Skip to content

A % here and a % there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money

It goes without saying that Paul Ryan and the Republicans are lying when they claim their tax bill is designed to benefit the middle class. Okay, some of them may not be lying. Some of them may be so stupid that they believe the bullshit Ryan is peddling but, same difference. If you’re a Member of Congress you can be presumed to be smart enough to educate yourself beyond getting a daily dosage of Fox and Friends.

Anyway, this is a gimmick that I hadn’t heard anything about, so I’ll pass it on. I have been familiar with the Republican attempt to use a “chained” CPI to determine Social Security benefit increases, but hadn’t thought about the possibility that it could be used to screw people in other contexts.

By way of background, the “chained” CPI assumes that when tuna gets too expensive, people will switch to cat food, and so it’s only right that the inflation index track the cost of cat food and forget about tuna altogether. It’s been floated previously as a way of reducing Social Security benefit increases, but, as Dean Baker explains, it’s also a backdoor way to raise taxes on the middle class, one that the Republicans have included in their tax plan:

Reductions in Social Security benefits are extremely unpopular across the political spectrum. The program enjoys enormous support among both Democrats and Republicans and people are far more likely to say that benefits should be raised than cut. For this reason, the public should be paying attention to a little noticed provision in the tax bill passed by the House today and which also appears in the bills under consideration in the Senate.

In both cases, the basis for indexing tax brackets would be shifted from Consumer Price Index (CPI) to the Chained Consumer Price Index (CCPI). The difference is that the CCPI takes account of when people change their consumption patterns in response to changes in relative prices.

The classic example is that beef rises in price and chicken falls, we would expect people to consume less beef and more chicken. The CPI assumes that people don’t change their consumption patterns while the CCPI adjusts its basket to assign less importance to beef and greater importance to chicken.

For this reason, the CCPI shows a somewhat lower rate of inflation than the CPI. Typically the gap is 0.2–0.3 percentage points. This matters in the tax bill because the cutoff for the tax brackets is adjusted each year by the CPI. If the CCPI is used rather than CPI, then the cutoffs would rise less rapidly.

For example, if the cutoff for the 25 percent bracket is $40,000 for a single individual and the CPI showed 2.0 percent inflation, then it would rise to $40,800 for the next year. This means a single person would face a tax rate of 25 percent on income above $40,800. If the CCPI showed an inflation rate of 1.7 percent, then the cutoff would rise to $40,680. This means a single person would face a tax rate of 25 percent on income above $40,680.

In a single year, this difference will not mean much, but after 10 years, the difference in the indexes would be between 2.0–3.0 percent and it would grow more through time. This will add a fair bit to many people’s tax bills.

Baker goes on to point out that the change in the tax bill will make it easier to apply a chained CPI to Social Security, even though there is less justification to apply it to the elderly than to the population as a whole, as Baker explains in his post. But for the moment, it’s a gimmick that amounts to a backdoor way of raising taxes over and above what they would otherwise be on a substantial number of people; with those bearing the brunt definitely not in the .01%.

Nazis don’t really care about free speech

I am going to beat a still living horse, the media’s persistent willingness to buy into the terminology of the right. We’ve grown so used to terms like “pro-life” that even many on the left use them precisely the way that the right wants them used.

What brings this to mind, yet again, is this article in today’s Boston Globe. The online version does not repeat the print edition’s article title, which in the print edition is: Tempers flare at free-speech rally.

The rally, in fact, has nothing to do with free speech, except as window dressing for a Nazi rally. That is absolutely clear, despite the presence of some useful idiots who may or may not actually hold the liberal beliefs they purport to espouse.

To give the Globe its due, an online portfolio of pictures of the event puts the words “free-speech” in scare quotes, which sends the appropriate message. But using the term without qualification in the title to a story sends a message, particularly to those who skim the headline and go on to the next story, who might well conclude that the counter-protestors were against free speech.

To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a Nazi is just a Nazi.

A mystery solved?

Over the last day or so I have been completely mystified. Various Republicans have come out urging Roy Moore to withdraw from the Alabama Senate race. Some, such as Mitch McConnell, have even said that they believed his accusers.

This all seemed strange to me. The man was already known to be a racist and religious bigot, so what’s the big deal about mixing a little pedophilia into the mix, particularly if it all happened when he was a Democrat?After all, they had no qualms about backing Trump, whose casual claim that he had every right to walk into a dressing room full of teen beauty contestants (along with his frequent allusions to how hot his own daughter is) at least verges on pedophilia if its not evidence of pedophilia full blown.

