Monday, September 26, 2011

Last Week: AP Whitewashes Tax Inequity, And Rick Perry Becomes The GOP Pinata

By Manifesto Joe

Last week brought good news and bad. The bad news is that The Associated Press did one of their imbecilic "fact checks" on the question of unfair taxation in America, and their whitewash was widely disseminated by the Mainstream Media. They were fundamentally inaccurate on many points.

Thank God for Citizens for Tax Justice. CTJ analyzed the AP data and pretty thoroughly nailed where they went wrong.

The issue became a media focus point after President Obama proposed a deficit reduction plan that included a minimum tax on the rich. So, here's where AP went with this, excerpted from the CTJ review:

"Middle-class families shouldn't pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires," Obama said Monday. "That's pretty straightforward. It's hard to argue against that."

The data tell a different story. On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more taxes than the middle class or the poor, according to private and government data. They pay at a higher rate, and as a group, they contribute a much larger share of the overall taxes collected by the federal government.

If that's what you get from "the data," AP doesn't do a good job of showing it. The piece points out early on that about 1,400 millionaires paid no income tax at all -- that's a small number of tax avoiders, they explain, though clearly this would be part of what Obama is talking about.

But then they zero in on what seems to be their best case:

This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes and payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay 15 percent of their income in federal taxes.

Well, that sounds like a slam dunk, right? The rich pay twice as much as middle class earners. Or maybe not: Obama's claim hinges on the fact that, for high-income families and individuals, investment income is often taxed at a lower rate than wages. The top tax rate for dividends and capital gains is 15 percent. (The emphasis is mine. -- MJ) The top marginal tax rate for wages is 35 percent, though that is reserved for taxable income above $379,150.

So what if much of a really wealthy person's income is investment income? AP doesn't get into that; it moves on to discussing the fact that a lot of poor people pay no income tax.

Here's a link to the entire CTJ article.

One of the most pernicious mantras of the right wing is the alleged "liberal bias" of the MSM. There might have been some case for this to have been made 25 or more years ago, when Dan Rather was king at CBS and AIM was in its infancy. What appears to have happened is that the death of the Fairness Doctrine, plus a quarter-century of corporate whippings, scattered most of the hard-hitting, independent journalists. Apparently, what's mostly left are miserable corporate shills such as those who concocted this AP whitewash on U.S. taxation.

There were more problems. The AP focused on the top 10% of earners paying an estimated 70% of federal income taxes. I haven't had time to check this for accuracy, but presuming that it's true -- it's not the top 10% who are the main problem here. It's more like the top 1%, the superrich.

Not only did the AP "analysis" not account at all for the lower rates on investment income and capital gains, it didn't examine the shelters and breaks that go only to the very highest "earners."

Nor did the "analysis" discuss the corporate income tax, which in 1959 accounted for 39% of all federal income tax revenue, according to the IRS. We're a long, long way from those days. By 1989, the IRS corporate take was down to 17%, according to the agency itself. And last year, two-thirds of U.S. corporations paid no income tax at all, and some like ExxonMobil even got vast refunds.

It's a common fact that while wages and salaries stagnated over the past 30 years in real dollars, the U.S. economy roughly doubled in size. So, if ordinary schmucks saw no gains from their greater productivity during that time, who made off with all that loot?

Now the good news: Governor Goodhair as pinata

Sorry, Spanish purists, but I couldn't figure out how to make an "n" with a tilde work on Blogger.

It's a bit heartening to know that people in other parts of the U.S. are beginning to figure out what some Texans have known for a very long time -- that Rick Perry is a lightweight among lightweights. His vapid, stammering performance at last week's Republican presidential debate was ample evidence. The other GOP "contenders" suddenly realize that there's a papier-mache figure there, just waiting for a blindfolded rival to rip him open with a stick so that the candy will come pouring out.

And that economic miracle that Goodhair keeps touting is about that fragile, too. Analysts are seeing that most of the state's revenue comes from two sources: federal funding, and sales tax. None of this looks good for Goodhair, a neo-secessionist who's eternally railing about federal interference and high taxes. Want to guess who bears the biggest burden of sales taxes? (Hint: It's known as a "regressive" tax.)

And then, property taxes, which tend to hit the middle class hardest, are the crucial revenue source at the local level in Texas.

All this, so that Goodhair can spread 'em wide for our Corporate Masters to relocate their headquarters here in Texas.

And while I've got the CTJ site up, here's a link from to a post about Goodhair's Texas "miracle."

