Fun With Numbers And Tax Rates

Many conservative blogs are getting excited over data which shows that the federal income taxes paid by the top 1% has passed that paid by the bottom 95%. It is curious that they ignore a significant amount of tax revenue between the 95th and top one percentile, presumably because this gives them the appearance of reaching a meaningful milestone. Of course the only way that the top1% can be paying comparatively more in taxes despite recent tax cuts is that we have even greater income disparity than in the past.

Besides ignoring a significant chunk of tax payers, these numbers have limited meaning as they ignore payroll taxes along with a number of other regressive taxes. Payroll taxes represent a greater share of taxes than the income tax for many workers. On the other hand, just as conservative claims that the rich pay too high a share need to be taken with a grain of salt, progressive complaints about the payroll tax also ignore an important aspect of the tax.

Payroll taxes for Medicare are collected on all income levels but payroll taxes for Social Security are collected on the first $106,800 (which rises annually). That might seem unfair at first glance but it actually makes sense as Social Security benefits are also calculated based upon only replacing such income. While the taxes are calculated to somewhat benefit lower income workers over higher income workers there is a serious danger in making them even more progressive. If higher income earners had to pay taxes on all income but only received benefits based upon lower levels of income Social Security would turn into more of a welfare program and those making over $106,800 would see it as a very bad deal.  The system now receives broad based support (except from the far right) as everyone receives comparable benefits. If the system were to penalize high income earners we would likely see erosion of support, which would ultimately place those with lower incomes who are more dependent upon Social Security at risk.

There is plenty of room for debate as to what appropriate tax levels are. Unfortunately there is also a lot of room to confuse the issue when looking at tax rates.

Posted in Economy. Tags: , . 9 Comments »

E-Mail Shows Rove Had Greater Role in Firing of Prosecutors Than He Admits

Karl Rove claims he only had a small role in the firing of federal prosecutors. E-mail and other documents show otherwise, as reported by The Washington Post:

Political adviser Karl Rove and other high-ranking figures in the Bush White House played a greater role than previously understood in the firing of federal prosecutors almost three years ago, according to e-mails obtained by The Washington Post, in a scandal that led to mass Justice Department resignations and an ongoing criminal probe…

The role of Bush in the dismissals gets occasional mention in the e-mails and other documents. The Justice Department inspector general’s report said that Bush and Rove talked with Alberto R. Gonzales, then the attorney general, in October 2006 about voting fraud, including problems in New Mexico. And in an e-mail in mid-November 2006, as the firing plan accelerated, Gonzales’s chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, asked lawyers at the White House, “Who will determine whether this requires the President’s attention.”

Posted in George Bush, Scandals. Tags: . No Comments »

Pseudo-Science At The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post has more than its share of pseudo-science in posts on medicine. Rahul K. Parikh, a physician writing at Salon, looks at the pseudo-science passed off there and attributes it to Ariana Huffington’s personal beliefs.

Why We Cannot Run Public Policy Based Upon Polling Results

While I’m sure others can give many other arguments, here’s two polls which just came out which show that it is impossible to govern based upon polls. A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that most Americans want to reduce the deficit. They do not want to raise taxes or cut spending.

A Time poll shows that Americans support health care reform:

Forty-six percent of respondents said it was “very important” that Congress and the President pass major health reform in the next few months, and an additional 23% said it was “somewhat important.” Only 28% found the immediate effort either not very or not at all important. In a separate question, more Americans said it would be better to pass “major reform” to health care (55%) rather than “minor adjustments” (43%).

On the details of the plan, respondents remained supportive of many of the rough outlines of the health-reform effort as originally described by President Obama. Sixty-three percent said they would support providing health-care coverage for all Americans, even if the government had to subsidize those who could not afford it. Fifty-six percent said they supported a “public health insurance option” to compete with private plans. Fifty-seven percent support raising taxes on those with annual incomes over $280,000 to pay for the plan. Eighty percent said they would support a bill that required insurance companies to offer coverage to anyone who applies, even those with pre-existing medical conditions. By contrast, a slight plurality of 48% opposed requiring all but the smallest businesses to provide health care, and 56% of Americans opposed taxing employer-provided health care to pay for the cost of covering the nation’s uninsured.

On the other hand, they are also falling for many of the scare tactics of the right:

By significant margins, survey respondents said they believe the final health-reform legislation is likely to raise health-care costs in the long run (62%), make everything about health care more complicated (65%) and offer less freedom to choose doctors and coverage (56%).

The first clearly shows a problem with the opinions expressed. The second poll can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. It is a good thing that Americans continue to support health care reform despite hearing the misinformation from the right but it is distressing to see these scare stories being believes by so many.

New York and the Internet

An op-ed in The New York Times compares going on line to moving to New York. For many young people who cannot afford to go to New York the internet does offer many similar advantages for “young aspirants to the creative class.”