Only one thing is important to these people: power and holding onto it, so what was the problem. After all, the guy was running for office in Alabama, and if you had to pick the stupidest state in the nation, you couldn’t go wrong if you guessed Alabama. But, it turns out, maybe even Alabamans aren’t stupid enough:

This is real, folks—straight from the Senate Republicans’ internal polling, Democrat Doug Jones now leads Republican sexual predator Roy Moore by 12 points … in Alabama! Politico writes:

Jones led Moore 51 to 39 percent, according to the survey taken Sunday and Monday. The NRSC withdrew its support for Moore after the Washington Post published the first allegations against Moore on Thursday, and the group’s chairman, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said Moore should be expelled from the Senate if he wins on Dec. 12.

The poll shows a dramatic turn against Moore in Alabama: In early October, a committee poll had him leading by 16 points, and a survey early this month had him up by 9 points. Moore’s favorability numbers also tanked, from 49 percent in early October to 35 percent in the NRSC’s latest poll.

That’s a 28-point shift and it’s exactly why GOP Leader Mitch McConnell uttered the fateful words, “I believe the women.” He believes them precisely because most Alabama voters clearly do, just like our own David Nir theorized. Ready for the cherry?

Several sources who reviewed the poll results said it also tested how Attorney General Jeff Sessions would fare as a write-in candidate, and the results were not favorable.

The linked article ends with a suggestion that we give money to Doug Jones, which I have just done, yet again. The amazing thing about Jones is that he’s actually a fairly good candidate in his own right, not one of those DINO’s favored by the DSCC. That’s because, assuming that no Democrat could win in Alabama, they didn’t bother to interfere.

I should add that there is an alternative way of looking at all this. This poll may not be genuine, but simply something leaked by the Republicans to try to force Moore out of the race. Still, that begs the question of why they would do it. It is inconceivable that they really care that he’s a pedophile.

Democrats: We can do this! (Lose, that is)

Yet another indication that the Democrats are anxious to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory:

Bipartisanship, long left for dead in Washington, has struck again. And Wall Street looks to be the winner.

In the wake of the Equifax scandal, Congress has been under pressure to act. But the price of modest reforms in Washington is often much larger giveaways elsewhere, and that pattern holds true in the agreement announced Monday between nine Senate Democrats and the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.

The measure would roll back several key financial regulations, including sections of the Dodd-Frank Act. It does so under the cover of offering consumer protections and coming to the aid of community banks — though the financial institutions that benefit have not-so-obscure names, like American Express, SunTrust, and BB&T.

The offending Democrats are all from states that, if not red, are red tinged, but that really doesn’t excuse or explain this, or even make it rational. You don’t win votes in Montana by carrying water for Wall Street. If memory serves, the present occupant of the White House ran against Wall Street. What you accomplish in spades by carrying that water is dampening the enthusiasm of the people the Democrats need to win in 2018.

Learning lessons

So, here’s an article at Truthout titled Conservatives Learn the Wrong Lesson From GOP Defeat in Virginia. First conservative mentioned is Ann Coulter:

If the reaction from prominent right-wing media figures is any indication, conservatives are having a very hard time coping with the resounding loss of Republican candidate Ed Gillespie in the Virginia gubernatorial election on Tuesday.

We can start with Ann Coulter.

Hey @EdWGillespie! If your pals, George Bush & Haley Barbour, had been a little less enthusiastic about open borders, you would have won tonight.

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) November 8, 2017
If @realDonaldTrump doesn’t keep his campaign promise to build a wall & deport illegals, what happened to VA will happen to the entire country.

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) November 8, 2017

It is quite possibly the case that some conservatives have learned the wrong lesson from Virginia. The lesson Democrats learn from defeats it that they were too liberal, while many Republicans truly do draw the conclusion that they were not conservative enough.

But Ann Coulter and her ilk are poor examples. I very much doubt that Ann Coulter believes a word of her tweets. The fact of the matter is that people like her thrive when their side is losing, and it is in her interests to advocate positions that will cause Republicans to lose. She can make more money that way, and let’s face it, she’s only in it for the money. Limbaugh too, is far happier playing defense than offense, and I’m sure he’s nostalgic for the good times with Obama in office.

In fact, the Republicans as a whole do far better when they are out of power, or at least out of effective power. Ryan would be happy as a pig in shit right now if Hillary Clinton was president, because he could be advocating for tax cuts without having to do things like actually identifying those “loopholes” he intends to close to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Back in his halcyon days under Obama he could propose magic tax cuts secure in the knowledge that the press wouldn’t even bother to point out that his numbers didn’t add up. Now he’s facing a rebellion in his own ranks, not to mention a good likelihood that he’ll lose his seat in 2018 (not that he minds that so much; the Koch Brothers will reward him with a sinecure).