The American people may still be stupid enough for Perry to emerge as the Republican nominee. In today's climate, it honestly wouldn't surprise me. But at least the rest of America has had fair warning now.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Republicans: This Is What Happens When Some People Forget To Take Their Medication

By Manifesto Joe

Although it's tempting, I'll refrain here from demonizing all Republicans. My wife appears to be the only Democrat in her large extended family, and some of my in-laws are the salt of the Earth. They just spend too much time watching Fox News.

Republicans appear, at present, to be inhabiting some alternate universe -- one in which prolonged tax breaks for rich people and giant corporations create full employment, one in which 46 million poor Americans are all feasting on junk food while they're not talking on their smart phones, one in which medically uninsured people don't end up costing taxpayers money anyway, one in which perpetual military meddling abroad doesn't end up making us targets at home -- etc., etc.

In other words, they live in an alternate universe that seems to bear no resemblance to the one in which most of the rest of us live.

I'll focus on two points that seem to sum up this phenomenon.

Republican response to Obama's tax plan

If there's one serious problem I have with President Obama, it is with his habit of trying over and over, despite numerous betrayals, to reason and compromise with the mentally disturbed. Until recent days, he's been far, far too nice.

Obama has flatly said that he will veto any deficit-cutting plan that cuts benefits for Medicare recipients yet does not raise taxes for wealthy individuals and big corporations. After about 32 months of trying in vain to work with crazy people, he's finally delineating the difference between us and them. It wasn't us who recklessly did our best to crash the world economy, or who have horded wealth from an economy that doubled in size over 30 years, while wages and salaries were stagnant. It was them.

Yet now, they want us to pay.

Obama's proposal for a minimum tax on rich people is, historically, pretty modest. But I still have yet to hear anyone in the Mainstream Media point out that, about the time I was born in 1956, the U.S. marginal income tax rate was close to 90%, and after JFK-era cuts remained 70% for many years.

It's true that not many high earners ever paid that much, thanks to shelters and loopholes. But even with some of those eliminated, bear in mind that only the most "left-leaning" people are proposing a marginal rate as high as 49%, compared to the 35% where the top rate stands now, with shelters and loopholes included. And it's been pointed out that investment income, the staple of the wealthy, is taxed at only 15%.

Here's a link to the Associated Press story about this.

Predictably, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the ball carrier for the supply-side die-hards, has called Obama's proposal "class warfare." That phrase is sounding more hollow than ever, as we've been watching wealth be horded for three decades only to see an unemployment rate of at least 9% (not counting the many underemployed people, or those who have given up and stopped looking for work).

But that's the Republican mantra, despite abundant evidence that "supply-side" hording has not translated into job creation, and that our current "recovery" is weak because consumers simply don't have much money to spend.

Obama surely knows that his plan has no chance of passage by the current House of Representatives, and Speaker John "Orange Julius" Boehner has told him so. It's a proposal whose purpose is to beat pathologically stubborn Republicans over the head with around this time next year, as the election nears and the economy is expected to remain in the tank.

With a bad economy that may double-dip into recession, rhetoric crafted around this proposal may be the best chance Obama has for re-election, since a lot of people under such conditions will vote against the incumbent no matter whom it is.

Sigh. God must have loved stupid people. He made so many of them.

That said, on to the next Republican spectacle.

Tea Party trolls cheer hypothetical death during televised GOP debate

This is, of course, old news by now. The reason I didn't want to comment on it days ago is that it was too fresh, and I wanted more time to consider what's happening to the Republican Party.

In case you didn't see it or read about it, here's a link to the audience laughing and cheering at the Tea Party debate as CNN's Wolf Blitzer presses Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, about the hypothetical death of an uninsured man.

Granted, even Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that he was taken aback by the audience reaction. And, not all Republicans are Tea Party sympathizers. In the latest poll I've heard about, self-identifying Republicans are just about split up the middle about whether they approve of the Tea Party "movement."

But half of Republicans sympathizing with these sorts of attitudes and values should be a bit disturbing. And although Paul's rhetoric about self-reliance sounds oh-so-noble on its face, he's been around long enough to remember why Medicare and Medicaid were enacted in the first place.

Bills for the uninsured often weren't being picked up by churches, private individuals, etc., nor are they now. What happens now, more often than not, is that uninsured people go to taxpayer-supported charity hospitals for services. Either that, or the hospitals are forced to simply write off unpaid bills, and the taxpayer gets stuck with that in a different way.

Again, I am loath to demonize Republicans. They aren't all crazy. But they appear to be indoctrinated so well as to be impervious to reality, much as in the manner of religious fundamentalists. Ever tried arguing with one of those?

