Tax payer receipt

Love this idea.  Americans are so amazingly clueless about where their taxes go.  Via Ezra Klein, Third Way has an idea for a “taxpayer receipt”:

taxpayerreceipt.jpg

And here’s a bit of the spot-on commentary that goes with it:

For many Americans, the amount they pay in taxes is larger than any purchase they make during the year, but studies show they know almost nothing about where that money goes to.

This contributes to ridiculous beliefs, like the view that 20% of government spending goes to foreign aid, for example. An electorate unschooled in basic budget facts is a major obstacle to controlling the nation’s deficit, not to mention addressing a host of economic and social problems. We suggest that everyone who files a tax return receive a “taxpayer receipt.” This receipt would tell them to the penny what their taxes paid for based on the amount they paid in federal income taxes and FICA.

I’m sure this would not make a huge difference, but anything that would help to combat the phenomenally mis-informed beliefs of Americans– especially where federal dollars go– would have to be a good thing.  I do wonder what inane arguments Republicans would come with to oppose this.

Tax rate illiteracy

Jon Chait points out this recent NYT article that just doesn’t seem to get the concept of marginal tax rates.  Lots of people don’t actually get this– but people writing about financial issues for the NYT most definitely should.  Especially, because I suspect that a fair amount of opposition to tax increases comes from misunderstandings of how marginal rates work.  Chait:

The article delves into the question of just who counts as rich. I think it’s a silly question. Rich is a relative question. It doesn’t mean you can buy everything you want. If you’re in the top 2% of the income distribution, then you are, relative to 98% of the population, rich. You are more able to bear the cost of higher taxes.

But put that aside. The main problem with the article is that it presupposes that individuals making $200,000, or couples earning $250,000, will pay higher taxes. They won’t. The tax hike only applies to income over that threshold. When you go from $250,000 to $250,001, you only pay a higher tax rate on that one extra dollar. Your taxes will go up by a few cents. If you earn $300,000, you will pay a slightly higher tax rate on the last $50,000 of your income — less than a couple thousand dollars.

Even people making half a million dollars a year won’t be “taxed at rates similar to those who make $5 million,” because only half their income will be taxes at the top rate.

It seems like the wntire tax debate has been conducted under a could of basic ignorance about how tax rates work.

Hmmm.  I think a lot of debates in this country are sadly conducted in “basic ignorance.”   Take for example, this Op-Ed in our NCSU campus newspaper which is stunningly ignorant and shamefully poorly written (and yes, by the same person writing a whole column on me, the liberal indoctrinator).  Literally nobody is suggesting that the government tell churches who they can and cannot marry, but that is the basic premise of this column on gay marriage.   And, I’m sure I spent at least several minutes covering these basic facts in the American Government class the writer took.  Ignorance—arghhhh!

The “must read” on the Tea Party

Sometimes Matt Taibbi really overdoes it on things, but this Rolling Stone article on the Tea Party is Taibbi at his bet.  Most (though definitely not all) of his analysis strike me as pretty accurate, but more than anything, this will probably be the most entertaining thing you read on the Tea Party.  Here’s some good stuff:

A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can’t imagine it…

But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry’s medals and Barack Obama’s Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them.

There’s plenty more that good.  Go ahead, click though and read the whole thing.  Seriously.  You’ll be glad you did.

I want a new drug

Actually, I don’t.  I’m pretty fine getting by with just caffeine and the occasional aspirin and ibuprofen.  That said, I really enjoyed this essay on the absurdity that is our present national drug policy.  To wit:

Supporters of the failed war on drugs will no doubt argue this increase means policymakers should spend more taxpayer money next year arresting and incarcerating a greater number of Americans. In other words, their solution to failure is to do more of the same. Fortunately, the “reform nothing” club is getting mighty lonely these days — 76 percent of Americans recognize the drug war has failed; millions are demanding change…

Drug use is so widespread the FBI changed its policy of not hiring people with a history of illegal drug use because the policy disqualified so many people that it could not fill its law enforcement positions.

Here’s the part I find most interesting– the key should be finding ways to minimize the harm from drugs, not just outlaw them.  Americans just love their drugs too much.  In short, let’s be sensible (ahhh, when does that ever get American politicians anywhere):

It is long past time to abandon the silly notion that America can be a drug-free nation. The inconvenient truth in drug policy is that Americans love drugs — alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drugs for everything from anxiety to fatigue. Although some people develop problems with their drug use, most do not. This holds true for both legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, and illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine. Decades of evidence shows that the average user of any drug doesn’t get addicted and doesn’t create problems for anyone else. Obviously, some do.

