, these cuts to personal income and estate taxes would reduce total tax revenue by $360 billion in 2015 relative to what is expected of current policy, according to the Brookings scholars.

Mr. Romney has said that his plan will include offsets to the revenue losses from his proposed lower tax rates, although he has not specified what kinds of policies would offset those cuts (that is, how he would come up with an additional $360 billion to offset the lost $360 billion in tax revenue).

Ann thinks this is funny.

The Brookings analysis assumes that those offsets would be achieved chiefly through reducing or altogether eliminating other tax breaks — like the mortgage interest tax deduction or the child tax credit — and does not factor in spending cuts as a means to offset lost tax revenue.

But even if all possible loopholes for households earning more than $200,000 were eliminated, this group would still be a net gainer under Mr. Romney’s plan, since the marginal tax rate decreases and other changes lop off so much of its tax burden.

As a result, middle- and lower-income households — the 95 percent of the population earning less than about $200,000 annually — would have to make up the difference.

“It is not possible to design a revenue-neutral plan that does not reduce average tax burdens and the share of taxes paid by high-income taxpayers under the conditions described above, even when we try to make the plan as progressive as possible,” write the study’s authors, Samuel Brown, William Gale and Adam Looney.

If the elimination of tax breaks starts with those affecting the top earners, the authors estimate, those earning under $200,000 a year will see their cash income fall by about 1.2 percent, as shown in the chart below. The very top earners — those earning more than $1 million a year — will by contrast see their cash income rise by 4.1 percent.

This analysis assumes that base-broadening -- eliminate of tax expenditures -- occurs “starting at the top” so that tax preferences are reduced or eliminated first for high-income taxpayers in order to make the resulting plan as progressive as possible.

This analysis assumes that base-broadening — elimination of tax expenditures — occurs “starting at the top” so that tax preferences are reduced or eliminated first for high-income taxpayers to make the resulting plan as progressive as possible.

Mitt Romney looked out the window as he chatted with the traveling press corps aboard his campaign's charter plane on Monday.

And still, all of the guys in the top 2-3% make out, while the rest of us get screwed as usual. Don’t vote for Mitt. Please.

 


Obama vs. Romney.

This time around, there is no great black hope, no chanting, “yes, we can.”, no Black-eyed Peas reminding us that the future can be different, if we are willing to elect a reasonable man or woman to the highest office in the land.

This time around, we have seen what 3+ years of a reasonable man can do in that office, and we are deflated, depressed and disenfranchised even further than we were under eight years of the Bush presidency. How could that be even possible?

Did we really just witness 3+ years of congress doing imitations of the ultimate fighting championships, promoted to kill any legislation that Obama was behind, just because he was behind it, regardless of its impact on the American people? Really? I thought the Clinton years were brutal, but those were kindergarten neener-neener nasty compared to this. And, they even included an impeachment.

I really can’t take any more of this. Even the thought of voting for Romney is crazy. Is that what people want? Back to No future III? The Bush years revisited, but with a Republican congress? You like this quarter’s jobs report? You’ll LOVE it under Romney. You like the state of housing? Romney will give you a boner. You like the cost of health care? Romney will make it even higher. You like social programs for those who are in trouble? Forget about it. You like rich guys being protected by the government and helped to get even richer? You will be in heaven.

Do we need to be reminded that our current predicament is the result of eight years of Bush policies? Really?

Deficit spending: higher under George Bush. Military spending: higher under George Bush. National Debt: higher under George Bush. Government employment: higher under George Bush. Pace of the increase in National debt: higher under George Bush. Authorization for  the biggest government handout in history: George Bush.

When Obama took office, the first thing he got to witness was the implementation of the most poorly thought out policy dictate in American history, an $887 billion bailout of the nation’s banks. Obama didn’t get a vote in this. It just was. And, guess what? It wasn’t enough. We needed to bail them out some more. Then, the banks hunkered down and we haven’t seen them since (except when trading derivatives and disclosing over-exposures to European trading partners). Credit? HA! You want credit? You get Yogi Berra credit. You can have all you want as long as you don’t need it. If you need it, you can’t have it.

Then the housing market crashed, but banks didn’t like the way they filled out those pesky loan documents, so they sort of delayed full disclosure on their exposures. Now, we all see their exposures and nobody likes it, especially the banks. Obama said, “Shouldn’t the banks be held to some accountability if we are going to keep them afloat?”, and congress laughed. That boy clearly doesn’t understand how the game is played, does he?

He tried to close Guantanamo like he promised, but congress said, “Hell no, boy. Don’t you understand people don’t want those ‘ragheads’ in their neighborhood prisons?” as if someone actually asked anybody what they wanted? Nope – not how it’s done.

He authorized a (relatively) small bailout for the auto industry and guess what happened? The industry is stronger now than it has ever been, and they all paid their loans back well before they were due. Detroit has jobs now. People are working in the auto industry again. Did you know that? Probably not, because Obama’s message seems to get drowned out in the air waves, or nobody seems to remember how bad it was, just 3 years ago. Or, how scary.

I think, based upon looking at the polls, people don’t remember anything that happened yesterday. This country polls hugely (above 65%) in favor of every component of what is now known as Obamacare, yet when asked whether they approve of Obamacare itself, they poll negative. How can that be? Oh, that’s right. The Kardashian’s are making $40 million a year and have renewed their insane reality show for another five years. Now, it all makes sense.

