Seems like it's time for some fun with facts: deficit edition! First, take a look at Obama's speech about the Bush Tax Cuts from earlier this week, in which he gives his predictable class-warfare spiel about how the wealthy need to pay more in taxes (notably -- mercifully -- he left out that God-awful phrse "fair share"). In this excerpt, Obama is speaking about how tax cuts for the rich ruined the economy and caused mass deficit increases:
And what happened? The wealthy got wealthier, but most Americans struggled. Instead of creating more jobs, we had the slowest job growth in half a century. Instead of widespread prosperity, the typical family saw its income fall. And in just a few years, we went from record surpluses under Bill Clinton to record deficits that we are now still struggling to pay off today.
So we don’t need more top-down economics. We’ve tried that theory. We’ve seen what happens. We can’t afford to go back to it. We need policies that grow and strengthen the middle class -- policies that help create jobs, that make education and training more affordable, that encourage businesses to start up and create jobs right here in the United States.
So that’s why I believe it’s time to let the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- folks like myself -- to expire. (Applause.) And, by the way, I might feel differently -- because it’s not like I like to pay taxes -- (laughter) -- I might feel differently if we were still in surplus. But we’ve got this huge deficit, and everybody agrees that we need to do something about these deficits and these debts. So the money we’re spending on these tax cuts for the wealthy is a major driver of our deficit, a major contributor to our deficit, costing us a trillion dollars over the next decade.
So there he goes, once more foisting the blame on W for the staggering deficits we're currently staring at, and attributing their rise to tax cuts on the highest earners. But is that accurate? Well, as you may have guessed, we wouldn't be here in this post if it were.
James K. Glassman over at Forbes finally became so tired of the left's rhetoric about the historic deficits W created for us that he decided to do a little experiment, and figure out who, of the recent administrations, had the largest deficit-to-GDP ratio. See his results below:
I decided to use three sets of calculations for each president: first, the deficit-to-GDP ratio from the fiscal year he took office to the fiscal year he left minus one (thus, for Reagan: 1981-88); second, from his first fiscal year plus one to the fiscal year he left (thus, 1982-89); and third, an average of the first two
Here are the ratios of deficit to GDP for the past five presidents:
1981-88 4.2 %
George H. W. Bush
George W. Bush
*fiscal 2012 ends Sept. 30, 2012, so this figure is estimated
Source: Economic Report of the President, February 2012
The results for President Bush are skewed by the 10.1 percent deficit/GDP ratio in fiscal 2009. A large chunk of spending in that year went to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. In fiscal 2009, TARP contributed $151 billion to the budget deficit, but in 2010 and 2011, $147 billion of that amount was recouped and thus reduced the size of the deficit during President Obama’s watch. (These calculations are complicated and are laid out by the Office of Management and Budget. See http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2013/assets/spec.pdf, p. 49.)
So in the three-and-a-half short years this president has held the office, the deficit-to-GDP ratio has soared. And yet, here he is, telling us that the Bush Tax Cuts caused them, and that the only way to undo the deficit is to undo them now. Of course, the idea that the government will use all the funds collected from the proposed tax increase on decreasing the deficit -- much less that this will actually make a sizeable dent in it -- is somewhat laughable.
For an idea of how much money this will end up bringing in:
Out of 119 million U.S. households, just 2.5 million -- or 2 percent -- reported making at least $250,000 in 2010, according to Census Bureau figures.
An estimated 940,000 taxpayers reporting business earnings will earn enough money to see their tax rates rise in 2013 unless lawmakers act, according to Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
That is just 3.5 percent of taxpayers reporting business earnings -- a figure Democrats use to show how few businesses would pay higher tax rates under Obama's plan.
The committee also estimated that those 940,000 taxpayers will account for 53 percent of the $1.3 trillion in business earnings reported in 2013 -- a number Republicans cite to argue that the higher rates will hurt the economy and job creation.
So that's great: let's tax the people who are most responsible for any of the hiring that's been done in our sluggish economy, while our deficit-to-GDP ratio is double what it's ever been in recent years. Obama's going to have to come up with something better than that -- but first, he'll have to admit the damage he's done to the country's economic standing.