We recognize these facts when it comes to legal drugs. It’s why we don’t arrest the tens of millions of Americans who drink responsibly, but do arrest people who drive while drunk or get belligerent and start fights. Yet we waste tens of billions of dollars every year arresting Americans for marijuana or other drugs, even when they’re not harming anyone. Then we either jam them into overcrowded jails where they take up space that could hold someone who committed a violent offense, or jam them into a treatment program where they take up limited spaces for people who really need help.

What matters most is not how many people use marijuana, alcohol or other drugs, but what’s the best way to reduce the problems associated with substance misuse without creating more harmful social problems.

Reaping what they sow for American business

Really nice column today by Stephen Pearlstein on just what American businesses may be able to expect should the Republicans who they are so strongly supporting in the election manage to win a majority in the House and Senate.  This paragraph rocks:

Here is the hard political reality: You can’t expect to support and finance political candidates who preach that government is menacing and wasteful, that public employees are incompetent and corrupt, that taxes are always too high and destroy jobs, and then turn around and expect that the government will respond to your demands to hold down the cost of health care, or fund basic research, or provide good schools, efficient courts and reliable transportation systems.

Photo of the Day

From today’s N&O story about the “Spending Revolt” bus tour:

Gotta love it– a bunch of old white folks who are undoubtedly a net drain on the government treasury out there rallying to restrain spending.  Here’s the core of your modern Republican party.

Our crazy immigration policy

Ezra Klein had a really nice column on immigration earlier this week.  A couple points really stuck with me– most prominently, we should modify our policies in ways that will be most beneficial to our country.  Well, duh, of course, but right now policy does not really reflect our nations’ best interests.  That was one point where I really agreed with David Frum when he came to speak at NCSU last semester.   The key point on the matter:

Because of a 1965 law, our immigration system is based around family unification. More than 65 percent of visas are for purposes of bringing family members to the United States. Only 15 percent are for economic reasons. As Darrell West of the Brookings Institution writes in his book “Brain Gain,” this means that immigrant families, rather than current policymakers, decide who enters the country.

That’s nuts. Our immigration policy should be primarily oriented around our national goals. And one goal is to have the world’s most innovative and dynamic economy.

What’s incredibly stupid is how we treat highly-skilled, highly educated foreign workers.  We should take all that we can:

But since 2001, we’ve gone from offering 195,000 high-skill visas to about 65,000 today. In fact, we let top students come for college or graduate school – and then we don’t let them stay. “We should staple a green card to PhDs in science and technology,” West says with a sigh. “They’d like to stay here!”

Our good friends of Canada are very likely to be sent back their soon against their will because the company where the guy was working– and sponsoring his work visa– has gone under.  We’re talking about a guy with an amazing skill set– PhD in physiology with top-notch statistical abilities.  There is absolutely no way sending this man and his family back to Canada is good for him or for America.

You should really read the whole column.  It’s short, and how’s this for a great intro:

I have a plan that will raise wages, lower prices, increase the nation’s stock of scientists and engineers, and maybe even create the next Google. Better yet, this plan won’t cost the government a dime. In fact, it’ll save money. A lot of money. But few politicians are going to want to touch it.

Here’s the plan: More immigration. A pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants. And a recognition that immigration policy is economic policy and needs to be thought of as such.

See what I meant about politicians not liking it?

Damn, do I so wish politics in this country was rational.  Sadly, we’re dealing with humans, though.

Fox news headline of the day

Here:

President of the United States Loves Gangsta Rap

Or, “non racially-coded headline” as Chait puts it.

As for the love of Gangsta Rap, that comes from this Rolling Stone interview (via Chait)

What music have you been listening to lately? What have you discovered, what speaks to you these days?

Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I’ve got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.

