Tax Rates Lower Under Obama Than Reagan

Many on the right act as if the Reagan years were a golden age of small government and low taxes while Barack Obama has brought us socialism and high taxes. Of course these are the same people who are certain Obama raised their taxes when he actually lowered them. Taxes are lower under Obama than under Ronald Reagan:

But in fact, most Americans in 2010 paid far less in total taxes — federal, state and local — than they would have paid 30 years ago. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the combination of all income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes took a smaller share of their income than it took from households with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980.

Households earning more than $200,000 benefited from the largest percentage declines in total taxation as a share of income. Middle-income households benefited, too. More than 85 percent of households with earnings above $25,000 paid less in total taxes than comparable households in 1980.

Lower-income households, however, saved little or nothing. Many pay no federal income taxes, but they do pay a range of other levies, like federal payroll taxes, state sales taxes and local property taxes. Only about half of taxpaying households with incomes below $25,000 paid less in 2010.

The uneven decline is a result of two trends. Congress cut federal taxation at every income level over the last 30 years. State and local taxes, meanwhile, increased for most Americans. Those taxes generally take a larger share of income from those who make less, so the increases offset more and more of the federal savings at lower levels of income.

The article later gave a few examples:

¶A household making $350,000 in 2010, roughly the cutoff for the top 1 percent, on average paid 42.1 percent of its income in taxes, compared with 49 percent for a household with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980 — a savings of about $24,100.

¶A household making $52,000 in 2010, roughly the median income, on average paid 27.7 percent of its income in taxes, compared with 30.5 percent in 1980, saving $1,500.

¶A household making $22,000 in 2010 — roughly the federal poverty line for a family of four — on average paid 19.4 percent in taxes, compared with 20.2 percent, saving $200.

The comparisons would be less dramatic depending upon which year of the Reagan administration current rates were compared to as Reagan both lowered and raised taxes during his time in office. The numbers do debunk any idea that Obama has ushered in an era of high-tax socialism. That’s why the right wing is so violently against numbers, arithmetic, and facts.

Obama’s E-Mail List

The Obama campaign raised a fortune with email solicitations, and now that the election is over they are willing to reveal secrets such as that a casual tone and an unattractive format was most effective:

One fascination in a presidential race mostly bereft of intrigue was the strange, incessant, and weirdly overfamiliar e-mails that emanated from the Obama campaign. Anyone who shared an address with the campaign soon started receiving messages from Barack Obama with subject lines such as “Join me for dinner?” “It’s officially over,” “It doesn’t have to be this way,” or just “Wow.” Jon Stewart mocked them on the Daily Show. The women’s website the Hairpin likened them to notes from a stalker.

But they worked. Most of the $690 million Obama raised online came from fundraising e-mails. During the campaign, Obama’s staff wouldn’t answer questions about them or the alchemy that made them so successful. Now, with the election over, they’re opening the black box.

The appeals were the product of rigorous experimentation by a large team of analysts. “We did extensive A-B testing not just on the subject lines and the amount of money we would ask people for,” says Amelia Showalter, director of digital analytics, “but on the messages themselves and even the formatting.” The campaign would test multiple drafts and subject lines—often as many as 18 variations—before picking a winner to blast out to tens of millions of subscribers. “When we saw something that really moved the dial, we would adopt it,” says Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign’s e-mail director, who oversaw a staff of 20 writers.

It quickly became clear that a casual tone was usually most effective. “The subject lines that worked best were things you might see in your in-box from other people,” Fallsgraff says. “ ‘Hey’ was probably the best one we had over the duration.” Another blockbuster in June simply read, “I will be outspent.” According to testing data shared with Bloomberg Businessweek, that outperformed 17 other variants and raised more than $2.6 million.

Writers, analysts, and managers routinely bet on which lines would perform best and worst. “We were so bad at predicting what would win that it only reinforced the need to constantly keep testing,” says Showalter. “Every time something really ugly won, it would shock me: giant-size fonts for links, plain-text links vs. pretty ‘Donate’ buttons. Eventually we got to thinking, ‘How could we make things even less attractive?’ That’s how we arrived at the ugly yellow highlighting on the sections we wanted to draw people’s eye to.”

