September 2012 Archives

IT'S TIME TO GET FISCAL!

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            I recently got yet another copy of that stupid email story where the ten beer drinkers pay their collective tab of $100 in what is supposed to be "the same way we pay our taxes," i.e., the long-suffering rich guy gets stuck with the lion's share of the tab while four of his less affluent buddies drink for free. Although this misguided missive arrived a few days before the $50K-per-pop, "just-us-one-percenters" gala where the ol' Mittster bashed the freeloading 47 percenters who pay no federal income taxes whatsoever, as a friend of mine points out, this parable is not exactly applicable to Romney, who not only doesn't drink (even though he would probably benefit from it more than any teetotaler who ever lived), but wouldn't be caught dead in a place where the beer was that cheap even if he did.

            The survival of this inane analogy, like the text of Mitt's sermon to his well-heeled choir of yea-sayers, is ample affirmation of what politicians have been counting on for centuries: People seldom challenge the accuracy or probe the deeper meaning of what they want to hear. In fact, I'd venture that it's never really occurred to some of my Republican-leaning fellow oldsters that they actually account for more than one in five of the nearly five in ten who pay no federal income taxes and thus are members in good standing of the "dependent" demographic that His Mittness was castigating. Beyond that, I wonder when he lit into those who feel "entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it," if Romney himself truly understood that he was effectively trashing a sizable segment of his own base. It stands to reason, after all, that if you serve up enough of what is essentially warmed-over political comfort food, your own palate will soon be no more discriminating than those of the folks who are happily wolfing it down.

            The O.B. will say that since Mitt's most recent muckup, he has heard more fact-based discussion of who actually pays what than he ever expected. For example, several taxperts have pointed out that effectively 60 percent of those who do not pay federal income taxes are paying payroll taxes nonetheless while only 1 percent of the citizenry is truly making no contribution whatsoever to our revenue coffers.

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In case you haven't noticed, the ol' Bloviator has become something of a map/chart geek recently, and he is really smitten with the following one, which compares percentages of total taxes (of any sort at any level) paid with percentages of total income received across all income layers. Rather than showing the rich guy shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden, it reveals what strikes the O.B. as remarkable equity across the income quintiles.

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The O.B. would like to think that Romney's over-the-top stereotyping has spurred a general determination to understand the facts behind taxation issues a little better, but he still sees way too many cases where we seem positively eager to be deceived about fiscal realities and possibilities, especially if we don't really feel that we personally have a pooch in a particular budgetary dogfight. As many of you know, such a dogfight erupted here in Georgia last week after our secretary of state, Brian Kemp, announced that in response to the governor's call for a 3 percent budget cut, he was ponying up the requisite $730K and change demanded of his office by simply shutting down our state archives as a public research facility. When the O.B. sought to show the shortsightedness of Kemp's move in a piece that appeared on the Hotlanta paper's web site, one of the first folks to comment wanted to know, "So where would you like your money to go--to the archives or to education?" The O.B. was sorely tempted to launch into a lengthy, high-minded philosophical explanation as to why closing its archives would amount to a sizable step back from any state's commitment to education. After several "get thee hence's" however, he focused on his astonishingly credulous critic's ready acceptance of our elected officialdom's boilerplate assurances that there was neither enough bureaucratic adipose left to excise elsewhere in the state budget nor more potential revenue sources sufficient to make such a Draconian cut unnecessary:

            This move becomes even more embarrassing and difficult to justify in light of the fact that the $732,626 that shutting down the archives is supposed to save is less than half the annual cost of operating the "Go Fish Georgia Educational Center." This big-ticket facility was constructed at a reported cost of $14 million down in Perry, (quite coincidentally, I'm sure) on the home turf of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, and in its first twelve months of operation drew about 15,000 visitors, roughly 3 percent of the number served by the archives each year back when it was fully operational.

 Defenders of the decision to padlock the archives claim it is preferable to cuts in other, more vital state services, but that scenario assumes that potential sources of additional revenue are not available. Very reasonable projections indicate that simply bringing Georgia's cigarette taxes up to the national average could raise an additional $500 million, not to mention the long-term savings in public and private health care costs. Two-tenths of 1 percent of that figure would keep the archives going, and obviously a lot more would be available to address other public needs. Although polls have shown a sizable majority of Georgians support raising the tax on cigarettes, efforts in this direction have been beaten back thus far by lobbying campaigns warning that such a move would destroy the "competitive advantage" enjoyed by convenience stores near the Georgia line that specialize in feeding the nicotine addictions out-of-state smokers.

Troubling as it might be to discover that the majority of our lawmakers have effectively chosen subsidizing the spread of lung cancer        over supporting education, historical or otherwise, we should recognize that such decisions are no more than we can expect so long as we allow them to be made without our fully informed consent. In this case, if our elected officials cannot bestir themselves to find a way to restore our state archives to a reasonably operational level, truth in advertising requires at the very least that they should be issued special license plates proclaiming Georgia "Historically Ignorant, But a Great Place to Smoke!"

 

CAN ROMNEY BEAT THE SPREAD?

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             It's 95 degrees outside and the humidity is at least 125 percent,  so football season has obviously arrived. Before the trivial matter of who stands the best chance to occupy the White House for the next four years slips completely into the shadows encircling my ever-constricting attention span, I thought I would size up how things look at this point for the final accounting on November 6, just in case I happen to miss it, owing to the post-mortem hubbub over the outcome of the Bama and LSU tussle just three days earlier.