This afternoon, the House of Representatives held a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the vote to get rid of the bill was more bipartisan than the vote to pass it in the first place. Five Democrats joined 139 Republicans to undo President Obama's signature legislative achievement, in what was the second vote the House has held for a full repeal. (As a side note, outlets like the Washington Post and Associated Press have been floating that this is the thirty-third vote to repeal the law, so as to paint the House GOP as obsessively voting every other day for a repeal. However, that number includes thirty-one votes on small pieces of the law; this vote constitutes the second time the House has put the law up for a full repeal, just so everyone has that straight.)
One such Democrat, reports The Hill's Russel Berman via Twitter, was Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah, who opposed the last measure for a full repeal of the unpopular law. He's facing a formidable challenger in Mia Love for his reelection bid (although he has a comfortable lead in the polls at the moment), and likely viewed this as a way of appeasing his purple district. (As an aside, he was also the first Democrat to side with the GOP to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.)
Regardless, the House's vote now goes to die in the Senate, where Harry Reid won't pick up the measure in the upper chamber. Instead, this was a largely symbolic measure, hammering home the Republicans' determination to get rid of it. Furthermore, it forces the Democrats to defend their support of a law that the public decidedly opposes: in the latest Rasmussen poll, 53% of voters want the Affordable Care Act repealed in full. Now that the law has been labeled a tax hike, the left will ostensibly have a harder time touting its merits; we'll see if this vote -- and its support from a few Democrats -- gets any attention from Obama himself.
Just remember: five more Democrats voted to repeal the law than Republicans voted to pass the bill in the first place. Obama wants bipartisanship? There he has it.
The onslaught of political advertisements that both the Romney and Obama camps have begun to air have started to have an effect -- and it's becoming clear that money will make a big difference in who wins. Currently, the Obama campaign has outspent the Romney campaign in the swing states, and that effort seems to be paying off: according to USA Today/Gallup, if the election were held tomorrow, he'd hang on to his office:
At this point, Obama is the clear winner in the ad wars. Among swing-state voters who say the ads have changed their minds about a candidate, rather than just confirmed what they already thought, 76% now support the president, vs. 16% favoring Romney.
Obama and his allies have outspent Romney's side on ads so far by almost a third. Although the TV spots didn't start earlier than in recent elections, there have been more than ever before — including a negative flood from the new breed of super PACs — and they are continuing without the traditional summertime letup.
In the 12 battleground states, the race is all but tied. Obama leads Romney 47%-45% among 1,200 registered voters in the poll June 22-29 — a tick closer than Obama's 48%-44% lead among 2,404 voters in the rest of the USA over the same period.
The swing states survey focuses on a dozen states that aren't firmly aligned with either Democrats or Republicans. That puts them in a position to tip the outcome in the Electoral College. The states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
It's about to get even more intense: The two sides are poised to spend $100 million on ads over the next month, TheWashington Post calculates. Since advertising began for the general election, Romney and his allies have spent $85 million on TV spots, according to NBC/SMG Delta. Obama and his supporters have spent $110 million.
While the timing of the ads is no earlier than it's been previously, there are more ads on television than ever before at this point in the campaign, and we can expect to see many more as time goes on. Right now, the Obama campaign has the edge and it seems to be correlated both how many and what kind of ads he's running. Negative ads about Mitt Romney, painting his tenure as Massachusetts governor in a bad light, have tended to sway voters toward Obama. Of course, it's very early in the process, and given that the Romney campaign raised $100 million in the month of June alone, they'll have the time and resources to catch up.
The science behind campaign ads may seem silly, given the minor segment of the population that will change candidates after watching an ad, but as one expert pointed out, every vote counts in a close election:
Only 8% acknowledge the ads changed their minds about a candidate, for better or worse, though analysts say the actual number is probably higher because some voters don't want to admit or may not even realize their views were affected. Obama leads among those voters nearly 5-to-1.
Ken Goldstein, a political scientist and president of Kantar Media CMAG, which monitors political ads, says even a small effect could have decisive consequences. He cites the razor-thin margins in Florida and elsewhere in the 2000 election. "Listen, I think the political-advertising impact is pretty modest — a small effect that only matters on the margins," he says. "But ask Al Gore if the margin matters."
Indeed, this may be an election won in the margins -- and right now, Obama has the edge.