Another unexpected hit: profanity. Dropping in mild curse words such as “Hell yeah, I like Obamacare” got big clicks. But these triumphs were fleeting. There was no such thing as the perfect e-mail; every breakthrough had a shelf life. “Eventually the novelty wore off, and we had to go back and retest,” says Showalter.

Fortunately for Obama and all political campaigns that will follow, the tests did yield one major counterintuitive insight: Most people have a nearly limitless capacity for e-mail and won’t unsubscribe no matter how many they’re sent. “At the end, we had 18 or 20 writers going at this stuff for as many hours a day as they could stay awake,” says Fallsgraff. “The data didn’t show any negative consequences to sending more.”

BuzzFeed points out that Obama is not using his e-mail list to try to put pressure on Congress to support his economic policies before we go over the fiscal cliff. Republicans and Democrats have theories as to why this is not being used:

Republicans involved in “fiscal cliff” talks, meanwhile, simply downplay the list’s power. The group that gathered to support Obama, they argue, didn’t sign up for four years of inside battles.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past four years, it’s that his list is very effective when it comes to voter turnout, but a complete dud when it comes to firing up the masses on policy debates,” said one senior Republican official.

Progressives on Obama’s left flank make a different argument: Obama’s agenda is simply further to the center than many of his most devoted supporters want or imagine, and his moderate goals are hard to organize around. Obama demoralized liberals and labor unions (the most organized element of the Democratic base) by preemptively dropping his demand for a public option for health care in the 2009 negotiations on that subject.

“They’re going to have the same problem they did in ’09 when they started leaving ‘public option’ out of their health care e-mails. What they’re pushing is at odds with what their base wants,” said Jane Hamsher, the founder of the combative liberal blog Firedoglake, whose present view is that Democrats are “dying to knife their base.”

“Obama wants a ‘grand bargain’ with ‘entitlement reform,’” she said. “The base does not want to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.”

Part of the problem is that there was complete agreement among Obama supporters in backing Obama’s reelection but that his supporters hold a variety of viewpoints on specific issues. Some are to the left of Obama as mentioned above, while the Democratic coalition also contains a fair number of more conservative individuals who are to the right of Obama. Opposition to the entire Republican agenda was also a far greater motivating factor than any specific issue.

Republican Compromise Turned Out To Be Too Good To Be True

Realistically there was one sure sign that we would not see a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff–it is not the last minute. It appeared there might be some hope of a quick compromise when Representative Tom Cole suggested that Republicans accept Obama’s position of continuing the Bush tax cuts for the middle class while raising rates on the wealthiest tax payers. John Boehner has already shot down that proposal (which doesn’t mean the Republicans might not compromise on this at the last minute).

Republicans, in their usual display of dishonesty on fiscal matters, claim that they are refusing to go along with this in order to protect small business. However, only a tiny percentage of small businesses would be affected by the repeal of the Bush tax cuts. The real motivation is not protecting small business, but protecting the ultra-wealthy and avoiding confrontation with Grover Norquist. While a few Republicans have recently said they would put their country before a pledge to Grover Norquist to never raise taxes, most Republicans fear the political consequences of facing a Tea Party fanatic in their next primary battle.

Some Republicans are looking for a way to raise taxes on the wealthy, knowing that this is necessary, while pretending they are not. Mitt Romney ran on the idea of reducing tax rates and deductions, but there aren’t enough deductions to eliminate for his plan to add up. Recently I heard a really absurd idea floated of raising taxes on the wealthy by keeping the same rates but having the top rate apply to all income. While this might satisfy the desire to raise taxes while telling Tea Party members that they did not support a higher rate, the consequences of this could be a disaster.

Republicans often falsely claim that higher rates will prevent investment in the economy as businessmen will stop working to avoid the  higher rate. This does not actually happen because of how marginal tax rates work. If there is a three percent higher rate on incomes over $500,000, income up to $500,000 will still be charged at the same rates. Paying three percent more only on income over $500,000 would not deter anyone from doing more business which increases income over $500,000. The situation would be completely different if earning over $500,000 meant paying the current top rate on all income. In this case, going over the income threshold would mean that all income would be taxed at a higher rate, not just income over $500,000 and someone earning $500,001 would be paying substantially more in taxes than someone earning $499,999. This would really lead to people having an incentive to make less money if their income would otherwise be over $500,000 (unless it would be substantially more). I doubt this idea will go anywhere.

