Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Global Warming and Me

So, it looks as though global warming has taken a 16 year break. People are reacting predictable; those who believe global warming is a threat to mankind aren't going to let the good news get them down and those who don't believe in global warming at all are declaring themselves the victors. Me, I'm feeling pretty neutral.

I believe that the world is warming and that humans have something to do with it. I don't have any relevant training or understanding of the science behind it, so I defer to those who do. What I do know is that the science is really complicated, so I'm skeptical of the numbers climatologists put out. I always wonder when I read a news article that says some professor says that it will be 3.4 degrees hotter. Is the decimal really significant? How much less likely is it to be 3.5 or 3.3 degrees? I don't think that there is anyone who could convince me that what they are doing has any real accuracy. The only thing that all these studies has convinced me of is that it will probably warmer. The earth may warm less than they are predicting, or it may also warm more. I don't think anyone knows. Actually, I know nobody knows.

With that being said, even if the earth were to warm a lot, I'm not particularly worried. Why? Because we're trying to predict things 100 years from now. As uncertain as the climate may be, human civilization is much more uncertain. Look at how different life is now from 100 years ago, and apply it to global warming. How much more prepared are we now to deal with global warming than we were 100 years ago? Air conditioning, food processing, agriculture, transportation, and medicine have advanced so much in the last century that we are in a much better place to deal with warming now than we were then.

And I'm not just talking about American's. Over the century, the lot of every person on earth has gotten better. Some nations have really flourished, others not so much, but I don't think any have regressed in any meaningful way. If this continues, who knows how well off some countries will be in 100 years. Look at South Korea. They went from one of the poorest countries to one of the richest in about two decades. Who knows what could happen to other nations in ten decades?

So, how much better are we going to be able to deal with warming in another 100 years? Just like the climate itself, I have no idea, but I'm pretty sure we will be better able to deal with it. Plus, any of the downsides of a warmer planet will develop gradually. Yes, some farmland in Mexico may become untenable, but it will happen slow enough not to cause a huge disruption in food production and we will have time to start planting more farms in northern Canada. Yes sea levels will rise, but they will rise at a slow enough rate that we can move inland without huge numbers of refugees, or build dikes to keep out the rising water, or do something else that no one has thought of yet.

The best part of this view is that I can be optimistic almost under any circumstance. I'm allowed to believe that humanity will be better off if the world is hotter or colder, or if it stays the same. Sure, I can't claim that people who disagree with me are evil, but I'll deal with it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

We are losing

Every once in awhile on Facebook, I'll post something, followed by we are losing.  Here's what I mean by this.  I mean that people are blindly following something partisan even if it's not rational, at all.  Ideally, people would not blindly follow whatever their party said.  They would think rationally about something instead of immediately throwing support behind whatever the talking heads of their party said. 

The Debate: Mediscare and Health Scare

Obama:
1. "First of all, I think it's important for Governor Romney to present this plan that he says will only affect folks in the future. And the essence of the plan is that you would turn Medicare into a voucher program. It's called Premium Support, but it's understood to be a voucher program."

That's probably an accurate claim to make.

2. "It was estimated that this would cost the average senior about $6,000 a year."

Possible.  But it's based on outdated analysis.  It might not cost that much and according to analysis done before Obamacare, analysts found it cost 9% less.  But the authors concluded that if Obamacare was successful in lowering Medicare costs than the new plan might cost more than the Medicare offered by the government.

3. "AARP thinks that the savings that we obtained from Medicare bolstered the system, lengthened the Medicare trust fund by eight years."

Not just AARP thinks that.

4. "They're now going to have to be paying co-pays for basic checkups that can keep them healthier."

Yes, probably.  I mean that is covered in Obamacare.

Mitt Romney:

1. "And by the way, if the government can be as efficient as the private sector and offer premiums that are as low as the private sector, people will be happy to get traditional Medicare."

Well, that might be happening with Obamacare but you want to repeal it.  No comment beyond that.

2.  "This is an idea that's been around a long time, which is saying, hey, let's see if we can't get competition into the Medicare world so that people can get the choice of different plans at lower cost, better quality."
Exactly, universal health care, right?

3.  "But my experience -- my experience is the private sector typically is able to provide a better product at a lower cost."

Fundamental disagreement between essentially Paul Ryan's competitive plan and Obama's regulation plan.

The debate: Still working through it

Over 5,000 words in, so far.  Let's continue.

A new segment....yay!

Barack Obama:

1. Appeal to pity.  His grandmother's story is a textbook definition of an appeal to pity.

2. "$716 billion we were able to save from the Medicare program by no longer overpaying insurance companies, by making sure that we weren't overpaying providers, and using that money we were actually able to lower prescription drug costs for seniors by an average of $600, and we were also able to make a significant dent in providing them the kind of preventive care that will ultimately save money throughout the system."

This is the underlying assumption of Obamacare and how it is going to save money for Medicare.   In all honesty, I cannot find an answer to the claim that it lowers prescription drug costs.  My assumption, like usual, is that it's not as good as it sounds.  It might save seniors but it might not save $600, if that makes sense.