So, the Republicans aren’t necessarily learning the wrong lesson. They are merely spouting lines that serve their own interests, which in the case of the Coulters and Limbaughs, is all about money.

The Donald does something right

This is perplexing, to say the least:

Almost eight months after Donald Trump was inaugurated, photos of the 45th president of the United States still do not appear in thousands of federal buildings — a delay that is especially odd, given Trump’s fondness for his own image.

In a tradition dating back to the Civil War, Trump’s picture should be greeting employees and visitors to United States embassies, ports of entry and federal courthouses, just as official portraits of predecessor Barack Obama were on display by his third month in office and of Bill Clinton by June of his first year. Yet, in thousands of buildings, Trump’s face is a notable absence, according to a story in The Washington Post on Monday,

There has arguably never been a president so eager to promote his own image as Trump, the country’s first reality-television-star commander in chief. Indeed, last month, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele described the tweet-loving president as “obsessed with his own self-image.” Trump even hung a fake magazine cover of himself at one of his golf clubs.

So that only makes it tougher to understand why, 235 days after being sworn in, Trump has yet to sit for his official photograph. Once taken, it is the responsibility of the Government Publishing Office to distribute the photo to the more than 7,000 federal installations across the world.

More than 130,000 official photographs of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were printed when the Democrat took office in 2009. Federal regulations mandated that all of them be removed and recycled or shredded the moment Trump was sworn in.

I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms at the Social Security Disability hearing offices, and remember how much I disliked having both Bush and Cheney staring down at me as I sat there. Particularly Cheney, he of the sneering lip, who seemed to be taking a smug pleasure in my dissatisfaction. I was in the waiting room the day and the moment the Orange One was installed, and the security guard, as the last quoted paragraph says, told me he was under strict orders to remove Obama at the stroke of noon, which he in fact did.

I assumed it was only a matter of time before you know who would be staring down from those walls, but he has not appeared, and, truth to tell, I suspected it was a bit of subversive activity on the part of the staff there, though for reasons I won’t go into, that always seemed unlikely.

Now I learn it’s just one more example of Trumpian incompetence, but one for which we can all, including me in particular, be thankful. I’ll be retiring in seven months, and it is, perhaps, possible, that I won’t have to look at that face as I sit and wait for another ALJ to dispense injustice to one of my clients. In these trying times, we must be thankful for little things.

The voters may get it, even if the media doesn’t

One of my favorite bloggers is driftglass, who rather singlemindedly documents bothsiderism and media apologetics for the Republican Party, as he does so ably here. The thrust of the piece is to the effect that the recent wave election is being characterized as a renunciation of Trumpism, rather than a renunciation of the Republican Party. As he concludes, the two terms mean the same thing, despite the media’s attempt to cover for the Republicans:

In 2017, there is once again no Republican Party to be held responsible for what happened on election night because, suddenly, there is only “Trumpism”.

Except, (sing it with me now)…

There is no “Trumpism”.
There are just Republicans being Republicans.

There is no “Trumpism”.
There are just Republicans being Republicans.

There is no “Trumpism”.
There are just Republicans being Republicans.

His basic point is well taken. The media will be falling all over themselves to promote the Jeff Flakes and the other Republicans who, having made the decision to bail out of politics, offer tepid criticisms of Trump while being practically indistinguishable in terms of their political positions.

But I would argue that there is at least a chance that a good percentage of the country now realizes that Trumpism equals Republicanism. The very fact that so many people turned out to throw out Republicans at all levels supports that thesis. If nothing else, Republican dominance of all three branches has exposed them for what they are. When Obama was president they wouldn’t shut up, but they never had the need to put up. Now, for instance, we’re getting a look at the “loopholes” Paul Ryan always invoked, but never specified, that he would close to deliver his tax cuts to the billionaires. The media may not be willing to admit it, but the simple fact that people decided to blame Republicans at all political levels for the current state of affairs in Washington indicates that a good percentage of them are recognizing the Republican Party for what it is. It’s going to be harder for any politician to justify membership in the Republican Party, no matter how much they try to persuade the voters that they should be judged for the “moderates” they themselves are, rather than by the (to quote driftglass) “the actual, racist, paranoid, rage-drunk Republican Party” to which they have aligned themselves.