Hopefully when pushed by a deadline Congress will find a meaningful compromises at the last minute. It is important to avoid the fiscal cliff which will lead to both automatic tax increses and spending cuts. I’m finding some liberals expressing views such as John Cole’s: “Ending the Bush tax cuts and big cuts to defense? Sounds good to me!” Perhaps, but the automatic cuts to Medicare and many domestic programs don’t sound as good.

Nude Protestors Tell Speaker Boehner Not To Be A Dick

There is probably no better way to get attention for a demonstration than to have topless women present, as with the demonstrations at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year. While most of the reports I have seen of nude demonstrations have been in Europe, this phenomenon has now spread to the United States. Seven people protested against cuts to AIDS funding nude at John Boehner’s office. Chants included “Boehner, Boehner, don’t be a dick, budget cuts will make us sick,”  “Fight AIDS. Act up. Fight back,” “End AIDS with the Robin Hood tax, no more budget cuts on our back,.” and “Budget cuts are really rude, that’s why we have to be so lewd.” Three people were arrested in the protests

Bruce Bartlett on Reality vs. The Conservative Movement

The conservative movement suffers from being dominated by extremists who drive out anyone who does not agree with all the counter-to-fact and irrational views which they now hold (which are very similar to the extremist views which William F. Buckley, Jr. purged from the conservative movement in the 1960′s.) Bruce Bartlett, who worked in the Reagan Administration, has found that it is not possible to simultaneously look at reality and be welcomed by other conservatives:

I’m not going to beat around the bush and pretend I don’t have a vested interest here. Frankly, I think I’m at ground zero in the saga of Republicans closing their eyes to any facts or evidence that conflict with their dogma. Rather than listen to me, they threw me under a bus. To this day, I don’t think they understand that my motives were to help them avoid the permanent decline that now seems inevitable.

Bartlett described his days in the conservative movement. His earliest disagreements were criticism of the second Bush administration, along with Congressional Republicans, from the right for their fiscal irresponsibility. This led to him writing the book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.  While MSNBC sometimes criticizes Obama from the left, the right wing noise machine didn’t have room for dissident views on the right:

Among the interesting reactions to my book is that I was banned from Fox News. My publicist was told that orders had come down from on high that it was to receive no publicity whatsoever, not even attacks. Whoever gave that order was smart; attacks from the right would have sold books. Being ignored was poison for sales.

I later learned that the order to ignore me extended throughout Rupert Murdoch’s empire. For example, I stopped being quoted in the Wall Street Journal.* Awhile back, a reporter who left the Journal confirmed to me that the paper had given her orders not to mention me. Other dissident conservatives, such as David Frum and Andrew Sullivan, have told me that they are banned from Fox as well. More epistemic closure.

Bartlett’s analysis of the economy after the economic crash found him agreeing with Paul Krugman, and disagreeing with the right’s mischaracterization of Obama as a socialist:

Annoyingly, however, I found myself joined at the hip to Paul Krugman, whose analysis was identical to my own. I had previously viewed Krugman as an intellectual enemy and attacked him rather colorfully in an old column that he still remembers.

For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades.

The final line for me to cross in complete alienation from the right was my recognition that Obama is not a leftist. In fact, he’s barely a liberal—and only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that moderate Republicans from the past are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today. Viewed in historical context, I see Obama as actually being on the center-right.

He understands that the conservative echo chamber is largely responsible for Romney’s loss:

At least a few conservatives now recognize that Republicans suffer for epistemic closure. They were genuinely shocked at Romney’s loss because they ignored every poll not produced by a right-wing pollster such as Rasmussen or approved by right-wing pundits such as the perpetually wrong Dick Morris. Living in the Fox News cocoon, most Republicans had no clue that they were losing or that their ideas were both stupid and politically unpopular.

I am disinclined to think that Republicans are yet ready for a serious questioning of their philosophy or strategy. They comfort themselves with the fact that they held the House (due to gerrymandering) and think that just improving their get-out-the-vote system and throwing a few bones to the Latino community will fix their problem. There appears to be no recognition that their defects are far, far deeper and will require serious introspection and rethinking of how Republicans can win going forward. The alternative is permanent loss of the White House and probably the Senate as well, which means they can only temporarily block Democratic initiatives and never advance their own.