Obama tries to take credit for ridding the planet of the most dangerous terrorist that ever lived and people pretty much yawn.

What have you done for us lately, I guess? Seemed like a pretty big deal when Bush was in office. Whatever.

Jobs? Obama has clearly failed to create any new ones. But, when he actually does something to try and create new ones, he gets shot down in congress. The JOBS act struggled to get out of a Democratic controlled Senate with major revisions and is now stalled out in the SEC during implementation over petty issues surrounding accreditation of lenders. Come’ on, man! Is this what you people want?

How about at least prosecuting the ‘criminal’ banks? Are you kidding me? Not one banker does any jail time, yet they all played a major part in taking down the world’s financial system as we knew it, and it will probably get much worse. Instead, his AG gets rung up on contempt of congress on some nonsensical ATF screw-up that no one cares about, least of all the guys still looking for work in their 24th month of unemployment.

I mean really. This is what congress focuses on? This is way worse than re-arranging deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.

A couple of inherited wars? Obama ended one and has begun to end the other, meanwhile avoiding the “crazies” in Iran and their brinkmanship. Silly people; they want their own nuclear bomb just like the big guys. Where do they get off? Israel? The peace process grinds along and Obama has done as much or as little to placate all sides as anyone before him, while trying to keep the Israelis in a state of reason.  But, no way is Obama a tough war president like Bush or that Romney guy, both of whom are delighted to send our young men and women into harm’s way, particularly if there is oil or other stuff we want. National security, you know.

Health care? Never mind that he risked almost all of his political capital to usher in the most revolutionary health care reform bill in history, and the people LOVED it (see above), but he also frightened the living skittles out of the insurance companies and lobbyists at the same time. How many times has your health insurance premiums gone up in the last twelve months? There is a reason for that, and yes, we are on the path to a single payer health plan … unless, of course Romney gets elected. In that case, Obamacare will be overturned (though it will be interesting to see how he actually does this) and 33 million Americans can return to having no health care, along with all of the college students now on their parent’s plans for a few more years. Pre-existing conditions? Forgetaboutit.

And then there’s the economy. Give me a break. If this election is won or lost based on the economy, Obama is history. The economy is lousy now, hasn’t improved in the slightest in the last 4 years, and is about to get really bad. The only thing we can be sure of is that we are hopelessly overexposed to Europe, the European bankers are even bigger liars than our own bankers, and when the sizzle finally hits the fan, the US banks and the US economy will be a disaster. The recent jobs report will look the same or worse for the rest of the year. Housing hasn’t budged and won’t, except to fall even further. All of that, we can be sure of.

But, the election shouldn’t be won or lost based on the economy. Generally reasonable people should conclude that no one individual, especially the president of the US, can actually do anything to alter this course, and that many complex factors must resolve themselves before any of this can begin moving in the right direction. Factors that rely on individuals at the levers of power to do things that are in the interests of the general well-being of mankind, as opposed to their own private interests.

Fixing this mess will require that the Fed and Treasury break some rules and force bankers to do truly radical things like forgiving all of the bad mortgage debt, for openers. Stop collecting bad debts. Open their credit drawers to small businesses and returning vets and people who used to have good credit. In other words, pitch in and help.

Our current situation is in many ways, reminiscent of World War II. A small group of evil men determined to wreak havoc on the rest of global society with the fiercest and most treacherous means available at their disposal. But, instead, a few good men stood tall and acted like the statesmen they were, and inspired the rest of us to carry on and fight the good fight. And, they called for immense sacrifice.

We went without – a lot of stuff – for a long time. Rules were broken and changed. There were very few sacred cows untarnished. The future of the world was on the line. And, because of all of that, the people banded together and prevailed.

This election also needs to be about statesmanship and leadership.

We face three major disasters today — the first being fallout from the financial recession of 2008 with respect to the balance sheets of consumers and government entities. The collapse of housing prices destroyed trillions in family assets. The median net worth of families in the United States dropped by 39 percent over a three year period — from $126,000 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010 — leaving family wealth back where it was in 1992, two decades before.

Second, the housing collapse led to permanent damage to our financial and banking system. Banks are not making normal loans because they still have a lot of bad debt on the books and they are uncertain about future regulatory requirements, and global financial developments. As much as I hate them, they are doing what is right for their shareholders. But, what they are doing is wrong for the world.

And third, our enormous government debt breeds uncertainty. No one has any idea how we can pay this debt down, and especially when Congress continues to do their UFC imitations and seems completely unable to function.

And, we face one huge potential disruptor – the coming financial fallout from the impending collapse of most of Europe and many of their most prestigious banking institutions. This event will create panic, banking disasters, it will plunge the economy even deeper into chaos and cause even greater job loss.

We can avoid all of this, but it will require a summit like no other and leadership rarely witnessed in history. It will require that we throw away all convention and determine to start anew at whatever cost and whatever pain to those most heavily invested. I once asked the head of Levi Strauss’s Jeanswear division why they decided to stop shipping product to China and he said, “The Haas brothers don’t need any more money.” Well, I think that reasoning applies aptly to a lot of people in power today as well.