…another destination beckons, a place that courses with all the raw ambition and creative energy that the hard times seem to have drained from New York. I am referring, of course, to the Internet, which over the past decade has slowly become the de facto heart of American culture: the public space in which our most influential conversations transpire, in which our new celebrities are discovered and touted, in which fans are won and careers made.

Wherever young creatives physically reside today, in their endeavors they are increasingly moving online: posting their photos, writing, videos and music, building a “presence” in the hope of winning an audience. Monetary rewards on the Internet are still scarce, it is true, but the cost of living is cheap and, more important, the opportunities for attention are plentiful. Every month more YouTube sensations emerge, more bloggers ink big book deals, more bands blow up through music Web sites and MySpace, and every day more young people seek their “big break” in the virtual megalopolis rather than in (or as well as in) the physical one.

The experience of moving online actually bears quite a few similarities to becoming a New Yorker. Disorienting and seemingly endless, the Internet conversation moves at lightning speed and according to unstated social rules that can bewilder outsiders. Also, like New Yorkers, residents of the Internet do not suffer fools, or mince words in belittling them, as anyone who has contributed a redundant post to Metafilter, or an earnest comment to Gawker, can attest.

In their scope, both the Internet and New York are profoundly humbling: young people accustomed to feeling special about their gifts are inevitably jarred, upon arrival, to discover just how many others are trying to do precisely the same, with equal or greater success. (For a vivid demonstration of this online, try to invent a play on words, and then Google it. You’ll be convinced that there is, in fact, “nothing new in the cloud” — a joke that a British I.B.M. employee beat me to last November.)

Moreover, the presence of an audience causes online residents to style themselves as outsized personae, as characters on a public stage. On the Internet, as in creative New York, everyone can possess a tiny measure of celebrity, and everyone pays attention to what everyone else is doing, all the time.

Boathouse July 2008

Despite all the similarities, going on line is just not the same as being in New York. For example, you cannot walk thorugh Central Park, stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and have a drink at the Boathouse while “living” on the internet.

Compromise and Health Care Reform

I’ve warned before that it could turn out to be the left which kills health care reform and we see another example of this mind set in a post by Scott Lemieux. He expresses dissatisfaction with some of the compromises which are under consideration, which is understandable, but goes on from there to suggest that if the final bill doesn’t contain everything he wants we should just let it die:

In light of reports that Senate Dems may strip the public option and the employer mandate from the health-care bill, Steve M. asks a good question: “Is this even worth it? Is it even worth fighting to pass a compromised, inadequate bill?”

I largely agree with his take on the politics. But even if getting any bill called “health-care reform” passed would be good short-term politics, it’s worth further emphasizing that signing a bill without (at a minimum) a public option would be a substantive disaster. Such a bill would not be “reform” in any meaningful sense.

The normal justification for passing a compromise bill is that once a new system is entrenched it can be tweaked later. But I don’t think it applies in this case. The public option is the core of the reform; a Blue Dog bill isn’t so much half a loaf as a few meaningless crumbs. And far from making a public option more viable in the future, if anything, passing something that could be called health-care reform will reduce the impetus to pass actual reform. And, worse, a bill with no public option will further entrench the insurance industry and make it easier for them to block actual reform in the future.

There’s no inherent value to passing a health care bill, per se. If it doesn’t contain the elements that make it worthwhile, progressives shouldn’t let it out of Congress, and Obama should make clear that a Blue Dog bill would be vetoed. A bad bill would be worse than no bill.

This is exactly the same mistake that the Clintons made when Hillary convinced Bill to threaten to veto any plans which differed from hers. The point of a veto is to block a bill which has undesirable features, not block a bill which doesn’t go as far as you would like. Even if there is no employer mandate and no public plan we have far more than “meaningless crumbs.” Among the benefits included in the current legislation which would be worthwhile even without the public plan and employer mandate:

  • Far more of the currently 47 million uninsured will have insurance coverage.
  • Those who are seeking to purchase insurance will not be denied coverage because they have medical problems or lack coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  • People who have coverage will not lose their coverage because of developing medical problems.
  • People who have coverage will not lose their coverage due to losing their job or deciding to change jobs.
  • The disparity between reimbursement for primary care services and procedures will be reduced.
  • Medicaid reimbursement for primary care services will be increased to Medicare levels, eliminating the problem of Medicaid patients having poor access to care due to inadequate reimbursement. (Even some Republicans have seen advantages in giving “lower-income Americans a way out of the Medicaid ghetto so they can have the dignity of private insurance.”
  • Fix the flawed Medicare reimbursement formula.

It doesn’t matter if people receive these benefits due to being in a public plan or form private insurance. Despite scare stories from the right, the public plan is expected to only cover a small minority of people.