Romney's response:

1. " So if you're 60 or around 60 or older, you don't need to listen any further."

Well, sort of.  Romney has repeatedly stated that they plan on repealing Obamacare.  He said it earlier in the debate, instead.  There's going to be changes made to seniors because of the repeal.  Until Romney announces what he would replace it with, seniors should know that changes will be made to their current health care coverage.  For instance, preventative care with no out-of-pocket costs.  Or the doughnut hole.  "The law gradually closes the so-called 'doughnut hole' for seniors on the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program over 10 years. Before the law, seniors whose annual drug costs exceeded $2,830 shouldered the entire payment without government assistance until they hit an out of pocket limit of $4,550. Once 'catastrophic coverage' is triggered, the government paid 95 percent of costs.  The health care law gives beneficiaries who reach the doughnut hole a $250 tax-free rebate. Federal subsidies will kick in, gradually reducing the patient’s share of the payment from 100 percent to 25 percent by 2020."

So, it will change.  But we just don't know how.

2. "Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take any more Medicare patients under that scenario. We also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won't take more Medicare patients."

I can't find where they studied this, either.  My assumption is that it's lower than 15% and lower than 50%. 

3. "I want to take that $716 billion you've cut and put it back into Medicare."

It's not a cut.  It's figuring out a way to solve it.  But, here's FactCheck.  But anyways, PolitiFact reports on this, too.  But, is that $716 billion going back to Medicare a good thing?  Maybe.  Quoting directly from PolitiFact's study here, "Marilyn Moon, vice president and director of the health program at the American Institutes for Research, used official data to compute how out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries might increase. We reached Moon, and she reviewed her methodology with us.
She calculated that restoring the Medicare spending would raise co-payments and premiums by by $342 a year on average over the next 10 years. By 2022, the annual increase would rise to $577."





A few of my own thoughts on the debate

1. If we take it at face value, what each of the candidates are saying.  The following will happen: the economy will jumpstart, my taxes (since I'm not higher-income), we'll balance the budget, healthcare will be fixed, Medicare and Medicaid will be fixed, we'll stop spending money at the federal government level, and we'll all have jobs.

2. If someone told you that they made up their decision by the debate, slap them in the face.  Seriously.  Do it.  Then link them to this blog for fun.  If they don't want to read me rant and rave about stuff then link them to PolitiFact and FactCheck. 

3.  Romney's responses were all part of what he's said before.  Including an almost verbatim quote from the RNC about the economy tax.  It's interesting that it's party propaganda when it's the party's convention but it's true if spoken in the debate.

4. Barack Obama also said things that are a favorite part of his stump speech.  They're no more true now than they were, the first 100 times that he said it. 

5. The rest of my thoughts are going to be on these posts, I've been doing.  It's really frustrating. But, these are some general thoughts.

The debate: I will never be done

My goal is to write more about the debate than any other person, ever.  I'm well on my way.

Obama's response: "There has to be revenue in addition to cuts. Now, Governor Romney has ruled out revenue. He's ruled out revenue."

Romney interrupts and says, yes, I have.  Also, "You never balance the budget by raising taxes."  Except that time in the 1990s when we did it under President Clinton.  Do we have amnesia?  Romney states that we don't want to go down the path of Spain.  But, there's this...from Paul Krugman,"But what Greek experience actually shows is that while running deficits in good times can get you in trouble -- which is indeed the story for Greece, although not for Spain -- trying to eliminate deficits once you're already in trouble is a recipe for depression.These days, austerity-induced depressions are visible all around Europe's periphery. Greece is the worst case, with unemployment soaring to 20 percent even as public services, including health care, collapse. But Ireland, which has done everything the austerity crowd wanted, is in terrible shape too, with unemployment near 15 percent and real GDP down by double digits. Portugal and Spain are in similarly dire straits."

But Obama, continues.

"When it comes to corporate taxes, Governor Romney has said he wants to in a revenue-neutral way close loopholes, deductions -- he hasn't identified which ones they are -- but thereby bring down the corporate rate. Well, I want to do the same thing, but I've actually identified how we can do that. And part of the way to do it is to not give tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas. Right now you can actually take a deduction for moving a plant overseas. I think most Americans would say that doesn't make sense."

Which is true. There are tax breaks for people who send jobs overseas.  "The Bring Jobs Home Act would stop tax breaks for companies that ship American jobs overseas, and instead provide a 20 percent tax credit to businesses that bring them back home and hire American workers. The tax benefit can be used for costs associated with moving a production line, trade, or business located outside the country, back to the United States. The legislation would also close loopholes for shipping jobs overseas by stopping the deduction companies can currently take for the costs associated with outsourcing."  Unfortunately, Republicans in the Senate blocked this bill from even coming to vote.

Obama appeals to pity, next. 

