Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

For years, I've witnessed the powerful messaging machine of the right wing in our country. Their exaggerations, threats, and misinformation have long dominated the political debate in America, and while I disagree with their viewpoint I do have to admit that their methods are incredibly effective. Many times when I've seen some crazy tax cut pushed through, or ridiculous cut in social services, I've said to myself, "If only the Democrats would fight in the same way as these Republicans."

I guess I should have been more specific, as it seems that President Obama has made my wish come all-too true. Not only is he fighting for an old Republican tax cut, larded with additional new Republican tax cuts, but he's also employing a Bush-like fear approach to his latest plan: Pass my bill or we'll see a recession!

Personally, I'm not sure we've ever exited the current recession. Unemployment has been at 9% for almost two years. Here in Oregon it's been in double digits for the same amount of time.* The housing market has been in the toilet for a couple of years. Sure, the stock market is up and there are record profits on wall street, but that doesn't mean the recession has ever really ended.

Even if an argument can be made that the recession has ended, what possibly makes you think that these tax cuts will prevent another one?** The evidence that they will do anything to help the economy is questionable at best. Does the President even recall his own arguments on the ineffectiveness of tax cuts? An equally (if not more) valid argument could be made that passing this bill instead of one more robust will lead to a double dip recession.

Every time I think we're as far as we can get into Bizarro World, we take a step further.

* Ignoring the fact, of course, that our method of counting unemployment is far from accurate as it fails to consider those underemployed or unemployed no longer receiving benefits.

** Not to mention the modest tax INCREASE that the very lowest paid Americans will see. Increase taxes on the poor, decrease taxes on the super rich. How is this the policy of a Democrat?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Obama's Compromise Victories? Tax Cuts.

I'll start out by saying that I am disgusted with the "compromise" plan put forth by the President yesterday. I haven't really wanted to post in the last few days, because I am tired of coming on here and just expressing how upset I am with the lack of leadership. As I've made clear, I think tax cuts are absolutely the wrong thing for our country and our economy... they're a lot of the reason we have the deficit we have now* and economists are almost universal in decrying their "stimulative" power.

So you can imagine my disappointment as I looked into the compromise that the President made, and discovered that in order to "temporarily" extend the Bush-Era tax cuts ($380B/year in the deficit) the President has received the following "concessions" from the Republicans.

1. Extension of the Federal unemployment benefits. This is the only real "concession" that I can see, in that this is something that needed to be done for the country. However, there's NO WAY that the Republicans wouldn't have ended up voting for an extension of these benefits by the end of the year. If the Democrats had been able to hold their ground in congress, the Republicans would have given in on the extension, just as they have done time and time again over the last few years.

2. A freeze for the alternative minimum tax. Yes, a tax cut that will affect some middle-class taxpayers, as well as wealthier taxpayers. This is something that needs to be reformed, for sure, but it's not a pressing issue. It's just another tax cut... and considering a tax cut to be a concession from the Republicans is ridiculous.

3. A huge reduction of the Estate Tax. In 2011, the Estate Tax was slated to affect estates of over $1,000,000 in value. Yes, if you left over a million dollars to your heirs, they would have to pay 35% in taxes to the government. The Repulicans were generous enough, however, to allow the President a tax cut for the wealthy on this as well, with the new Estate Tax affecting only estates of $5M or more. WOW! How crafty of President Obama to work another tax cut out of those Republicans.**

4. Additional tax cuts, from college tuition credits to child care credits. Even better, these "tax cuts" were the same tax cuts put into the weakened stimulus package to entice Republican support. That's right, the Republicans conceded and allowed Obama to continue giving them the tax cuts he gave them back in 2008. How very generous of them!

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I've read a number of "democrats" defending the President's position on this compromise, some even calling the $300 billion in additional tax cuts "stimulus." As I've said, they are the same relatively worthless tax cuts from the stimulus package of 2008, but I tend to trust economists when it comes to economic stimulation more than I do the name attached to some paperwork.

Today the President said he's "ready to fight" and that the Republicans can expect him to fight in the future. I'm pretty sure he's said that before. Like, several times. I seem to remember he promised to fight for the Public Option. That never materialized, of course, as he made a deal with the insurance industry and gave us a wishy-washy industry-friendly bill. Hilariously enough, today he compared this compromise to the health care compromise as he was chastising liberals.

I guess he does get it. I guess we liberals are the fools hoping for someone who isn't a corporatist capitulator... apparently the President feels that is what the country needs. Well, that and more tax cuts.***

I had some hopes that we'd eke out a few minor victories in the lame duck congress. I suppose that is still possible, but unfortunately the President will continue fighting against real change and economic improvement.

* In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the housing bubble... but they're still a large portion of our deficit.

** This $5M cap isn't enough for some Republicans who are still complaining about the existence of any estate tax at all. These complaints are somehow supposed to justify the "compromise" as they're the example of the right being upset about the tax bill.

*** Is it just me, or does all this tax cutting sound like a tea party agenda? It's like the President has adopted their point of view, but left all the personal anti-Obama rhetoric aside.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Comments, the Internet, and China

Last night on "The Office" there was a subplot about an argument between Michael and Oscar regarding China.  Michael had brought a magazine to the office after a visit to the dentist, an issue of Newsweek with the cover story "China is on the Move" and started alerting the workers to the threat of China.  Oscar replied with a more sensible approach, taking apart many of Michael's arguments in a manner I found somewhat familiar.

The politics of the show weren't important (it's "The Office" and I don't expect them to have a fair discussion about China, although they did have a more reasonable approach than you'd find on Fox or likely even CNN) but one thing I did find amusing was the cover of the Newsweek issue Michael had brought back.  It looked familiar, and judging from the dentist office connection I guessed it was going to be old.  You can see it in the screenshot of the clip below (which also has an amusing political angle in Michael's fear) and maybe it looks familiar to you too.

I wanted to find out how old, exactly, that issue was, so I did a little internet searching and found a Newsweek story from 2005 with the headline "China is on the Move."  Ha!  Five years old!  I felt pretty good finding that meta joke within "The Office" and thought I would show off my awesomeness by leaving a comment on the Hulu page for this episode.

Now, I've only commented a couple of times on Hulu, and have found that generally it's a barren wasteland of commentary, so I figured my little link to this old story would stand alone.  Imagine my surprise when I found fifteen pages of comments, mostly arguing about China!  Even on Hulu, even on a silly show like "The Office", there are people viciously calling each other names and spreading fear.  It was a real surprise and, to be honest, a bit of a downer.

So rather than leave a comment there, I thought I'd come here.  Man, people really do like to argue, even over ridiculous things in ridiculous places.  Seems like there's nowhere for a guy who remembers some magazine cover from half a decade ago to find friends anymore. :)