And, it would appear that a certain element among Republicans are indeed disturbed people, embracing cretinous and savage values and attitudes. And the party as a whole seems so frightened of losing elections that it panders to them.

This may not be a recipe for disaster next year. If the economy remains in the tank as it is expected to, any Republican nominee, even a somewhat crazy and/or stupid one, is likely to make next year's presidential election much closer than it should be. History favors them in the short run. But in the long run, this will be a recipe for disaster.

Institutions can go insane as easily as people can. While not all Republicans are crazy, as an institution, the Republican Party seems to have crossed into the territory of institutional insanity. I just hope that some kind of implosion can occur before they end up doing as much damage to the country as they seem to intend.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, September 12, 2011

On Social Security And Medicare, Old May Throw Young Under The Bus

By Manifesto Joe

To the best of my knowledge, it wasn't old, sick people who recklessly crashed the world financial system or got the U.S. embroiled in two (or three) wars without figuring out how to pay for them. Nor was it they who kept cutting taxes for big corporations and wealthy individuals, to the point where a record surplus became record deficits.

But, as the congressional "supercommittee" tries to figure out ways to slash the deficit and national debt -- well, it's been said that they aren't supposed to have Social Security and Medicare in the equation. Don't bet on that.

Since the Republicans took control of the U.S. House, with many of the freshmen members coming directly from the Tea Party "movement," the House agenda is rigidly right-wing. That means that taxes stay just where they are, a joy ride for the rich. Since these are generally pro-military hawks, don't look for defense spending to take many hits. Corporate welfare will probably continue, because these folks know where their campaign contributions come from.

So, where is there left to go for spending cuts? Only one place -- the so-called "entitlements." That means, for the most part, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. All campaign rhetoric aside, when the dust settles, that's where the scalpel will be drawn.

When I said that old, sick people didn't do any of the things that racked up so much debt, I meant that they weren't the direct instigators. But their consent was necessary, and a sad, just plain ridiculous number of people 65 and older vote Republican. They've been giving their consent for over 30 years.

In that time, the U.S. economy has doubled in size, but wages and salaries have remained stagnant. Want to guess who's been the big beneficiary of this?

As the U.S. economy has been thusly restructured, the middle class has been having a long war waged on it, and in large part its members, especially the older ones, seem unaware that this has even been happening. Now we're getting down to what conservatives and libertarians have long meant, in realspeak, by smaller, limited government.

It means government similar to the one the U.S. had in 1890. There was no federal income tax, and the concept of busting trusts was in its infancy. A startlingly small number of people held about half of the wealth in the country. U.S. senators were not directly elected, but rather were chosen by state legislatures. (Texas Gov. and presidential candidate Rick Perry apparently would like to see us go back to doing that.) In the Senate, it was common for the lawmakers to be referred to as "a silver senator" or "a textile senator." They were put there to represent very specific financial interests.

And about half of America's elderly lived in poverty, according to the contemporary definition. That compares with about 10 percent today.

In short, "limited government" means a plutocracy in which the limitations are one-dimensional. It's OK to dole out vast land grants to railroad companies to lay cross-continental tracks. It's not OK to do anything to help old, sick and/or poor people. In the spirit of social Darwinism, those people are supposed to just die off and leave the world to "the strong."

The appeal to selfishness

I turned 55 this year, so I'm in sort of a gray area regarding the U.S. welfare state, or what's left of it. I'm at least a decade away from qualifying for any "entitlements," but they are definitely not an abstraction to me now. They are within sight.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, put forth a plan this year that pretty much telegraphed the punch that's coming. For people my age and older, there's not that much to worry about -- Social Security and Medicare will be there for people our age, albeit with some "strategic" trims here and there.

Anybody out there in America who's much younger than me, have your Vaseline handy. You're going to get it, and you should know where.

Clearly, the right-wing's strategy is to assure older people, usually the biggest Republican voting bloc, that the "entitlements" will be there for them. What they are moving us toward is a sort of "phase-out" of America's already-meager welfare state. I'm actually glad now that my wife and I decided not to have kids -- I would hate to have left young people behind to deal with the future that U.S. right-wingers obviously have in mind for them.

When one is in one's twenties, retirement is so far off that it is an abstraction. Besides, at that age, many people about halfway expect to one day make that "big score" that will put them far ahead in the game. Not that many twentysomethings expect what usually happens -- that one will have to work so hard just to be middle-class, and just to stay there as one ages.

Having grown up relatively poor, with parents who were young during the Great Depression, I never took very much for granted. But some Americans, including many my age and older, have always taken just about everything for granted.