Romney's response:

1. " But don't forget, you put $90 billion -- like 50 years' worth of breaks -- into solar and wind -- to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don't just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers. So this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure. "

It's a good thing that FactCheck is here.  Anyways, let's look at it, step by step.

a. Obama probably did forget.  Since he only spent $21 billion on solar and wind.  FactCheck has the exact breakdown at the link, I posted. 

b. Even if it was $90 billion, the figure Romney is using to come up with 50 years is $2.8 billion.  Or nearly $3 billion. If you just had to estimate, on what 90/2.8 would be...would you say 30 or 50 years.

c. But the $2.8 billion is not even accurate.  According to the Congressional Research Service, it is closer to $3.9 billion/year.

d. The industry says it's closer to $8.5 billion.

e. I'll go over the list of winners and losers, later. 

2. "The second topic, which is you said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas -- look, I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant. But the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case."

Which is simply not true.

3. "Let states do this. And, by the way, if a state gets in trouble, well, we could step in and see if we could find a way to help them."

Interesting.  Unfortunately, that would expand the deficit, would it not?  Let's say, we give states the chance to do Medicare and Medicaid by themselves but they fail.  The federal government has to intervene to fix it.  Doesn't that cost more money to begin with?  I'm grumpy today.



The Debate: Still Going

Obama's response:

1. "When I walked into the Oval Office I had more than a trillion-dollar deficit greeting me, and we know where it came from: two wars that were paid for on a credit card, two tax cuts that were not paid for, and a whole bunch of programs that were not paid for, and then a massive economic crisis. "

Interesting that he no longer claims that he is only responsible for only 10% of the deficit, which of course, we, with the help of FactCheck, showed it was simply not true.

2. "That's the largest cut in the discretionary domestic budget since Dwight Eisenhower. "

Hmmm...no, not true.  He's actually measuring it in terms of GDP as opposed to actual dollars.  It would actually be the lowest since Clinton, not Eisenhower.  He would make spending be 2.9% of GDP by 2015. 

3. "Now, we all know that we've got to do more, and so I put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. It's on a website, you can look at all the numbers -- what cuts we make and what revenue we raise. And the way we do it is $2.50 for every cut we ask for $1 of additional revenue paid for, as I indicated earlier, by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit. "

Nope.  Sorry, Mr. President.  $1 trillion of that is coming from the wars winding down in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The projected deficits will never be lower than $476 billion.  It would rise by the last three years of the plan reaching over $560 billion by 2021.

Romney's response:

1. "I have my own plan. It's not the same as Simpson-Bowles. But in my view, the President should have grabbed it. If you wanted to make some adjustments to it, take it, go to Congress, fight for it."

Of course, you don't support Simpson-Bowles, Paul Ryan doesn't support it.  By the way, here's the CBO's review of the "Path to Prosperity."  So, is Romney going to fight for the "Path to Prosperity"?  But praising the Simpson-Bowles plan and then saying, but it's not good enough, sounds unfair.

2. "The CBO says we'll have a trillion-dollar deficit each of the next four years. If you're reelected we'll get to a trillion-dollar debt. But you have said before you'd cut the deficit in half. And I love this idea of $4 trillion in cuts -- you found $4 trillion of ways to reduce or to get closer to a balanced budget, except we still show trillion-dollar deficits every year."

Except, scroll back up.  It's not trillion dollar deficits.  Probably closer $500 billion.

3. "Back in 2010, you said, look, I'm going to extend the tax policies that we have. Now, I'm not going to raise taxes on anyone because when the economy is growing slow like this, when we're in recession, you shouldn't raise taxes on anyone. Well, the economy is still going slow. As a matter of fact, it's growing much more slowly now than when you made that statement. And so if you believe the same thing, you just don't want to raise taxes on people."

I looked at this yesterday and of course, Romney is right to an extent.  It's growing slowly.  We also don't have the numbers yet for all of 2012 and it's possible that we have a higher economic growth for the rest of the year.  But again, Clinton had economic growth with higher taxes.   

4. " It's all those businesses that employ one-quarter of the workers in America, these small businesses that are taxed as individuals."

Ugh. See my last post. Or Neal's thought about small businesses.  Look, I get it. We like small businesses.  But that's not what this is about, is it?

The next segment of the debate

One thing about increasing taxes on "small businesses".  This is a claim Romney likes to make.  FactCheck has reported on it before..."
According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, only 3 percent of individual taxpayers with any net business income fall into the top two tax brackets, which are the ones that would increase. It’s true that about half the business income that flows through to individual tax returns is taxed at those top two rates. But an awful lot of those “businesses” are hardly “small.” Many are huge. The JCT said that nearly 20,000 partnerships and so-called “S” corporations — taxed as personal income — had receipts of more than $50 million in 2005."

We've moved onto the deficit now...

Romney: 1. "Well, mathematically, there are three ways that you can cut a deficit. One, of course, is to raise taxes. Number two is to cut spending. And number three is to grow the economy, because if more people work in a growing economy, they're paying taxes and you can get the job done that way."