How can we stop all this?

Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, Conservative, Liberal or Libertarian, we need to vote for a leader and a statesman. The only man running, who is capable of delivering speeches to raise the spirit and pride of the American people, who is driven by reason and not by politics, who can conjure the presence and will of Roosevelt and Churchill, Kennedy and Lincoln, and who can summon our courage and strength when we will need it most. There is only one who can bring global leaders to a summit and get them to do the hard things that must be done to put a stop to this spiral. There’s only one statesman running, and his name isn’t Mitt Romney.


A Martian Class in Presidential Politics.

Let’s just say for shits and giggles, that I have no dog in the Presidential hunt and that I think that Bush and Obama both made fine Presidents.

Let’s also say that I just dropped in from Mars and heard a bunch of people in a crowd complaining about how terrible Obama has been as President, and how he is a big government socialist, can’t create private sector jobs, is destroying the country and our future by raising our national debt to historic levels, and has created an environment where both business and Wall Street are suffering.

Then someone rushed out of the crowd and showed me these charts:

In this chart, the blue line is state government employment. The green line is local government employment. And the red line is private employment. Bush is on the left, Obama is on the right:

private sector bush obama

As you can see, under Obama, private employment snapped back much better than it did during Bush’s first year.

State and local government employment, however, fell much harder under Obama than it did under Bush.

This is of course, exactly the opposite of the big government socialist stereotype that the Obama economy is portrayed as, but hey.

And here, just for the hell of it, is the same chart but with the performance of the S&P 500 (in orange) during each period:

image

Here’s a chart with the National Debt growth in it, represented by the black line. As you can see, the national debt has grown a little bit faster under Obama, but hardly any faster than under Bush, and the trajectory is almost identical:

image

Class over.


Lies, Damn Lies, and Republican Lies.

Do we have a dream team here? Ready for slashed spending? Are we scared yet?

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan appear to be basing their 2012 Presidential campaign upon the theory that Obama is a tax and spend President and that his “runaway spending” policies have been responsible for the biggest deficit and the fastest growing national debt in the history of the country.

The Republican ad machine tells us that were we to re-elect him, we would be endorsing more of the same, as well as increased spending for entitlements, that would push the deficit to historic levels and cost more jobs while creating an even larger national debt.

Oddly, the actual facts tell a very different story. Compared to George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, Obama’s record in office shows that he has embraced fiscal conservatism more than any other president in recent history, with the exception of fellow Democrat Bill Clinton.

Economics Professor Mark Thoma provides a helpful chart on his blog that puts President Obama’s per capita spending into context, comparing it with the spending of every president in the last 40 years:

The data is going to be difficult for Obama’s critics, who have spent years hammering his administration for record spending and fiscal irresponsibility. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson put it best: “Going by federal expenditures…it would seem that if Obama’s a socialist, Ronald Reagan is Karl Marx with an ICBM.”

Here’s a look at  public sector employment during the Obama Expanding Government era; the 1981, 1990 and 2001 recessions were under Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. The red line is the 2007 Obama recession:

Or, how about a look at Obama’s big-government policies in action. They should have led to a massive growth in our bureaucracy, right? Well, believe it or not, there have been 607,000 jobs lost in the public sector, largely from state and local cutbacks due to no federal aid. Here’s what that looks like:

I could go on, and there are endless charts that all say the same thing, no matter how you slice and dice the data. This guy is a conservative.

At the end of the day, it is really, truly time for the myth about Big Spender Obama to die. If anything, it is remarkable that, after the worst recession in history and a private sector implosion, the public sector expanded less under this administration than it did under Bush or Reagan. Them’s the facts.


Thanks, Mr. Dimon.

Jamie Dimon has allowed us to witness an object demonstration of why Wall Street does, in fact, need to be regulated. Thank you, Jamie.

I hate to beat up on Jamie Dimon so badly, especially since I don’t know him personally and I’m sure he is a fine fellow, but as Bill Maher would say, hey, they give you the comedy lines and you just have to take it, right?

Any honest evaluation of the facts would conclude that JPMorgan, to its — and Jamie Dimon’s  — credit, did manage to avoid many of the bad investments that brought other banks to their knees in the 2007-2008 contagion.

His demonstration of sound judgment and careful planning gave Jamie the role of class valedictorian in Wall Street’s war to delay, and/or repeal the righteous pile of financial reform crawling its way through Congress and occasionally spewing watered-down effluence like the Dodd-Frank bill.

Mr. Dimon has been particularly open in his opposition to the so-called Volcker Rule, which would prevent banks with government-guaranteed deposits from engaging in “proprietary trading,” (basically speculating with depositors’ money). Why? Because everything at JP Morgan Chase is under control and we don’t need no stinking badges, thank you very much.

Until last week maybe. A minor screw-up. $2 Billion in trading losses. Well, there are really no excuses as Jamie said, but hey, they’re human. They make mistakes too. Still, no reason to lose our minds and start regulating like crazy; after all, it WAS their money, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out that the bank’s “money” is in fact money backed by taxpayer’s guarantees.

We know from history that banking has always been subject to  destructive panics, that occasionally threaten to bring down the entire financial system. In spite of arm-chair economists like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and perhaps especially our buddy, Paul Ryan, bad banking is not always the result of government intervention or the meddling liberal fools in Congress.