Howard Dean is also upset about the proposed compromise saying, “This bill is going to cost us a lot of money and it isn’t going to do anything, if this so-called compromise is true.” This is rather puzzling as, even with such compromises, the currently proposed legislation goes much further than the health care plan he proposed while running for the Democratic nomination in 2004. Is he then saying that the health care plan which he ran on would do nothing?

Reality Check on Health Care Comparisons

While the Canadian health care system is not on the table in this country and is not what I would like to see, the scare stories from the right are still ridiculous. Conservatives attack the Democratic proposals, which are quite conservative when compared to the health care plan in Canada, with warnings of becoming like Canada. An op-ed in The Ottawa Citizen provides a reality check, beginning with the title and subtitle: A reality check on a reality check. For years, Canadians have feared the American health care system; now Americans are being told to fear ours.

The column proceeds to debunk claims about a case used by conservatives as an example of Canadian care and compares this with actual health care in the United States:

Holmes has become the darling of conservatives and the stop-public-health-care movement in the United States. She’s testified before Congress, been on Fox TV as well as CNN, and her story is retold on hundreds of right wing blogs. She’s now doing a nasty TV ad for Patients United Now, a Republican-led group opposed to Obama’s reforms. You can see the ad at The group is spending almost $2 million on it to target politicians in Washington.

For a person living with cancer, the idea that someone’s care could be unreasonably delayed is truly scary. It also doesn’t reflect the experience I’ve had or the experiences that have been shared with me by so many other patients. Even CNN interviewed Doug Wright, a more typical patient in Toronto who is receiving very speedy treatment for his cancer.

Still, I found Holmes tale both compelling and troubling. So I decided to check a little further. On the Mayo Clinic’s website, Shona Holmes is a success story. But it’s somewhat different story than all the headlines might have implied. Holmes’ “brain tumour” was actually a Rathke’s Cleft Cyst on her pituitary gland. To quote an American source, the John Wayne Cancer Center, “Rathke’s Cleft Cysts are not true tumors or neoplasms; instead they are benign cysts.”

There’s no doubt Holmes had a problem that needed treatment, and she was given appointments with the appropriate specialists in Ontario. She chose not to wait the few months to see them. But it’s a far cry from the life-or-death picture portrayed by Holmes on the TV ads or by McConnell in his attacks.

In Senator McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, one out of three people under age 65 do not have any health insurance. They don’t have to worry about wait times for hip or knee replacement or cancer surgery — they can’t get care. The media household income in Kentucky is $37,186 — not quite enough for the $97,000 bill at the Mayo Clinic. CNN didn’t mention that in its “Reality Check.”

As the debate on health care reform heats up the United States, it seems certain that Canada’s public health care system will be used, or more accurately misused, in the battle for hearts and minds. For years, Canadians have feared the American health care system; now Americans are being told to fear ours.

Sarah Palin’s Resignation Speech–A Dramatic Reading

I’ve already posted Jon Stewart’s commentary on Sarah Palin’s resignation speech. Conan O’Brian believes the speech is best interpreted as a poem. He had William Shatner come onto The Tonight Show to read the speech as it was intended to be heard (video above).

Obama’s Birth in Hawaii Confirmed Once Again

The Birther movement is an embarrassment for serious Republicans who realize this whole faux controversy is a gift to the Democrats.There is once again confirmation that Obama was born in Hawaii, but there’s no doubt that the conspiracy theorists will find a way to deny the evidence. The Honalulu Advertiser reports:

Hawai’i’s Health Department confirmed yesterday that it has President Obama’s original Aug. 4, 1961, birth certificate in storage, but the announcement is unlikely to satisfy conspiracy theorists who insist Obama was born in Kenya.

“We don’t destroy vital records,” Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. “That’s our whole job, to maintain and retain vital records.”

The Health Department’s director reiterated yesterday that she has seen Obama’s birth records.

“I, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawai’i State Department of Health, have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawai’i State Department of Health verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawai’i and is a natural-born American citizen,” Fukino said in a statement. “I have nothing further to add to this statement or my original statement issued in October 2008, over eight months ago.”

Fukino tried on Oct. 31 to put an end to the belief among so-called “birthers” that Obama was not born in Honolulu’s Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital. The birthers insist that Obama was not born in the U.S. and is therefore ineligible to be president.

Despite Fukino’s statement yesterday — and several court rulings and statements by Hawai’i’s Republican governor, Linda Lingle, the issue continued to resonate from Capitol Hill to the blogosphere.

It is doubtful that this will convince those who believe Obama is not an American citizen. Conspiracy theorists can always come up with a new argument since they are not bound by reality and they typically consider any source of contrary information to be part of the conspiracy.

Birthers will continue to deny that the birth certificate is legitimate. We saw similar denial after the claims of the Swift Boat Liars in the 2004 election were proven to be politically-motivated fabrications. For years after John Kerry’s military records were both posted on line and reviewed by journalists many right wing blogs continued to post claims that Kerry’s military records were never released.

John Stewart Says Goodby To Sarah Palin