Romney doesn't want to raise taxes, obviously.  He wants to grow the economy.  Sure, noble goal.  Most of the economic growth of the last twenty years has been under Bill Clinton.  Clinton had a much higher tax rate than George W. Bush.  Romney claims that his tax rate will increase economic growth by 3%.  Again, George W. Bush only had an economic growth of 3% twice in 8 years.  Bill Clinton did it 6 times in 8 years.  The problem of this argument for Romney is as follows: Clinton had a much higher tax rate than George W. Bush.  Clinton was roundly criticized by Republicans at the time for raising taxes and how it would essentially destroy the economy.  Of course, it didn't happen.  So, why didn't it?  Either higher tax rates do not negatively affect the economy or the executive just doesn't have that much impact on the economy.  Either way, not a winning argument for Mitt Romney.  It's important to note that Obama has lowered taxes for individuals and businesses as reported yesterday and extended the Bush tax cuts.  Obama's increase in taxes hasn't happened yet. 

2. "The President would prefer raising taxes. I understand. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth."

Tell that to Bill Clinton.  Or Ronald Reagan.  Yes, Reagan rasied taxes.  Economic growth ensued.  I understand, the idea is that higher taxes hurts economic growth but it doesn't match up with reality.

3. "What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?"

That's a worthy strategy.  Unfortunately, someone could make this argument against it.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, every $1 spent on helping women avoiding pregnancies they did not want, have saved $3.74 Medicaid expenditures that otherwise would have been needed.  Well, Republicans have decided that Planned Parenthood is non-essential.  But a fiscal argument could be made for funding it. 

4. "Obamacare is on my list."

Romney has a fundamental misunderstanding of Obamacare, which I'll discuss later.  But, again Obamacare doesn't actually cost that much.  Solvency in Medicare. But there's disagreement between the two candidates, there, too.

5. "I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That's number one."

That's fine.  The federal spending for PBS is about one hundreth of one percent of the federal budget.  It accounts for 12% of PBS's funding.  If that's what you want to cut, fine.  I'm just glad we got a specific.

6. "Number two, I'll take programs that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level and send them to the state."
Like what?  I'm genuinely curious.  The other question I'm curious about is how much funding does each state get from the federal government in order to implement current programs?  How much would this increase with the addition of new programs?  I actually don't know. 

7. "Number three, I'll make government more efficient and cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments. My cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way. "

That's a fine plan.  Unfortunately, it still lacks details.  What agencies will be combined and where will these employees go after getting cut back?  What impact will this have on the economy, if you will?

8. "The President said he'd cut the deficit in half. Unfortunately, he doubled it -- trillion-dollar deficits for the last four years. The President has put in place as much public debt -- almost as much debt held by the public as all prior Presidents combined."

President Obama did say that he would cut the deficit in half.  He has not done that.  According to the CBO, the deficit will be cut in half by 2014.  He has not doubled it.  Not even close.  The deficit was projected to be $1.2 trillion in 2009.  This projection was in place before Obama took office.  It ended up being $1.4 trillion.  I could go on and look at it each year, if you would like.

Sorry, that was a lot on Romney.  We'll go to the next post.

  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two Debate Thoughts (now with 50% more!!)

1. It's clear that class warfare is alive and well in both parties. The surprising thing is that both parties are on the same side. If we take the candidates at their word, the upper and lower classes are going to get hosed by the middle class.

2. There's a lot of love for small business that I don't understand. Most small businesses are small because they aren't particularly well run. Am I supposed to believe that small business owners intentionally keep their businesses small? Sure, small businesses create a lot of jobs, but they also destroy a lot of jobs too. If half of all small businesses fail within the first five years, how many jobs do we lose because of small businesses? I have nothing against small businesses, but I don't see the big deal.

P.S.
3. Obama claimed that if we give more grants to college students, more people will be able to go to college. This is absolutely false, and is the kind of reasoning that has caused tuition rates to rise so quickly. It is simple supply and demand. The supply of colleges is pretty much fixed, but the number of people who are willing and able to pay is increasing, so the price increases. If you want to increase the number of people who go to college, you have increase the supply of colleges.

The Debate: Part 4

Obama's response:

1. Starts with a little bit of criticism of Romney changing his tax plan. Which is not fair, since Romney has continued to say that he would reduce deductions and close loopholes.

2. "So at the same time that my tax plan has already lowered taxes for 98 percent of families, I also lowered taxes for small business 18 times." 

Linked to PolitiFact's statements on Obama lowering taxes.  But Obama has only done 17, at last check.  Also, letting the Bush tax cuts expire might affect small businesses negatively.  But, as we see in this article by PolitiFact, "only 0.5 percent of small businesses reported a profit in excess of $1 million."  I'm not sure what the percentage would be for those making $250,000 or more.  But my assumption based on that fact, is it's not going to be very high.

3. "But I have said that for incomes over $250,000 a year that we should go back to the rates that we had when Bill Clinton was President, when we created 23 million new jobs." 

Actually, it would be higher.  He's referring to going back to the 39.6% tax rate.  There's also an increase in taxes from the Affordable Care Act.  There's a 3.8% tax on unearned investment income.  There's also a 0.9% surcharge on top of the current Medicare payroll tax for incomes over $200,000 for single and $250,000 for family.