In the golden ages of American Capitalism, between 1700 and 1840, or between 1890 and 1929, we had minimal government and no Fed (to speak of) and yet, we still managed a financial panic roughly once every six years. Some of them real beauts.

After the greatest depression in our history, our Congressional leaders arrived at a reasonable solution that seemed to work really well for the next 60 years or so. We implemented systems of guarantees and oversight that protected both the citizen depositors and the government who guaranteed those deposits. Deposits were insured, so that panic resulting from the perception of a failing bank was limited, and banks were prevented from gambling and abusing the privilege they enjoyed from those insured deposits, guaranteed by taxpayers.

The significance of those regulations prevented banks, holding government-guaranteed deposits, from engaging in high-risk market speculation. Speculation in investment products like CMOs and CDO tranches and Knock Out Straddles.

What? You didn’t have any Knock Out Straddles? Lehman Bothers did.

But, I guess we really didn’t like financial stability. Or, we all saw a movie in 1987 called Wall Street and decided that being Master of the Universe would be pretty cool. Jamie Dimon certainly thought so. He was 31 when that movie came out. Not surprisingly, all of these new forms of banking without government guarantees became the rage, while 50 years of banking regulation was over-turned (by a Democrat by the way) and banks were allowed to take on increasing risks. We, the people, got exactly what we deserved.

It is mind-blowing to me that we have to debate and argue about whether we should restore the safeguards that brought us 50 years without a major banking panic. We, the people who got shafted by the bankers, their lobbyists and the politicians they bankroll, have to cajole our Congressmen to re-instate the Glass-Steagall act of 1933? After we allowed those very same bankers to be bailed out by our own tax dollars? Why?

We are the same people, at least 48-50% of us, who want to cast a vote for a guy who has promised to repeal Dodd-Frank and any other banking regulations that come down the pipe? Really?

We can thank Jamie and JP Morgan for shining a spotlight on the reasons we need to tighten regulations on banks, but it really won’t do any good as long as we continue to pretend that none of this matters. Or, that we can’t make a difference. Or, that it’s all too weird and hard to understand and the banks won’t really do anything that stupid again, would they?

You may not be able to fix it, but with one vote, you could make it worse.


Gas Prices. Who’s Your Daddy?

If you listened to Romney’s stump speeches, you would think he is the “people’s” champion for lower gas prices.

Who ARE these people?

His supporters like “Drill-baby” McCain, have been trying to convince us for years that the simplest and fastest way to lower gas prices is to drill everywhere we can fit an oil rig in the U.S. His message is that Obama is a weak leader, influenced only by his elite, leftist, Harvard-educated friends, and that left to his devices, we will continue to kiss environmentalist behinds and keep the price of gas in the $4-5/gallon range forever.

Because after all, $5 gas is no sweat to Obama and his friends. McCain and Romney are only looking out for you, the little guy.

It turns out that high gas prices aren’t actually a problem for Romney either. They are in fact a a boon to his political fortunes.

Using the little guy’s pain at the pump for political purposes, is not the only way he and McCain et al, benefit from high gas prices. Big oil interests are among his most reliable and significant supporters — and when gas prices are high, so are their profits.

These record profits give oil executives even more cash than usual to spend on advancing their political agenda — and that begins with electing Romney. In fact, Big Oil executives pledged more than $200 million to aid Romney’s campaign, and to defeat Obama.

The quid pro quo? Big oil gets to keep its billions in special tax breaks every year. So not only does the little guy pay once – at the pump – but he gets to pay twice through his income taxes, some of which goes to subsidize an industry where the top 5 companies earned $137 billion in profits last year!

In keeping with a time-honored tradition, Big-oil has managed to get Harold Hamm, a billionaire oil executive appointed as Romney’s top energy adviser. This is the same Harold Hamm who declared in 2009 that cheap oil would be a “disaster,” and that “clean energy is a magical fantasy”.

Romney actually gets passionate about oil and gas prices. At a recent town hall meeting, he responded to a question about high gas prices by asserting that efforts to reduce the billions in tax breaks for big oil companies are “dangerous”, and described Paul Ryan’s budget which protects the oil subsidies while eliminating clean energy investments as a “bold and exciting effort.” This was followed by a Fox News debate in which he said that oil and gas executives tell him they had it “a whole lot better” under fellow oilman George W. Bush. You think?

It gets better. Instead of tapping American ingenuity to make our cars go farther on a gallon of gas, Romney has continually blasted improved fuel-efficiency standards — including the higher standards that Bush signed into law as president. He has declared that U.S. clean energy sources — like wind and solar power — are not “real energy,” and that burgeoning green technologies are nothing more than “expensive fads.” He thumbed his nose at the U.S. auto industry by mocking Chevy’s hybrid electric Volt as “an idea whose time has not come.”

Looks pretty cool to me!

Romney’s mutual admiration relationship with Big Oil comes down to this: Oil company executives see high gas prices as an opportunity to profit financially. Romney sees that high gas prices represent an opportunity to profit politically.

Rachel Maddow had an interesting chart on her “Chart Imitates Life” segment last night which depicted the relationship between income inequality and political partisanship in Congress as two lines almost hugging each other from the 1940’s until now.