I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.

Right Wing Hysteria on Obamacare Preventative Exams

The right wing media and blogs have been posting hysterical. and factually incorrect, material on Obamacare since it was first proposed, including fictitious claims of Death Panels and false descriptions of the law as a government take over of health care. Now there is a new target of this misinformation campaign. The Affordable Care Act added preventative services to Medicare. Previously Medicare would only cover an office call for treatment of illnesses, but under Obamacare Medicare will also cover a preventative visit annually. As we all know, the right wing media frequently attacks laws by presenting misinformation to make them appear evil, or at least absurd. A post at Panama’s Media claims that if a patient is in the office for a preventative exam, a physician would be breaking the law for treating the patient for a medical problem.

I have now posted a notice in my office and each exam room stating exactly what Obamacare will cover for those yearly visits. Remember Obama promised this as a free exam — no co-pay, no deductible, no charge. That’s fine and dandy if you are healthy and have no complaints. However, we are obligated by law to code specifically for the reason of the visit. An annual exam is one specific code; you can not mix this with another code, say, for rectal bleeding. This annual visit covers the exam and “discussion about the status of previously diagnosed stable conditions.” That’s the exact wording under that code — insurance will not cover any new ailment under that code.

If you are here for that annual exam, you will not be covered if you want to discuss any new ailment or unstable condition. I cannot bait and switch to another code — that’s illegal. We, the physicians, are audited all the time and can lose our license for insurance fraud.

You, the patient, will then have to make a decision.

Do you want your “free” yearly exam, or do you want to pay for a visit which is coded for a particular, new problem? You can have my “free” exam if you only discuss what Obamacare wants me to discuss.

This happened to me personally, as a patient, when I went for my physical. It is the law. If you are complaining of a new problem, then you have to reschedule, since Obamacare is very clear as to what is covered and what is not. Obamacare — intentionally — makes it as difficult to be seen and taken care of as possible.

Patients can be very tricky. I have had patients make an “annual” exam, only to want to discuss and be treated for another ailment. I can’t do it.

The claims in the article are outright false. CMS has requirements for what must be included in a preventative exam if they are going to provide payment, but does not prevent a physician from going beyond this. Medicare does pay well for the preventative exams so if I spend an extra couple of  minutes discussing another problem it is no big deal. Medicare will pay if there is a significant medical problem which is addressed in addition to paying for the preventative exams. The instructions from CMS for billing of the new preventative services specifically state that an E&M (evaluation and management) code can be billed along with the code for the preventative services when there is evaluation of medical problems beyond the preventative services, as is stated in this pdf.

The addition of coverage for preventative services under the Affordable Care Act has provided additional benefits to patients, and in the long run should save money. There is no need to break the law as this post claims when combining a preventative exam with an examination for a medical problems. I have frequently billed for (and received payment for) claims containing billings for both preventative services and additional charges for evaluation of other problems the patient might be having.

SciFi Weekend: Larry Hagman Dies; Chevy Chase Leaves Community; Fringe; Revolution; When’s The Doctor?

The story which must lead over any other entertainment stories this week is the death of Larry Hagman. He is best known for the part of J.R. Ewing. In 1980 Dallas received a remarkable amount of publicity with a cliffhanger in which J.R. was shot (and recovered). The episode which resolved the mystery remains the second highest rated television episode of all time, and with increased fragmentation of the television audience in the age of cable, Dallas might hold onto this position.

Larry Hagman got to reprise the role of J.R. Ewing on a remake of Dallas which began last summer on TNT. Younger stars dominated the series (sometimes making the series feel too much as if it were Dallas 90210), but the presence of Hagman got the series off the ground. J.R. Ewing slipped into the background during part of the first season to open the way for the next generation, including Josh Henderson as John Ross Ewing III and Jesse Metcalfe as Christopher Ewing, to battle each other. Hagman had filmed six of fifteen episodes of the second season, which begins on January 28. There is no doubt that the show will be rewritten to take J.R.’s death into account. A storyline about the death of J.R. Ewing in March is bound to be a ratings success.

This is not the first time that Dallas has had to deal with the loss of a major character, with Jim Davis (Joch Ewing) dying and Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing) leaving the series for health reasons. (Donna Reed also played Miss Ellie for one year, with Bel Geddes subsequently returning for an additional season). Bobby Ewing died in the eighth-season cliffhanger, with Bobby returning in Pamela’s shower at the start of season ten, making all of season nine a dream.