4. "  But under Governor Romney's definition, there are a whole bunch of millionaires and billionaires who are small businesses. Donald Trump is a small business "

Wrong!

Romney's response:

1. Another appeal to pity about a business owner in St. Louis.

2. Romney doesn't want to cost jobs....we get it.

3. Then more talk about lowering taxes but getting rid of deductions and exemptions, without mentioning which ones he'll use.

Obama's response:

1. "The approach that Governor Romney is talking about is the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003. And we ended up with the slowest job growth in 50 years."

George W. Bush in his first term had a growth rate of 0.51%. Lowest since FDR.  In his second term, it went to -0.84%. Is Bush completely to blame?  Probably not.  I mean, we had a global recession.  It's challenging to decide who to blame for the recession.  To compare, Obama's so far is 0.84%.  Not great or anything. But, it's consistent with historical data that shows that Democratic presidents have created more jobs than Republican presidents since World War II. 

2.  "Bill Clinton tried the approach that I'm talking about. We created 23 million new jobs. We went from deficit to surplus. And businesses did very well."

3. Obama came off as a jerk for saying, let's move on, but let me get the last word in real quick before we do.

But Clinton never had to spend stimulus money to stimulate the economy.

Romney's response:

1.  Romney was a jerk in return. We can't move on, let me get the last word in, here.

2.  "My plan is to bring down rates but also bring down deductions and exemptions and credits at the same time, so the revenue stays in, but that we bring down rates to get more people working."

You're correct with that. But as FactCheck notes, "in theory, at least, Romney’s revenue-neutral rate cuts would have even less of a stimulative effect than Bush’s cuts did."  In case you were wondering,  with Bush's tax cuts, real GDP grew by 3 percent for two of his eight years in office.  Romney's underlying assumption about his tax rates will work if it has a 3% growth in GDP.  It's possible, Bill Clinton had a 3% growth 6 out of his 8 years.  But it was a different way of growing the economy. 

3. "We've got 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work in this country. It's just -- we've got -- when the President took office, 32 million people on food stamps; 47 million on food stamps today; economic growth this year slower than last year; and last year slower than the year before"

Those numbers might be accurate but probably not just Barack Obama's fault.  Some of the numbers for food stamps, as reported here, earlier are somewhat George W. Bush's fault, too.  Including efforts to sign up more people.  But I want to look at economic growth.  We can look at GDP, specifically perent change.  In 2009, the GDP was -3.1 from the year before.  In 2010, it was 2.4% more.  In 2011, it was 1.8%.  So far, in 2012 we have increased it 2.0 in the first quarter and 1.3 in the second quarter. Quarter 3 will be realeased later this month.  Romney's claim is accurate, so far.

The Debate: Part 3

Obama's response:
1. "I said that I would cut taxes for middle-class families, and that's exactly what I did. We cut taxes for middle-class families by about $3,600."

I can't find the exact number to be sure of this.  My hunch is that it's not quite that high.  But I could certainly be wrong. But here are some PolitiFact rulings on it, here, here, and here.

2. "Now, Governor Romney's proposal that he has been promoting for 18 months calls for a $5 trillion tax cut on top of $2 trillion of additional spending for our military. And he is saying that he is going to pay for it by closing loopholes and deductions. The problem is that he's been asked over a hundred times how you would close those deductions and loopholes, and he hasn't been able to identify them."

A more accurate statement.

3. "And that's why independent studies looking at this said the only way to meet Governor Romney's pledge of not reducing the deficit -- or not adding to the deficit, is by burdening middle-class families; the average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more."

It's true that independent studies think that it's impossible for him to do this without burdening middle-class families.

4. "so the average person making 3 million bucks is getting a $250,000 tax break, while middle-class families are burdened further."

FactCheck quoting The Tax Policy Center's study here: "Romney’s plan would result in 99.97 percent of those making $1 million a year or more getting a tax cut (compared with what they pay now) and that the cuts would average $256,603 each. But further down the income scale, the benefit would be considerably less. For those making between $50,000 and $75,000, for example, 94 percent would see a tax cut, and it would average $1,226, before any loss of deductions or credits."

Romney's response:

1. "So there's no economist who can say Mitt Romney's tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan."

They're saying it. But these economists also say that there are all of these deductions and loopholes that need to be reduced to make it revenue neutral.

2, "Number two, I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals."

Really?  It's hard to make that claim when you are in favor of repealing the estate tax which only affects estates that exceed $5.1 million.  Or you could look at the Tax Policy Center's study.

3.  "Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you described and say it's completely wrong."

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Wrong, when it was five.  Wrong, now that it's six.  Blog items and op-ed pieces by campaign advisers and other partisan people are probably the wrong things to cite when you're looking for something to cite.

4. "That is, I want to bring down rates. I want to bring the rates down, at the same time, lower deductions and exemptions and credits and so forth, so we keep getting the revenue we need."

But what are these deductions and exemptions?  Oh right, we still don't know.