    

The next time you slide your credit card into that gas pump, give a thought to that chart and to Romney’s true sympathies. He may want to bet you $10,000 that gas won’t go to $5/gallon this year. If Obama’s ahead in the polls, take it!

 


RomneyCare vs. ObamaCare

Can you tell the difference?


Mitt Romney has gone to great lengths to distance his Massachusetts health plan from the ObamaCare Act, without specifically or even generally, providing any insight whatsoever into what he perceives to be the  differences, so I guess it is up to us to try and do that. The facts appear to be that there are an awful lot of similarities between the plan he signed in Massachusetts in 2006, and the one that President Barack Obama signed in 2010.

Key among them: Both leave in place the major insurance systems; employer-provided insurance, Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor. They both seek to reduce the number of uninsured by expanding Medicaid, and by offering tax breaks to help moderate income people buy insurance. In both cases, people are required to buy insurance or pay a penalty, via  a mechanism called the “individual mandate” in ObamaCare, and “individual responsibility” in RomneyCare.  My editorial assistant would argue Romney’s camp had the better messaging. And finally, companies that don’t offer insurance to employees have to pay fines, with exceptions for very small business (10 employees or less) and a few other weird cases.

Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

Let’s see if you have survived the media onslaught and can tell the difference between ObamaCare and RomneyCare. Here are 12 descriptions of the plans that I got from digging through the legislation that created the two plans, official summaries, private reports and recorded interviews with experts. See if you can tell whether each description is for ObamaCare or RomneyCare.

1. “Individuals who are deemed able to afford health insurance but fail to comply, are subject to penalties for each month of non-compliance in the tax year … . The penalties, which will be imposed through the individual’s personal income tax return, shall not exceed 50% of the minimum monthly insurance premium.”

2. Employers “who employ 11 or more full-time equivalent employees” and do not make a “fair and reasonable contribution” to their employees’ health insurance (whatever that means) are required to pay a fine.

3. “Tax credits to make it easier for the middle class to afford insurance will become available for people with income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line who are not eligible for other affordable coverage.” Yeah – read that 3 times real fast.

4. Children and adolescents up to age 18 “whose financial eligibility as determined by the division exceeds 133 per cent but is not more than 300 per cent of the federal poverty level” will be eligible for Medicaid. This makes my head spin like the Aflac duck.

5. “Americans who earn less than 133 percent of the poverty level (approximately $14,000 for an individual and $29,000 for a family of four) will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid.”

6. A recent poll asked people whether they had a generally favorable or unfavorable view of the health plan. Responses split 41 percent and 41 percent between favoring and not favoring. Another 18 percent said they were undecided.

7. Small businesses qualify for tax credits if they pay for at least half of the workers’ health insurance. A small business is defined as having fewer than 25 full-time workers paid average annual wages below $50,000. Not only a small business, but a cheap small business.

8. Experience shows the plan is not significantly going to lower costs. Supporters of the law are actively considering new legislation aimed at cost containment.

9. The plan creates a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute “to conduct research to provide information about the best available evidence to help patients and their health care providers make more informed decisions.”

10. For individuals who make more than $200,000 or couples that make more than $250,000, the plan increases Medicare taxes on wages in 2013 by 0.9 percent and imposes a 3.8 percent tax on investment income.

11. This plan is completely unconcerned about cost control, with no incentives by insurance companies, employers or employees to keep costs down.

12. This plan is 100% subsidized by another and entirely separate government agency. If the plan loses money, the other government agency picks up the difference.

So, are you smarter than a fifth grader? 

All 12: You’re completely nuts! You qualify to be an analyst on either Fox News or The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.

8-11:  You spend way too much time watching MSNBC and listening to NPR! You should go walk your dogs.

6-7: You have been reading arcane government documents only available on-line.  You can probably get a researcher job on Melissa Harris-Perry‘s Saturday morning show.

5-6: Wonky Honorable Mention. Maybe a guest shot on Bill O’Reilly.

3-4: Dumber than a fifth-grader.  You really haven’t been paying attention, have you?

0-2: Never watch or listen Club. You would rather watch a baseball game or Law & Order re-runs or maybe listen to 70s and 80s top forty, wouldn’t you?

ANSWERS:

1. RomneyCare

Source: Massachusetts Department of Revenue, TIR 09-25: Individual Mandate Penalties for Tax Year 2010
Note: Both plans have individual mandates. The federal penalties start small, but eventually ramp up to $695 per year or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is higher. Eventually, federal penalties will tend to be higher than the Massachusetts plan.

2. RomneyCare

Source: Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Health Care Information for Employers
Note: Federal law exempts employers with fewer than 50 workers. Additionally, under the federal plan, employers pay fines only if their workers qualify for tax credits to buy insurance.

3. ObamaCare

Source: HealthCare.gov, Provisions of the Affordable Care Act, By Year
Note: The Massachusetts law also provides subsidized health insurance, but the income cut-off is 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

4. RomneyCare

Source: Massachusetts health care law
Note: The Massachusetts law expanded Medicaid for children. The federal law expands Medicaid to adults, but sets the cut-off at 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

5. ObamaCare

Source: HealthCare.gov, Provisions of the Affordable Care Act, By Year
Note: The Massachusetts law expanded Medicaid for children. The federal law expands Medicaid to adults, but sets the cut-off at 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

6. ObamaCare

Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation, Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, April 2011
Note: Polls show the federal law has split public opinion. Polls in Massachusetts show the program is significantly more popular.