As fundamentally artificial enterprises from the get-go, presidential campaigns are always fertile ground for paradoxes and contradictions, and this one is surely no exception. For starters, at this stage, it is not the ostensibly bleeding-heart liberal champion of the common folk, Barack Obama, but Mitt Romney, the uber-rich, supposedly out-of-touch elitist who enjoys a commanding lead among blue-collar whites. Meanwhile, instead of reaching out to Independents and centrist Democrats disenchanted with Obama by stressing what strikes me as a fairly decent record as a moderate Republican governor of a traditionally Democratic state, Romney is zealously denying that he ever even knew that guy in favor of reinventing himself as a hard-core, gun-loving, entitlement-hating arch-conservative in order to ingratiate himself with the rabid and tenacious Teabaggers and the well-heeled financiers of the way-yonder Far Right. His strategists' appraisal of his success in this re-branding effort with the election less than three months away may be reelected in his choice of a running mate whose ideal government is armed to the teeth and spoiling for a fight but otherwise too puny and impoverished to be of any real consequence domestically. (Recall here that lovable ol' megalomaniac Grover Norquist's plan to starve government until it is so small and weak that he can drown in it his bathtub.)  Paul Ryan is clearly no Sarah Palin (Come to think of it, who is or ever has been other than perhaps Dan Quayle in drag?), but this choice does a least suggest a rather late-in-the-fray attempt to "secure the base," such as we witnessed from the McCain camp four years ago.

            Meanwhile, Harry Reid's suggestion that the mysterious Mittster may not have paid any taxes in several recent years was either the political equivalent of a colossally ballsy poker bluff or a carefully calculated move based on definite indications that something in Romney's returns might turn the public's tummy. The Old Bloviator found the move distasteful personally, although his sympathy for the Repubs is dulled somewhat by the recollection of the swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004 and the "birther" and "closet-Muslim" whispering campaigns against Obama four years later. At any rate, now that Mitt has investigated himself and revealed that he never paid less than 13 percent in taxes for the years in question and Ms. R. has nixed the prospect of any further such disclosures, it remains to be seen how the Dems will play out their hand on this issue. Early indications seem to be that they will keep on insisting that Romney's refusal to go public with his actual tax forms suggests that he is hiding something rather than jumping on the fact that he actually feels vindicated by reporting that, over the years in question, he typically paid roughly one-third the nominal rate for his income group and one-half the effective rate that most of us pay.

            How all of the above goes down with the voters is still anybody's guess at this point. Elections geek Nate Silver  at 538.com noted that with the Ryan pick, Romney has moved up some in several recent polls and projections of the likely outcome. Even his own forecast model, which has been fairly "bearish" on Romney heretofore, saw his chances of winning rise briefly from 27 to 31 percent although it had dipped back to the previous level by September 1. The matter of how much of a traditional convention bounce Romney enjoyed is still largely a question of whose polls you read at this point. Rasmussen polls typically tilt a little toward the Republicans because they are conducted among "likely voters," while any poll showing Obama (or any Democrat for that matter) leading among "registered voters" has to be discounted just a tad because...well, registerin' is one thing and votin's another. In fact, Democrats who have come up short in recent years have often had to settle for whatever consolation there may be in knowing that they were the clear choice of those who never managed to register, much less vote.

For example, a recent Suffolk University/USA Today  survey shows that among the unregistered, Obama tops Romney by a 3 to 1 margin and leads him more than 2 to 1 among those who are registered but don't expect to vote. Here, in a nutshell, is why Republican leaders in a number of key states have pushed measures that are all but certain to curtail voter participation. Not for nothing did a GOP legislator hail the passage of a strict voter-ID law "which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." Suffice it to say, it is not just supporters who might stay home on Election Day, but those who show up and aren't allowed to vote that have some Democrats' knickers in disarray, especially in states where the poll margins are razor thin.

With all this in mind, the latest Rasmussen survey, released on September 1, has Romney ahead nationally by three points, a five-point swing from the previous poll, but only a two-point boost compared to his sixty-day Rasmussen average that already showed him with a one-point lead. Lest we forget, the popular vote matters pas de tout officially so long as we still have the Electoral College, and though Romney has tightened things up a teensy bit overall in key states like Michigan and Wisconsin, both of which have gone Democratic in the last five elections, my favorite poll crunchers over at RealClearPolitics.com still show him with a ways to go in collecting the votes that really count.   As of right now, the RCP'ers still see enough states solid, likely, or leaning to Obama at this give him at least 221 as opposed to Romney's 191. Ten remaining "toss-up" states account for 126 electoral votes, more than enough to give Romney the requisite 270, but the RCP'ers have him claiming only North Carolina's 15,  leaving Obama with a final projected tally of 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206.

Although this is supposedly a data-based assessment, it is obviously a long way from the final word. If the current nip-tuckers in Wisconsin and Michigan remain that way, the fact that the swamp-ridden, mosquito-and gator-infested, condo- and asphalt-blighted, jeans short-wearing hellhole that is the commonwealth of Florida now wields 29 electoral votes cannot be overemphasized. The importance of the black and Hispanic vote to Obama down there may make this one of the few states where voter-restriction statutes actually affect the outcome, and if those don't get the job done, of course, there's always the  possibility of the second coming of the infamous hanging chad. There is also the question of whether Obama gets a significant and sustainable bounce out of the forthcoming proceedings in Charlotte. (To that end, I'd recommend fitting Joe Biden's tongue for a shock collar and scrapping any plans to have Robert De Niro come in to speak to an empty suit wearing a Romney button.) Barring some such disaster,  I'd say Obama's odds for November 6 still seem to be a few clicks north of 50-50 right now, although given the choice, I think I'd rather have my money on Alabama to beat the spread on November 3.

 

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