The Debate: Part Two

Obama's response:

1. Race to the top- Here's PolitiFact's Obamameter on Obama's educational promises.

2. "And this is where there's a difference, because Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts -- that's another trillion dollars -- and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for. That's $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans I think is one of the central questions of this campaign."

This is kind of a central pillar of the debate.  Here's how Obama is getting $5 trillion.  The Tax Policy Center found that Romney's tax plan would cost about $480 billion in 2015 compared to current policy.  Obama is extrapolating that over a ten year period to get $5 trillion.  But Romney has promised over and over again that he would offset that by reducing deductions and closing loopholes. I haven't seen anything about the $2 trillion the military wants.  Otherwise, I would check that out, too.

Romney's response:

1. I can quote it or just tell you.  "I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of the scale that you're talking about."  From FactCheck, "Romney always has said he planned to offset that massive cut with equally massive reductions in tax preferences to broaden the tax base, thus losing no revenue and not increasing the deficit. So to that extent, the president is incorrect: Romney is not proposing a $5 trillion reduction in taxes." 

2. "Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300." Nope.  It fell by slightly less than $2,500 for household income in the first three years of Obama's presidency. According to the study, Romney is using, the bottom probably fell out a year ago, as income is on the rise, again.

3. "gasoline prices have doubled under the President"
I always like this claim.  It implies that the president has vast control over gas prices.  Using the same logic, the gas prices going up under George W. Bush were his fault.  This is simply not true.  Gas prices are decided upon a global scale.  President Obama's policies may have added pennies to the price of gasoline but not much more.  But anyways, gasoline prices on average were $1.84 because of the recession and unusually low price of crude.  But the summer of 2008, we saw gasoline prices soar to over $4/gallon which has not yet been seen under President Obama.

4. "health care costs have gone up by $2,500 a family"
This is essentially the same claim made when it was found that health care costs rose 9 percent.  Republicans were quick to blame Obamacare.  But, independent experts cited that it only made it rise 1 to 3 percent of the 9 percent.  The rest of the blame?  The free market.  I'm just joking. Sort of. Rising health care costs are the biggest to blame.  You know, the theory of supply and demand, right?

5.  If this portion of the debate sounded familiar, it's because it was.  A lot of this was said in Romney's RNC speech. 

6. "On government land, your administration has cut the number of permits and licenses in half. "
It's probably true.  But due to other factors, including offshore drilling permits, because of the Deepwater Horizon drilling that killed 11 people.

7. If I'm President, I'll double them and also get the oil from offshore in Alaska, and I'll bring that pipeline in from Canada.

Obama has delayed the Keystone Pipeline but hasn't blocked it. There's a lot of oil coming in from Canada.  We can bring in 1 million more barrels per day. He has only opposed the pipeline going over the sandhill region, waiting for a new route to be designed.  Offshore drilling in Alaska has already begun, I believe. Obama opposes drilling in the ANWR. 


Next part of the debate will be in the next post.

The Debate: Part 1

So, the debate's transcript is posted.  I have nothing else to do....Time to be overjudgmental and start criticizing people.  I'm excited. Are you?  Well, I don't care. I'm going to go through each of the sections and if there are things that need to be checked, I'll check them up against the databases found at PolitiFact and FactCheck.  It's pretty clear that Romney won the debate, according to most people.  He's getting a good reaction from the polls immediately after, but so do most challengers. To be fair, I thought Romney did better than expected.  But, well, let's let the rest of my posts explain about his points.  Yes, I'll be overly mean to both sides. 

First segment:

Opening by Barack Obama:
1. Really?  You chose to have the debate on your anniversary?  If I did something like that, my girlfriend would kill me. Probably, literally.

2. "Over the last 30 months, we've seen 5 million jobs in the private sector created. The auto industry has come roaring back and housing has begun to rise." Fact-checking time.  This is true.  But, as you can see from the table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's kind of a cherry-picked claim.  From January 2009 to January 2010, the economy lost a number of jobs, almost the same amount.  While we've created more jobs than lost, it's probably too close to comfort.

Response by Mitt Romney:

1. It starts with an appeal to pity. Which I mentioned with my posts on fallacies.

2. "My plan has five basic parts: One, get us energy independent -- North America energy independent. That creates about 4 million jobs. Number two, open up more trade, particularly in Latin America; crack down on China if and when they cheat. Number three, make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world -- we are far away from that now. Number four, get us to a balanced budget. Number five, champion small business."  This is a nice basic plan. But it doesn't mean anything, really. Romney has been critical of Obama with trade, especially Latin America, quoting on his website that on day one, he would approve the free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.  But, they've already been signed. That's going to open up trade with Latin America, it's Panama and Colombia, but still. Barack Obama has already said that Mitt Romney was critical of Obama for standing up to China. A quote from Mitt Romney's book, No Apology, "President Obama’s action to defend American tire companies from foreign competition may make good politics by repaying unions for his support of their campaign, but it is decidedly bad for the nation and our workers. Protectionism stifles productivity." Just, so you know. I'll leave the balanced budget claim, for later.  Education, too.

I'll leave the next set of claims for the next post...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday's Whigs

Where we're wondering who will win the debate tonight...