7. ObamaCare

Source: Internal Revenue Service, Small Business Health Care Tax Credit for Small Employers
Note: Tax credits start at 35 percent of the employer’s health premium costs and increase to 50 percent in 2014.

8. RomneyCare

Source: Gov. Deval Patrick, Patrick-Murphy administration proposes comprehensive health care cost containment legislation, Feb. 17, 2011; AP, Lawmakers hear bill to rein in Mass. health costs, May 16, 2011

9. ObamaCare

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office, Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Governing Board; Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), About Us

10. ObamaCare

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation, summary of new health reform law

11. RomneyCare

Neener-Neener. See number 12.

Source: Ezra Klein in the Drudge Report http://www.drudge.com/news/154957/klein-ryancare-obamacare-similar

12. RomneyCare

That other agency would be the Federal Government. Seriously. No wonder it works.

Source: The American Spectator http://spectator.org/archives/2012/02/15/obamacare-vs-romneycare-a-cruc


Student Loan Debt. Can You Hear That Train A’Coming?

The federal student loan program seemed like a great idea back in 1965: Borrow to go to college now, pay it back later when you have a job. But back then, my tuition at Cal was $230 a year, so even with my first job offer as a junior copywriter at Hoefer, Dietrich and Brown, at that time the largest independent ad agency west of the Mississippi (John Hoefer, brilliant Creative Director third from left), I had income of $12,400 a year, of which I could have easily made that 2.36% payment and had that $920. paid off in like 4 years.

I didn’t need to though, because I didn’t borrow a student loan to pay for school, and didn’t know anyone who did. This was not due to some stupid pride thing, but the program wasn’t put in place until I was almost out of Berkeley.

Surging above $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt has surpassed credit card and auto-loan debt. This debt explosion jeopardizes the fragile recovery, increases the burden on taxpayers and possibly sets the stage for a new economic crisis. With a still-wobbly jobs market, these loans are increasingly hard to pay off. Unable to find work, many students have returned to school, further driving up their indebtedness.

It isn’t surprising that average student loan debt recently topped $25,000, up 25 percent in 10 years. And the mushrooming debt has direct implications for taxpayers, since 8 in 10 of these loans are government-issued or guaranteed. Yet, the primary driver for the problem, dramatically increasing public college tuition remains unchecked. For some reason, there are now more administrators and fewer teachers, and the gap ratio seems to be expanding. Public universities in the United States are suffering from administrative bloat, according to the Goldwater Institute. From 1993 to 2011, four-year public institutions of higher learning expanded their ratio of administrative staff per 100 students by 39%, while teaching and research staff levels grew by less than 10%. The same disparity did not apply to private universities, where the ratio growth of administrators and instructors was roughly the same (40%).

At some public universities, the disparity was particularly dramatic. Arizona State University increased the number of administrators per 100 students by 94% while reducing the number of faculty, research and service personnel by 2%. While this obviously drives up costs, it appears to do nothing to increase the quality of education, but that is the topic for another post.

In an attempt to address the growing problem with student loans, President Obama has offered a raft of proposals aimed at fine-tuning the system and making repayments easier. Yet the predicament of debt-burdened former students has failed to generate much notice in the GOP presidential campaign. Instead, the candidates are dismissive of government student loan programs in general and Obama’s proposals in particular.

Rick Santorum went so far as to label Obama “a snob” for urging all Americans to try to obtain some form of post-high-school education — even though some polls show over 90 percent of parents expect their children to go to college. Front-runner Mitt Romney denounces what he calls a “government takeover” of the program. Newt Gingrich calls student loans a “Ponzi scheme” under which students spend the borrowed money now but will “have to pay off the national debt” later in life as taxpayers. And Ron Paul wants to abolish the program entirely.

Lifting student debt higher and higher is the escalating cost of attending schools, with tuition increasing far faster than the rate of inflation. And enrollment has been rising for years, a trend that accelerated through the recent recession, fueling even more borrowing. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, argues that government loans and subsidies are not particularly cost-effective for taxpayers because “universities and colleges just raise their tuition. It doesn’t improve affordability and it doesn’t make it easier to go to college.”

“Of course, it’s very hard on the kids who have gone through this, because they’re on the hook,” Zandi added. “And they’re not going to be able to get off the hook.”

It’s not just young adults who are saddled.

“Parents and the federal government shoulder a substantial part of the postsecondary education bill,” said a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And some of the borrowers are baby boomers, near or at retirement age. The Fed research found that Americans 60 and older still owe about $36 billion in student loans.

Overall, nearly 3 in 10 of all student loans have past-due balances of 30 days or more, the report said.

Complicating the picture further: Like child support and income taxes, student loans usually can’t be discharged or reduced in bankruptcy proceedings, as can most other delinquent debt. This restriction was extended in 2005 to also include student loans made by banks and other private financial institutions.

“This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy,” said William Brewer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

“As bankruptcy lawyers, we’re the first to see the cracks in the foundation,” Brewer said. “We were warning of mortgage problems in 2006 and 2007. The industry was saying we’ve got it under control. Nobody had it under control. Now we’re seeing the same signs of distress. We’re seeing huge defaults on student loans and people driven into financial difficulties because of them.”