I should add that Tuesday’s results should be replicated in 2018, but one must never underestimate the ability of the Democratic Party to (I’m repeating myself here) snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. However, my guess is that despite their best efforts, the jaws will hold firm in 2018. The Democrats will do their snatching in 2020, in line with their custom of always performing shittily in years ending with zero, so that Republicans will have another opportunity to gerrymander democracy out of existence.

Trump delivers for Dems in Groton

This is, of course, a minor story, but in a way it may be significant. We had our local elections today. The Republicans have dominated the Town Council for something like thirty or more years, and most years they have a majority on the Board of Ed, though sometimes we’ve had a slim majority on that body.

Tonight, we swept. Nine out of nine seats on the town council. One of the defeated Republicans has been on the council for more than 20 years, and was, I thought, quite popular. Due to minority representation on the Board of Ed, there will be a Republican in that body. We also have a Representative Town Meeting, and we crushed there too.

We did some things right, and can take some credit for the victory. We welcomed the Resist people with open arms, and nominated several for the council and RTM. We had hard working campaign managers. But it’s hard not to believe that a great deal of credit goes to Donald Trump. Not being comfortable with manning phones, I normally drive people to the polls on Election Day. Today, among others, I drove a 95 year old lady who spent quite a bit of time talking about how much she loathed Donald Trump. Turnout was up and that can’t be explained by any local issue that got people excited.

Many Republicans in Connecticut are still a bit like Republicans were in the olden days, before Nixon’s Southern Strategy took root. At least in Groton, they learned today that it’s not going to be easy to be a fellow traveler to a party composed of plutocrats that harvests votes by catering to, and whipping up, racism. Today’s results give me hope that despite Dan Malloy’s best efforts, we may be able to elect a Democratic governor in 2018.

We really don’t need this

Donna Brazile has seen fit to reopen the wounds of the 2016 primary season in any apparent attempt to sell her new book.

We really don’t need this, and I find it hard to believe that she is so hard up for money that she has to try to destroy the Democratic Party in order to make a few bucks.

I agree with much of what Josh Marshall has to say here. I was a Bernie supporter, and I agree that the loathsome Wasserman-Schultz put her finger on the scale as much as she could to help Hillary, but the fact is that Hillary didn’t need the help, she would have won the nomination anyway.

What Brazile has done is simply add fuel to a fire that’s been tamped down; there is a fraction of Bernie backers who remain focused on this issue, and they are now yapping again. We shouldn’t forget this is exactly the sort of thing the Russians were trying to foster, on behalf of Trump, in the ads they targeted to Bernie backers. I should add that there is a fraction of Hillary supporters who still blame the “Bernie or Bust” crowd for her loss, though there’s not an iota of evidence for that position, and you certainly can’t claim that Bernie himself encouraged it.

This is not to say there’s nothing to be learned from the actions of the DNC and the other Democratic Party committees (the DCCC and the DSCC). The DNC, under new leadership, is still, perhaps, an open question, but the other two remain committed to the type of politician and message that has gotten us where we are today. Whenever possible, they push the most right wing of Democrats forward as candidates. We are not selling the message that, despite his loss, Bernie proved can sell in this country. I don’t know what will happen in Virginia on Tuesday, but polls are tightening, partly due to the lies and slander being spread by the Republicans, but also partly due to the fact that our candidate is trotting out the tired old “moderate” Democrat bullshit that inspires absolutely nobody. I highly recommend daily reading of the Down with Tyranny blog, which daily documents the determination of the Democratic elites to quash the enthusiasm of the resistance.

But, back to the larger point. We may have to do it in spite of the institutional Democratic Party, but we’ll get nothing accomplished if we fight old battles that have no relevance to our current situation. The Republic is on life support. We have to focus on that fact and put trivialities aside.

Called it

Regular readers, if there are any, know that I take a childish delight in crowing about my predictive powers, so it should come as no surprise that I’m going to do it again.

Shortly after the Las Vegas shooting I made a few observations, the last of which was this one:

Observation number three: Inasmuch as this one is a record setter, and will probably dominate the news for a few cycles, bets should be placed on how long it will take for one or more right wingers to suggest that it never happened.

Well:

Las Vegas shooting victims recovering from the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history earlier this month now face death threats from conspiracy theorists convinced that the massacre was a hoax, and that wounded individuals were crisis actors.

Of course the fact is anyone with a brain (which definitely excludes the scum doing this stuff) knew this would happen, so I can’t really claim much prescience. But you have to take your successes where you find them.