There will continue to be discussion about Obamacare raising taxes on the middle class.  Romney might mention tonight that Obamacare is the largest tax increase on the middle class or the largest increase ever. It's possible he states that Obamacare's cost has doubled by the CBO's estimates.

Mitt Romney will certainly make some claims about his tax policy

Barack Obama will mention something about his tax policies and will refine his attacks on Mitt Romney.

Obama might continue to blame Bush for the deficit and maybe Fast and Furious, too.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

So you want to vote in the election...

So, you've never voted in an election before.  You're worried about the amount of information out there and how to choose the right candidate for you.  No worries, I'll do your thinking for you.  Tell you how I have come to decide who I would vote for in each of the elections I've voted in.

1. Register to vote.
None of these other steps matter if you can't vote.

2. Decide what issues you think are very important to you.

This is the first step because it allows you to focus on issues rather than a party or a particular candidate, at first glance.  I am starting with issues rather than where you stand on the issues because, well the next step.  From here, you can decide the preliminary issues that you want to research and think are vital to your understanding of the political process.  I would advise making a list of about five issues that you think you might be strong enough to sway how you vote in the election.

3. Research, with an open mind, these issues and from this research form your opinions on where you stand on these issues.

Step two and I'm already starting to feel some resistance.  Who has time to research all of these things?  Well, I'm not talking about going crazy in-depth with these things, but you can easily do the research quickly, if you're just focusing on a handful of issues.  You can easily go to such sites as PolitiFact and FactCheck and search for these issues.  They might not give you all of the information you look for but they link to a lot of credible research, as well.  Using actual research to determine where you stand on an issue will make you more informed on the subject and less likely to believe the misinformation about a particular topic/issue.  Focusing on issues that you already think are important will make it easier for you to research them. 

3. After you have done your research on the topics, re-order the issues in terms of their importance to you now.

Also, be sure to include any issues that you want to research.  Don't be afraid to toss aside issues that you thought were important but research changed your mind. 

4.  Using the issues you find important as a guide, take a quiz to match up your beliefs with that of a candidate.

I, personally, recommend VoteSmart's database, their quiz found on their website (www.votesmart.org/voteeasy) is fantastic.  You can rank the relative importance of various issues and skip questions that are not important to you.  They also provide their research into why they say a candidate supports or doesn't support various issues.  This research is worthwhile.  But if you're not using their database be sure to focus on questions that have to deal with the issues you think are the most imporant and weight their answers accordingly. For instance, if abortion is the biggest issue to you then don't put a dispropotionate amount of weight on a candidate's responses to something about the war in Afghanistan.

5. Research what the candidate stands for outside of the quiz.

The quizzes don't include every issue on them, obviously.  So, if there's a particular issue not addressed, you can research it yourself.  I would use VoteSmart's database, as they provide voting records, public statements, etc. They have summaries for bills so you can see if the candidate supported issues that you think are important.

6. Vote on Election Day.

That's pretty much it.  You can pay attention to more things but looking at things that are not based in fact, reason, or logic are not good things to listen to.  If you run into something that doesn't sound quite true, sounds too good to be true, or just sounds ridiculous, check a fact-checking site such as PolitiFact or FactCheck or the Washington Post FactChecker.  They are valuable resources.  Voting for someone you actually believe in feels a lot better than voting for someone because your parents or friends believe in him/her.

Spending our way to a better future...

At the end of this fiscal year, we'll have a deficit of over $1 trillion.  This will be the fourth straight year that we have a deficit this high.  When Obama took office, the CBO budget estimated that the deficit would be $1.2 trillion.  After Obama took office and by the end of the fiscal year, the deficit was actually $1.4 trillion.  The deficit was $1.3 trillion in 2010 and 2011 and about $1.2 trillion for the fiscal year that just ended.  On television, Obama cliaimed that his policies were only about 10% of the actual deficit and 90% of it was George W. Bush.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aka the stimulus, has added $800 billion to the deficit by 2011. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 extended the Bush tax cuts and cut the Social Security payroll tax for two years, as well as provided relief to some taxpayers who otherwise would have had to pay the alternative minimum tax and cost about $800 billion in 2011 and 2012.  He is responsible therefore for over $2 billion of the deficits. 

The Treasury Department put plame on Obama for 12% of the deficit and Bush at 59% for the deficits we're seeing over the last ten years.  But it excludes 2012 fiscal year.  It also puts all of the blame for the Bush tax cuts (blame for what it's doing to the deficit) on Bush.  Despite the expanisions Obama put through and the extensions.  It misses some of the cost to the deficit from the Obama tax cut.  Yes, Obama cut taxes.  Some of the assignment of Obama's tax cut was put on Bush despite being out of office for three years.  Also, it might not give enough blame to Obama for spending more in Iraq and Afghanistan than was budgeted for.

The point of this post is that Obama is minimizing his responsibility to the deficits by quoting the Treasury's study, which is regrettable.  But all this finger-pointing misses the larger, overarching point, where do we go from here, what plans do we use to reduce these over the long term, and who has these plans?