A report by his group noted that missing just one student loan payment puts a borrower in delinquent status. After nine months, the borrower is in default. Once a default occurs, the full amount of the loan is due immediately. For those with federal student loans, the government has vast collection powers, including the ability to garnishee a borrower’s wages and to seize tax refunds and Social Security and other federal benefit payments.

Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said the student loan crisis may not torpedo the financial sector as the mortgage meltdown nearly did in 2008, but it could slam taxpayers and the still-ailing housing market.

“When student loans don’t get repaid, debts are going to be transferred from the borrower to the taxpayer,” further raising federal deficits, he said. And overburdened student-loan borrowers may fail to qualify for mortgages and “stay much longer in their parents’ homes,” Gault said. Young adults forming households have historically been the bulk of first-time home buyers — and their scarcity could dampen any housing recovery. “When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college,” Obama said in his State of the Union address, asking Congress to extend a temporary cut — due to expire in July — in federal student-loan rates. The reduced federal rate is now 3.4 percent. It the cuts aren’t extended, it will rise to 6.8 percent.

Still, Obama said: “We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. We’ll run out of money.”

The Democratic minority on the House Education Committee and Workforce Committee released new figures showing that more than seven million students will incur an additional $6.3 billion in repayment costs for the 2012-2013 school year if student loan interest rates double on July 1. Obama also asked Congress to extend the current tuition tax credit, double work-study jobs over five years and let borrowers consolidate multiple student loans at reduced interest rates.

But in this intensely partisan year, any congressional action seems dubious.

“I wish I could tell you that there’s a place to find really cheap money or free money and pay for everyone’s education, but that’s just not going to happen,” Romney says. “Now the government is taking over the student loan business. I think you’ll get less competition.”

The government has not taken over the student loan business. The private loan industry is still writing student loans, usually at interest rates far above the government ones.

What the Republicans are zeroing in on is a section in Obama’s health care overhaul that eliminated big banks as middlemen in managing federal school-loan programs. Also, the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is clamping down on the lightly regulated private student loan industry.

Santorum, who now says calling Obama a “snob” for promoting higher education was “probably not the smartest” choice of words, has been seeking to rally blue-collar support by emphasizing that many jobs do not require college degrees — and suggesting many colleges are liberal bastions. None of which goes anywhere toward solving our next financial crises. That would be $1Trillion, with a capital T. Can you hear the train a’coming? 


The Gift That Keeps On Giving.

Rush Limbaugh‘s ‘Slut’ Comment Controversy Proves It Has Staying Power

It has been nearly two weeks since Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, that is virtually an eternity.

Yet the outrage over the conservative talk radio host’s remarks is still making headlines, spawning activist attacks and causing headaches for advertisers.

Premiere Networks, the radio group that syndicates the Rush Limbaugh Radio Show, pulled all of its barter ads – which run at all hours, not just during Premiere Network programming- from the group’s affiliated stations.

The company would not say whether the suspension, which runs from March 12 through March 23, was in response to the Limbaugh backlash,  but the only two companies whose ads are exempted from the hiatus are LifeLock and Lear Financial, both of which have publicly said they will not pull their ads from Limbaugh’s show.

Premiere Networks spokeswoman Rachel Nelson said the memo was “part of Premiere’s overall strategy to update our processes and services to better meet our clients’ needs.” Huh?

ABC has confirmed more than three dozen companies that have pulled their ads from Limbaugh’s three-hour time slot, many of which, such as Geico and JC Penny, issued statements saying their ads – presumably barter ads – were not specifically bought during Limbaugh’s time slot and weremistakenly run there.

Premiere issued a memo last week that lists almost 100 companies, including Geico and JC Penny, that have requested that their ads not run during programs that may contain “offensive or controversial” content that is “likely to stir negative sentiment from a very small percentage of the listening public.”

Limbaugh, along with Sean Hannity, Glen Beck and other talk radio programs were listed as examples of such off-limits programs.

Nelson said the memo was a “routine communication” that is distributed on a “quarterly basis.”  

She sought to dispel any rumors that Limbaugh’s show could be canceled.

“There is no truth to that rumor,” Nelson said in an email to ABC News.  

Advertising time that was bought specifically during Limbaugh’s show will still air as usual and it is unlikely that listeners will notice the change, said Tom Taylor, the editor of Chicago-based Radio-Info.com.

“I believe that Premiere wants the whole thing to have a chance to cool down,” Taylor said. “Right now the temperature sure is pretty high, it sure is, and I think that’s what Premiere wants to do is get that down below 212 degrees, below the boiling point.”

Taylor said the two-week barter ad holiday “probably puts a dent” in Premiere’s finances temporarily, but that it will not affect local stations’ revenue, which may have been hurt by the local advertisers pulling out of Limbaugh’s airtime.

Limbaugh’s inflammatory comments have made their way into presidential politics as well. The progressive activist group MoveOn.org released a web video Tuesday quoting Limbaugh and declaring that Republicans were waging a “war on women.”

“Judging from their comments, the GOP must have a serious problem with women,” a women in the ad says. “And until the Republicans get over their issues, we women have got a serious problem with the Republican Party.”