The cable news asymmetry

As you know, I hate when people try and create political symmetries where there are clear aysmmetries.  There’s no rule that says politics has to be symmetrical.  Case in point, MSNBC is simply not the liberal opposite of Fox news.  Sure, they have made a conscious business decision to have a liberal prime-time line-up of hosts, but that’s not at all the same thing as what Fox is doing.  Paul Waldman explains:

What that amounts to, Boehlert says, is “playing defense” — countering stories the right is pushing before they erupt into major mainstream controversies. Nevertheless, “what the left has no real ability to do is sort of create news or manufacture news the way the right does,” he says. “Very few stories make the leap from the liberal opinion media or the blogosphere to the mainstream.” Why is that? Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism at Columbia University, says the key is Fox News. “The membrane between the outside and inside media is porous, but it’s not nonexistent.” On the right, he says, “it’s Fox that makes the difference.” While MSNBC’s evening schedule features three liberal hosts (Olbermann, Maddow, and Ed Schultz), it doesn’t have the same around-the-clock consistency of both ideology and story selection that Fox does.

Fox does more than amplify the conservative message; it builds momentum for a story by hammering it over and over for days or weeks until the mainstream media finally feels compelled to discuss it. While Maddow may take an interest in a particular story other media are ignoring, she won’t be backed up by six separate MSNBC shows doing a dozen segments a day on her new pet topic. But Fox routinely takes that all-hands-on-deck approach. Recently Media Matters counted 95 separate segments on the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case — a contrived story conservatives did their best to trump up — in a period of two weeks on Fox. This kind of relentlessness doesn’t work every time, but it works often enough. Eventually, many other news outlets covered the voter-intimidation story.

This is a really important difference that affects what stories the mainstream media actually gives their blessing to.   If Fox news hammers it enough, there’s a good chance it will end up in the pages of the Times.  Not so, Rachel Maddow’s concerns.  And for the people who seem to think that CNN is some liberal media alternative to Fox, don’t get me started.

Free speech v. Tax benefits

We’ve got a pretty simple principle in our tax code– if you want tax free, non-profit status, you cannot directly advocate for political candidates.   This applies whether you are a charitable organization of a church.  Apparently, some conservative churches don’t like this:

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an initiative organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization, which according to its website seeks to “defend the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.”

“We believe that a pastor has a right to speak whatever he believes without fearing the government will somehow censor what he says or threaten to take away his tax exemption,” ADF spokesman Erik Stanley said.

He said the group believes that the 1954 amendment, sponsored by then Sen. Lyndon Johnson, D-Texas, is a violation of the Constitution. According to the ADF, the government’s monitoring of the content of pastors’ and churches’ speech is a violation of the Free Speech Clause.

This just really annoyed me.  The 1st amendment guarantees these churches/pastors the right to say whatever they want about politics– it does not guarantee their right to do so while maintaining tax exempt status.   Secondly, how nice it must be to simply go by your own “interpretation” of the Constitution.  We do have a Supreme Court and this part of tax law apparently works for them.  It’s not as if the 1st amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want and face no consequences whatsoever– simply that you can in no way be prosecuted or censored for the content of your speech.

“Pledge to increase the deficit”

I borrowed the title straight from Chait because it was too good to pass up.  Given all the absurd posturing about “the deficit!” Here’s a chart that every Republican should be confronted with at every opportunity.

I’ll be somewhat lazy, and just paste Chait’s commentary as well, because it is spot-on (the omission, that he forgets to use the term “non-defense” before “discretionary spending”:

Even that is a generous grade for the Republican budget, as it assumes that the huge cuts to domestic discretionary spending will be carried out. Cutting domestic discretionary spending is a classic budget dodge. It’s a giant catch-all category of programs that have long resisted cutting either because they’re popular, vital, protected by powerful interest groups, or all three. A promise to cut domestic discretionary spending is a way to grasp anti-spending credibility without naming an actual program you plan to cut. (If opponents say, “Do you want to cut veterans’ spending? Highways? The Coast Guard?,” inevitably the response is no, we’ll cutsomething else.)

That’s a really important point– Americans are all for cutting spending in the abstract, but once you name a specific program, other than “welfare” (“aid to needy families” gets plenty of support), support for cuts evaporates.   The American National Election Studies have a series of questions about whether we should spend more, less, the same, on a variety of specific federal budget programs.  Among conservatives, very few every choose “less.”  Anyway, I think I’ll term the Republican plans “The Pledge to Increase the Deficit” in conversation and see how that goes.

How to do a political interview

Anderson Cooper eviscerates the idiocy of North Carolina House candidate Renee Ellmers (she of the terror Mosque ad) in this interview.  Nothing, wishy-washy, he just asks her to defend her indefensible arguments.  If only more journalists took their responsbility to getting the truth out more seriously, instead of just allowing candidates to assert absurd statements without being challenged.  Well done, Anderson Cooper.

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