The devil is in the details...

As we get closer to the election, I'll start to write longer pieces on various things that I think are worthwhile to think about for the upcoming election. I'm starting with Mitt Romney's tax plan...

Michael Schur aka Ken Tremendous, producer and writer for shows such as The Office and Parks and Recreation, tweeted "I'm fairly sure that if there were a way to make an across-the-board 20% tax cut revenue neutral, someone would've done it already."  The problem that I've mentioned here, on Facebook, and in conversations with people is what are the details of the plan? 

Romney has released the generaliteis of his plan.  Which is as follows:

  • Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates
  • Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains
  • Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains
  • Eliminate the Death Tax
  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

  • For corporate taxes:

  • Cut the corporate rate to 25 percent
  • Strengthen and make permanent the R&D tax credit
  • Switch to a territorial tax system
  • Repeal the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

  • Like I've stated before, we not only have a spending problem in this country but a revenue problem.  Simply put, we're not generating as much revenue as we have in the past, especially compared to GDP.  The Tax Policy Center found that if Romney did not repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, much of the money lost due to the other tax cuts would mainly be recouped. The Tax Policy Center estimated that this tax plan for individual, corporate, and estate taxes would cost $480 billion per year for each of 10 years starting in 2015. 

    What is the Alternative Minimum Tax, you ask?  It is an income tax imposed by the government on individuals, corporations, estates, and trusts.  It is usually imposed at a nearly flat rate on an adjusted amount of taxable income above a certain threshold (also known as exemption). This exemption is substantially higher than the exemption from regular income tax.

    But anyways, back to the tax plan analysis.  The plan would get the loss of revenue back by reducing or eliminating tax breaks.  These tax breaks, are as of yet, unknown.  Before we even look at the reductions or eliminations of tax deductions, who benefits, so far from the Romney plan?  According to the Tax Policy Center, 99.97% of those making $1 million per year or more would receive a tax cut of what they're paying now.  The average savings would be a little more than $250,000 each.  For those making between $50,000 and $75,000, 94% of people would receive tax cuts averaging slightly over $1000.  Romney's citation of the National Commission of Fiscal Responsiblity and Reform is wrong, because the report calls for taxing capital gains and dividends as ordinary income. 

    Revenue-neutral?

    Romney has claimed that his tax plan will be revenue neutral.  The Tax Policy Center went out to write a report on that.  If you look at just the individual and estate taxes, they estimated that it would cost $360 billion per year.  The report concluded, "Offsetting the $360 billion in revenue losses necessitates a reduction of roughly 65 percent of available tax expenditures. Such a reduction by itself would be unprecedented, and would require deep reductions in many popular tax benefits ranging from the mortgage interest deduction, the exclusion for employer-provided health insurance, the deduction for charitable contributions, and benefits for low- and middle-income families and children like the EITC and child tax credit."  The report found a larger conclusion which was "our major conclusion is that a revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed – including reducing marginal tax rates substantially, eliminating the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) and maintaining all tax breaks for saving and investment – would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers."

    Romney opined that the Tax Policy Center was wrong because it ignored the positive benefits to economic growth among other things.  Saying that his plan as a whole would work.  The Tax Policy Center responded with "Any reductions in revenue due to the lower corporate rate would be offset by reducing corporate tax preferences. As a result, we examine only changes to the individual income tax, alternative minimum tax, payroll tax, and estate tax. We ignore the effect of the proposal to reduce the corporate rate to 25 percent.”

    There is an argument to be made that cutting the corporate tax rate would spur economic growth.  One such study estimates that cutting the corporate tax rate by 10% would spur 1.1 to 1.8% of economic growth. But, FactCheck points out that Romney would eliminate corporate tax preferences to offset the loss in revenue.  George W. Bush wanted to do this but the Treasury Department concluded the following: "The Treasury Department estimates that the combined policy of base broadening and lowering the business tax rate to 28 percent might well have little or no effect on the level of real output in the long run because the economic gain from the lower corporate tax rate may well be largely offset by the economic cost of eliminating accelerated depreciation."  If accelerated depreciation is maintained, FactCheck cites the Treasury Department as saying the corporate tax rate could be cut to 31% without losing revenue.  It would have a 0.5% increase in economic output. 

    Romney claims that the economic growth is too low and maintains that there would be a 1% increase.  So, the Tax Policy Center ran the study again. The result being that it would only offset 15% of the revenue loss.  Saying that it would be a smaller burden on the lower to middle class but it would still require a net increase of taxes on the middle class.

    So, we're still waiting on the details of how Romney's tax policy will work, in order to become revenue neutral.  Be on the lookout for what deductions might be reduced or eliminated.  The tax plan as currently suggested by Romney has a lot that can still be filled in but it's probably going to be filled with the elimination or reduction of popular tax deductions, which is why Romney refuses to name them.  It's political gamesmanship but Romney can't complain that Obama is unfairly attacking his plan until he releases more of the details. 

    Question about the Presidential election

    Do either of the two major party candidates even want to win?