Category Archives: Politics

Why Romney Has Been Reluctant To Release Details of His Healthcare Plan

President Obama enacted a law that will help everyone with pre-existing conditions, cover the uninsured, and tackle rising health care costs. Romney would repeal these reforms, leaving health care costs on an unsustainable trajectory, and replace it with a law that has been on the books for more than 15 years.

AttackWatch, “Why Romney’s “repeal and replace” plan for Obamacare would fail millions of Americans

Having a Daily Discussion with @MittRomney on Twitter

I will attempt to write one or two witty and incisive rejoinders to Mitt Romney’s dumbass tweet-of-the-day every day between now and November, when I fully expect that the skinny guy with the big ears will crush him in a historical electoral landslide. Here’s a taste:

You can follow me on Twitter to be subjected to more of these.

Limbaugh: Free Market, Not Free Speech

Kind of embarrassing to read this AP story about the campaign to get Rush Limbaugh off the air. The story couches the debate in terms of his misogynistic attacks on law student Sandra Fluke versus Limbaugh’s “first amendment right” to free speech. But Limbaugh doesn’t have the constitution on his side here.

The notion that the first amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want is a common misinterpretation. Coming from the pen of a news writer, it’s particularly egregious; I would expect a reporter to know better. The first amendment doesn’t actually provide the right to say whatever you want in whatever context. (It certainly doesn’t give somebody the constitutional right to be on the radio or to accept payments from sponsors.) Instead, the first amendment exempts a very narrow class of political speech against regulation by the government.

But the government doesn’t have a dog in this hunt; the tussle is between Limbaugh and his corporate sponsors, who have come to the conclusion that his show is too toxic to sponsor (at least for the moment).

What Limbaugh is experiencing is not some horrible injustice but the not-so-invisible hand of the free market. If he’s really on the site of liberty and free markets, you’d think he’d welcome this market-enforced course correction. But it’s clear that this is just another example of how conservative money-men like Limbaugh only believe in their principles when those principles happen to coincide with their agenda.

An Adaptive Gas Tax for California

As a California native and a small business owner, I’m a big fan of the California High Speed Rail project. Investing in transportation infrastructure will be vital not only for California, but to show the rest of the country how awesome it can be to have an excellent transportation infrastructure. High-speed rail will have short-term benefits (construction jobs) but I’m more interested in the long-term benefits to the economy. Having a fast, reliable way to get to LA by lunchtime will open up new business opportunities for Bay Area businesses.

The project is in trouble because insane Central Valley interests are screaming louder than the people who are for this, and the antidemocratic Republican minority in the legislature blocks funding for schools, much less new infrastructure projects. (This is the case even though we’re slated to spend 400% more on widening existing freeways during the time that high speed rail is being built — and for some reason, nobody’s complaining about where the money’s going to come from for that work.) Fortunately the project has a friend in Governor Jerry Brown.

I think that a temporary gas tax is one way to fund high speed rail, but you can credibly make the argument that gas taxes are regressive (that is, they hurt poor people disproportionately). The problem with that argument is that gas is a commodity and its price affects everyone (even if you don’t have a car, since gas is used to transport goods to market). But for whatever reason, you don’t ever hear people decrying the normal fluctuations in gas prices. So what if it were possible to make a new gas tax appear to be indistinguishable from the normal up and down fluctuations in the price of gas?

It should be possible to apply a gas tax over time (say, six to twelve months) as a way to soften the blow of a new tax — call it an adaptive tax. Since retail sales of gasoline are tabulated electronically, implementing this shouldn’t be too difficult. Say that the price of gas starts at $3.75 a gallon, and we’re looking to implement a 50 cent a gallon tax within twelve months. You start by applying a fraction of the increase (say, a nickel) in October or November, when the price of gas is naturally lower anyway. So after month 1, the price goes to $3.80 a gallon (although the retail price might not change at all because the underlying commodity price might have decreased during that time).

Then, each month you add between two and ten cents a gallon to the tax depending on the average retail pump price. If the commodity price is high, the tax that’s added that month is lower. If the commodity price dips, you can add a little more that month. When you hit the 50 cent a gallon goal (hopefully before the summer starts), you stop. The idea is to make the tax seem to disappear in the noise of normal fluctuations in the price of gasoline — we don’t want the price to spike all at once, but rather to be phased in evenly over time.

It’s conceivable that gasoline retailers would try to game this (by disproportionately increasing the pump price in response to the tax), but I don’t think that any one retailer has enough pricing power for this to be an issue.

Is this sort of a flim-flam? Yes, but most everything else in politics is, too. Will it soften the blow of a tax increase? Maybe. One way or another, it’s certainly better than the options we’ve got today.

Both California Senators Support SOPA/PIPA

I was pretty much done with Dianne Feinstein after she sat on the sidelines during the 2010 healthcare debate, but I was pretty alarmed to hear that both she and our other senator, Barbara Boxer, are co-sponsors of PIPA (the senate version of SOPA that would give big businesses the right to shut down web sites if they linked to content they don’t like — which is to say, nearly all web sites, including those of many legislators).

People are planning a big day of action on Wednesday, January 18. Some content sites including Wikipedia will shut down for the day in protest of the proposed legislation.

If you’re a Californian you should call both of your senators to let them know that giving Rupert Murdoch a kill switch for the entire Web is not okay. From the Hackers and Founders Meetup, here are their contact numbers:

Senator Barbara Boxer‘s contact information:

DC: 202-224-3553
District: (510) 286-8537

or email her via Contact Congress.

Instructions on what to say to register your opposition.

Senator Diane Feinstein‘s contact information:

DC: 202-224-3841
District: 415-393-0707

or email her via Contact Congress.

Instructions on what to say to register your opposition.