While J.R. Ewing could never be replaced, the remake of Dallas does feature other characters from the original series, with Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) and Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing) having regular roles. Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs) and Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing) have had recurring appearances. Joan Van Ark and Ted Shackelford are returning as Valene and Gary Ewing, roles which were primarily seen in the Dallas spinoff Knots Landing.

Hagman had many other roles, including some which could be classified as genre. The most notable of his other roles was as Major Anthony Nelson, an astronaut who was the owner of a 2000 year-old super being on I Dream of Jeannie. Other genre connections include a role in the first Superman movie and directing a low-budget sequel to The Blob, called Beware! The Blob.

Reactions from many who have worked with Hagman can be found here.

Community will also have to deal with the loss of a leading character. Chevy Chase (Pierce Hawthorne) left the show late in the filming of the fourth season. It was an abrupt departure so it is not known how it will be dealt with on the show. There might not be any need for an explanation unless the series makes it to s fifth season. The episodes were being filmed out of order with Chase present in the finale.

Chevy Chase had highly publicized conflicts with former show runner Dan Harmon, and his problems with the show were obviously not resolved after Harmon was fired. Chase’s character also often had a rocky relationship with other members of his study group, and the remainder of the ensemble cast could easily carry on without him should the show get renewed for a fifth season. #sixseasonsandamovie.

Fringe wrote a character, Peter Bishop, out of existence and brought him back during the fourth season. This was not one of the better arcs on the series. Show runner Joel Wyman agrees that this “didn’t work.”

“I get so much support from the media and from fans [and] I can’t be upset if they don’t like [something],” Wyman explained.

“Like the whole [season four] disappearance of Peter, I learned a great deal from that. It didn’t work. People didn’t like it and felt it was sort of stupid and didn’t get it.”

Wyman admitted that he now “totally” agrees with fan criticisms of the plot, adding: “I look back at it and consider it one of our missteps.”

“It didn’t work as well as we all thought it would,” he confessed. “We liked it and thought it was cool. But no matter how many times we told people, ‘No, Peter is still part of the show…’ everybody was saying, ‘Peter is not on the show so I’m not watching anymore!’ They didn’t get it.”

Revolution had a great scene last week in which Rachel made sure that she will still be needed by Monroe. She did kill a former coworker, but on the other hand he did betray Rachel in telling Monroe that it was a bomb which she was building. In the mid-season finale, all the major characters will be reunited in Philadelphia. TVLine interviewed co-executive producer David Rambo about the mid-season finale. He said that, “The finale will answer some questions, but it will pose even more because it is a really good cliffhanger. One of the big things that will be revealed actually, I believe, is what Monroe’s plans really are.” The second half of the season might also show what is occurring in the other republics.

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You might ask Where’s Waldo, but the question with the Doctor is not where but when. Flick Filosopher presented some pictures from this Gallifreyan Where’s Waldo?

Pat Robertson Claims Atheists Want To Steal Your Holiday Away From You

Yet another report that the War on Christmas is underway in the imaginations of the deranged right wingers, this time from Pat Robertson (video above):

“It’s, well, Christmas all over again. The Grinch is trying to steal our holiday. It’s been so beautiful, the nation comes together, we sing Christmas carols, we give gifts to each other, we have lighted trees, and it’s just a beautiful thing. Atheists don’t like our happiness, they don’t want you to be happy, they want you to be miserable. They’re miserable, so they want you to be miserable. So they want to steal your holiday away from you.”

Hat tip to Right Wing Watch

Time to go fire bomb some candy cane fields and pull of Santa’s beard.

Previous reports of a War on Christmas this season here and here (and check the tags for older posts–both on the War on Christmas and Pat Robertson).

Fox’s Coverage of the War on Christmas

I previously reported on some early claims of a War on Christmas for this year from the right wing. Fox has also launched their dubious claims of a War on Christmas early this year.  Michael Lester, of Talking Points Memo sat through hours of Fox to prepare the clips above.

Why You Should Be Thankful That Barack Obama Was Reelected

Addicting Info has a rather long list of reasons to be thankful that Obama was reelected, accompanied by links.