And when the day comes when Americans are no longer "entitled" to "entitlements," guess who's going to get thrown under the bus? It won't be the older folks.

Where are the hellraisers?

I was just a kid during the Sixties, but I remember the era quite well enough that I felt a sense of having missed a lot while I was in college in the 1970s. By the time Gerald Ford was president and the Vietnam War was over, there was a lot less to raise hell about. We had to look for things, like maybe legalizing pot or establishing co-ed dorms, to stir shit about.

It seems to me that the young have their own nasty Vietnam going on right here, right now -- and they don't seem to be, as a generation, doing much about it. It's pretty standard that when reporters interview younger people about their financial future, they will say that they expect to work until they are 70 or 80. Retirement, to them, is becoming an obsolete concept.

I would warn those now 25 about what things are going to be like when you are 55. You don't sleep as soundly. Odd aches and pains start to emerge. Some days it's hard to gather the self-discipline to make it to that middle-class job that, you realize, is what stands between you and homelessness.

At 55, retirement starts to sound awfully good, and it will to you, too, twentysomethings. And in 30 years, when you're in my shoes, and I'm gumming Jello in a nursing home if I'm even still alive, retirement will definitely not be an abstraction for you. And the Paul Ryans, the people you're not taking much action to stop right now, have a much grimmer future in store for you.

My advice is to get out on the streets and raise some holy hell now, while you've got the energy. For your own future, it's imperative now for you to put the fear of God and organized labor into the likes of Mr. Ryan.

Twentysomethings, this is your crucial time, and you won't be able to depend on many Florida retirees to fight any battles for you. Either fight for control of the bus, or be thrown under it.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, September 5, 2011

On Labor Day, Remembering Who Really Built America

By Manifesto Joe

Once almost 20 years ago, when I was having a conversation with a young man whom I knew to be politically right-wing, the subject somehow moved to entrepreneurs. "Entrepreneurs built this country," he told me.

I tend to be reluctant to get into arguments with people whose minds, I know, cannot be changed. I simply replied, "Well, yes and no," and moved the conversation on to other matters. In my time on Earth, I've never yet known a person whose mind was changed as a result of a political argument.

Another factor is that I often don't think of the right things to say at the right times. I'm much better with a keyboard or on paper, because it affords more time to consider things.

Looking back, what I wish I had said back to this young man was, "They had a hell of a lot of help from the people who did the hands-on labor. You know, workers. You've heard of them, right?"

Beasts of burden?

You don't have to talk to libertarians or most American conservatives for very long to discover that, in the world they inhabit, workers are more or less like a team of mules, mere beasts of burden. The entrepreneur is like the farmer behind the plow, motivating and guiding them and taking almost all the risks.

I feel compelled to point out that Farmer Jones would have an awfully hard time plowing his own back forty without his team of mules. And even if one subscribes to this unsympathetic and inhumane view of human labor, doesn't it make sense to feed and care for the beasts of burden well, so that they will stay healthy and strong for their work?

You wouldn't know that while looking at capitalism as it's been practiced through most of U.S. history. Overworked, underpaid, ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-doctored laborers have been the norm, not the exception. Our "entrepreneurial" class has consistently squeezed all it could out of those brutish proles, and then tossed them out onto the street when the time came that they weren't needed or were no longer much good.

And there, I'm talking about the ones fortunate enough to be paid at least a bare subsistence for their labor. Until the 1860s, there was a very large class of Americans whose labor was taken from them by force.

On Labor Day, take a break from the grill and those cold ones and take time to remember who really did the work that built this nation. They are the ones who did the sweating behind jackhammers, not behind a roulette wheel.

The U.S. did see a significant period during the 20th century in which conditions for working people improved, thanks to union organizing and governmental reforms. But since about 1980, we've been seeing the fingers of workers pried off those gains, one by one. Now, joblessness and working conditions are as bad as or worse than they've been anytime since 1940.

Marx: Right about one thing?

Karl Marx was apparently wrong about a lot, but from the looks of things now, he may have been dead-on right about one -- the inability of capitalism to reform itself. Marx predicted that there would be many efforts to mitigate the harsh conditions that capitalism generally brings to the working class, but that capitalism would always, inexorably revert back to its primitive state -- like it's doing now, in America and elsewhere.

For decades, I've been one of those who has hoped that a workable "third way" could be found, given the brutality of laissez-faire on one extreme and communism on the other. I've seen my hopes usually dashed, to the point that I fear them now to be just wishful thinking. I sincerely hope, on this Labor Day, that my current inclinations are wrong.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.