Apocalypse Then

Of most concern to the president himself, one high-level aide said, is the perception that the United States would once again be meddling in the Middle East, where it has overturned many a leader, including Saddam Hussein. Some critics of the United States in the region — as well as some leaders — have already claimed that a Western conspiracy is stoking the revolutions that have overtaken the Middle East.

“He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic,” the senior official said, quoting the president.

Countries that supported the totally pure and utterly organic American Revolution: France, Germany, Spain.

Discord Grows in Washington Over a Potential Role in the Libya Conflict – NYTimes.com.

Call It The Dead Billionaire’s Tax

Handbook for the recently deceased

From the NY Times comes this tale of a recently-deceased billionaire, Dan L. Duncan, whose estate will be the first ever billion-dollar estate in the U.S. to pass to his heirs 100% tax-free.

This situation is the bastard child of the Bush-era tax “reform” in which the estate tax was characterized as a “death tax” and repealed. The repeal was rolled back, but it won’t take effect until next year, which means that estates of anyone who kicks off in 2010 will go to the heirs tax-free.

Well played, rich kids!

This is the kind of issue that drives Democrats crazy. Conservatives put forth these policies which are obviously intended to help big businesses and people in top income brackets, label it “freedom” or whatever, and then Democratic leaders don’t have the stones to counter it rhetorically.

There’s certainly nothing unfair about a tax on dead multi-millionaires, which is what the “death tax” actually is. The estate tax has been part of U.S. tax policy for a hundred years, it only affects a tiny percentage of estates, and it has a clear social objective — to help prevent dynastic concentrations of wealth.

The main argument of conservatives against the estate tax is that it’s “double taxation” (taxing someone on money that’s already been subject to an income tax) and that double taxation is somehow wrong. But this argument, like many principles of “fiscal conservatism,” is based on a deceit. You’re already subjected to “double taxation” on every dollar you earn and every dollar you spend (money that’s subject to income tax is also subject to sales tax, excise taxes, cell phone luxury taxes, etc.). So why is the tax on someone who’s already dead a particular problem? The answer undoubtedly lies in the fact that the estate tax only affects multi-millionaires, and in the conservative cosmology, those are the ones who need to be protected most.

Link: Estate Tax Dormant, Billionaire’s Bequest Is Tax-Free – NYTimes.com.

Unfortunate and Telling Quotes from Today’s Debate on Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 Republican in the House, accused Democrats of trying to use the military “to advance a liberal social agenda” and demanded that Congress “put its priorities in order.”

Shutting down a policy that has eliminated more than 10,000 uniformed solidiers should be a pretty high priority, but maybe the Republicans are more interested in furthering their social bigotry agenda than their national defense agenda.

“We are dissing the troops, that is what we are doing,” said Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Sorry, bro, but the real “diss” was when you sent the military into Iraq.

via Senate Panel Votes to Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy – NYTimes.com.

“Amazingly”, Anyone Can Run For California Governor and Get Votes

Link: Same Race, Same Opponents, Three Decades Later

“Mr. Darling, you see, is running for governor, going head to graying head in the Democratic primary with Mr. Brown, a man he last challenged in 1978, when Mr. Brown was governor and Mr. Darling was trying to stitch up the San Andreas fault to prevent earthquakes. (More on this later.)

“Amazingly, Mr. Darling, who used a fake hand to greet voters and a pair of fake lips to kiss babies, got more than 60,000 votes in the 1978 primary.”

I guess you could call it “amazing” if a crackpot received 60,000 votes in a small city council election or something, but 6.9 million Californians voted in the gubernatorial election in 1978. That means that this guy got 0.87% of the vote — pretty much what you’d expect from a fringe candidate. It’s hardly fair to call that “amazing,” unless you’re working from a journalistic playbook that regularly characterizes California as provincial and backward. All things considered, I’ll take the occasional crackpot on the ballot over New York’s seemingly endless succession of corrupt and inept politicians any day of the week.

I’m actually in favor of this guy’s single issue (repealing the undemocratic and crippling prohibition on new taxes without a two-thirds majority in the legislature). But as the campaign for governor begins in earnest with the entry of Jerry Brown into the race, I’m concerned with the way that the national media lazily characterizes our politics. When national writers focus on quaint stereotypes of California it’s not only lazy, but more importantly, it screws up the political discourse.

Brown, in particular, often did not got a fair shake from the national press, who were often more interested in spinning up simple amusing anecdotes than covering actual issues. Focusing on the personal and ideological quirks of the various candidates — it makes news reporters complicit in the homogenization of political discourse, forcing readers to look at everything through a very narrow (and, essentially, conservative) lens. And a lot of Brown’s different thinking (such as Brown’s pledge during one of his presidential runs to only accept $100 donations from individuals — no donations from corporations or lobbyists — can only be characterized as genius).

It’s worth pointing out that the nonsensical and mindless nickname given to Brown by the national press was not something that came out of California (it was assigned to him by a Chicago columnist, Mike Ryoko, and was barely on the radar during the election of 1978 — it certainly didn’t hurt him in the election, since he won it handily). The writer of this piece, NY Times San Francisco bureau chief Jesse McKinley, resurrected this lazy and inept characterization in another piece written in March.

I’ve seen a few pieces that refer to Brown’s “comeback,” which is only half-true. He never really went anywhere — he’s dedicated his life to public service and has spent the last twelve years in elected office (as mayor of Oakland and state Attorney General).

Importantly for those who might characterize Brown as a far-left progressive, Brown has smartly gone on record as saying that he won’t approve new taxes without the approval of California voters. This is very smart, since it defuses the most likely Republican attack against him, although I worry that it may be the kind of campaign promise that backs him into a corner once he regains the governor’s office. We have serious problems in California that the mindless conservative mantra of empowering big business and lower taxes simply won’t solve.