In another web video, the women’s rights group Ultraviolet went specifically after Mitt Romney for his tepid response to Limbaugh’s rant. Romney merely said “it’s not the language I would have used.”

“Tell Mitt Romney to stand up to Rush and stand up for women,” the group’s ad says.

But it’s not just Republicans who have come under attack in light of the Limbaugh controversy.

Rick Santorum said Monday that “the left” has an “absolute double standard” because while they condemn Limbaugh’s comments, similarly offensive statements from comedian Bill Maher, who donated $1 million to the pro-Obama Super PAC, have not been similarly scorned.

The women’s rights group Concerned Women for America said Maher was a “vile misogynist” and called for Priorities USA to return Maher’s $1 million donation.

Maher found himself in an advertiser boycott similar, although smaller, than Limbaugh’s after he called Sarah Palin offensive names.

“Hate to defend #RushLimbaugh but he apologized, liberals looking bad not accepting,” Maher tweeted last week. “Also hate intimidation by sponsor pullout.”

On his show Tuesday, Limbaugh declared the “slut” controversy all-but-over, claiming victory against Democrats and the “Obama media.” The Republican kingpin pointed to the latest CBS/New York Times poll that shows Obama’s approval rating at 41 percent, its lowest point in his presidency, as proof that the uproar over his comments had “backfired” against the left.

“He has 41 percent approval one week after they were all doing handstands, one week after they were all celebrating the ‘Rush Limbaugh comment,'” Limbaugh said. “So they’ve lost. Not only did it backfire, it backfired so bad that Obama lost tremendous, humongous ground in approval numbers.” Huh?

Obama’s approval rating is down 7 points from the Times’ poll one month ago. Gallup’s daily pollingfound the president’s approval rating at 47 percent, the exact same as it was on Feb. 28, the day before Limbaugh’s controversial comments.

Fluke, the 30-year-old law student that Limbaugh verbally attacked, is also claiming a victory. In a Tuesday op-ed posted on CNN.com, Fluke said the attempts of Limbaugh and others to “silence women” have “clearly failed.”

Clearly, Limbaugh will give less than a crap about this. In fact, just today, he dug himself even deeper by saying that Fluke “should back off how much sex she’s having” and that “no, her parents should not be proud of her.”

He still, apparently, hasn’t bothered to read an article about Fluke’s testimony, in which she discussed her friend and her friend’s medical condition, and how her friend couldn’t afford the medication that could have saved her ovary. So, freedom of choice and reproductive rights aside, this woman talked about her friend’s ultimately tragic medical condition and ended up being called a slut and a prostitute who should make porn. Now, that’s just lazy.

“Attacking me and women who use contraception by calling us prostitutes and worse cannot silence us,” Fluke wrote.


Rush And Mitt. Forever.

Rush Limbaugh is not having a good week. His radio sponsors are bailing out, Sandra Fluke refused to accept his apology and Republicans are finally piping up with more fulsome condemnations. But has Rush reached an Imus-like moment where his power and influence will be snuffed out? As much as I hope that to be the case, I think Rush and Imus have two very different audiences.

Rush discovered early on, a section of the American public who is angry at their own lack of power and purpose and reveled in blaming the Left for everything that happens to them. Twenty million of them! I listened to Limbaugh for several years in the 1990s, which was sort of like watching a train wreck. He was so absurd, that while you wanted to, it was hard to not listen. His callers were all the same: angry, older, robbed of dignity, living in places you would expect, homophobic, openly racist, sexist, misogynistic and mostly males, though a surprising number of females listen also. Over the years, Rush, to his credit, has turned these people into an ideological cult. They tune in every day, anxious to hear which extreme right-wing bogeyman Rush will be pillorying today, so they can yell at their radios “Exactly, Rush … Dittos!” Rush has become the de-facto leader of the Republican Party and his listeners beg him daily to run for President.

This is very different than listening to, say, the Diane Rehm on NPR, who tries to provide a reasoned view of a subject or topic and accepts callers with varying and opposite points of view. You know, like a reasonable person might do.

Rush is a nihilist demagogue who has had a negative impact on American democracy, and particularly on the Republican Party. His followers are exactly like Rush, and they have a negative impact on America every day simply by going about their business. They have a primal coherence, like a Bedouin tribe or Islamic radical fundamentalists. When Imus’s unfortunate comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team went viral, his audience was devoted, and political, but instead of being angry, his audience were a fun-loving bunch who actually understood that Imus had gone too far, and accepted his fate.

I am sure that instead of turning against Rush, his audience, including the women, will love it even more now that the “Liberal Eastern Establishment” (even though LegalZoom‘s headquarters are in Los Angeles, as facts never get in the way for this crowd), advertisers have jumped ship. This attack on his integrity is obviously part of the vast Liberal Socialist Islamic Terrorist conspiracy.

I am afraid that El Rushbo is going nowhere, but I hope and pray that Bain Capital who owns Clear Channel, will figure out that through the “Liberal Media“, the dots will ultimately connect for Mitt Romney and he will, by association, be joined at the hip with El Rushbo for the rest of this race. By implication, Rush’s biggest Ditto-head. That just might do it. You heard it here first. Stay tuned

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