Some awesome news: all 17 states that elected a Republican governor in 2010 has seen a reduction in their unemployment levels. In just over a year and a half since those new executives took office, these states have seen some serious improvement:
Kansas - 6.9% to 6.1% = a decline of 0.8%
Maine - 8.0% to 7.4% = a decline of 0.6%
Michigan - 10.9% to 8.5% = a decline of 2.4%
New Mexico - 7.7% to 6.7% = a decline of 1.0%
Oklahoma - 6.2% to 4.8% = a decline of 1.4%
Pennsylvania - 8.0% to 7.4% = a decline of 0.6%
Tennessee - 9.5% to 7.9% = a decline of 1.6%
Wisconsin - 7.7% to 6.8% = a decline of 0.9%
Wyoming - 6.3% to 5.2% = a decline of 1.1%
Alabama - 9.3% to 7.4% = a decline of 1.9%
Georgia - 10.1% to 8.9% = a decline of 1.2%
Tony Lee at Breitbart adds:
Furthermore, the average drop in the unemployment rate in these states was 1.35%, compared to the national decline of .9%, which means, according to the analysis, that the job market in these Republican states is improving 50% faster than the national rate.
Meanwhile, our president touts stagnation at 8.2% as "a step in the right direction." Clearly, the solutions put forth in these 17 states are working, and the ones offered by the White House aren't. If this is a sign of what Mitt Romney could offer in the first year and a half of his presidency, it seems like an opportunity Americans can't afford to miss.
Further proof that the UN Human Rights Council is an utterly farcical waste of our money: a nation guilty of some the most egregious human rights violations is slated to win a seat in 2014. That's right. Syria, come on down!
President Bashar Assad’s regime is, however, likely to get a spot on the 47-nation council “due to the prevalent system of fixed slates, whereby regional groups orchestrate uncontested elections, naming only as many candidates as allotted seats,” according to UN Watch.
Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, reported that as part of the UN’s 53-nation Asian group, Syria’s candidacy would be nearly assured of victory due to the system of fixed slates, whereby regional groups orchestrate uncontested elections.
The UNHRC's schtick is that all countries have room to improve their human rights record, although some may have more work to do than others. In that sense, it attempts to put a country like Syria on equal footing with, say, the U.S., which many anti-western regimes just love.
Of course, many countries in the UNHRC recognize that giving Syria a spot on the voting council is a terrible, counter-productive, hypocritical idea, and are trying to block it. But not everyone thinks that's a good idea:
Fears that Syria will indeed win – in a 2013 election for a position starting the following year – appear to have mobilized the US and the EU into taking the unprecedented action of asking the council to declare in advance that a candidate country, in this case Syria, be declared inherently disqualified to join its ranks.
In a strongly worded resolution condemning the Syrian government for committing atrocities, slated for a vote on Friday, paragraph 14 “stresses that the current Syrian government’s announced candidacy for the Human Rights Council in 2014 fails to meet the standards for council membership” as set forth in its founding charter.
“Shockingly, the perfectly reasonable attempt to keep Syria away from the world’s highest human rights body was met with strong resistance,” Neuer said.
Cuba declared itself ‘totally opposed,’ and demanded the paragraph’s deletion, a position quickly echoed by China.”
It was for the General Assembly to decide whom to elect, Havana said.
Would you look at that! Suddenly, Syria and China are just so concerned about the implications that preemptively diqualifying Syria would have on the democratic process. Yes, totalitarian communist regimes, please tell us all about your concern for open, transparent elections.
Does anyone still take the UN seriously?
Come 2014, you'll have to pay a tax if you're uninsured -- but how exactly it's going to work is still getting sorted out. The IRS isn't sure how many people they'll have to hire, or how much implementation will end up costing:
The changes will require new regulations, forms and publications, new computer programs and a big new outreach program to explain it all to taxpayers and tax professionals. Businesses that don't claim an exemption will have to prove they offer health insurance to employees.
The health care law "includes the largest set of tax law changes in more than 20 years," according to the Treasury inspector general who oversees the IRS. The agency will have to hire thousands of workers to manage it, requiring significant budget increases that already are being targeted by congressional Republicans determined to dismantle the president's signature initiative.
"Knowing the complexity of the health law, there's no question that the IRS is going to struggle with this," said Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., chairman of the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee. "The IRS wants more resources. Well, we need to start digging down into what are they doing with the resources and personnel."
The number of new employees the IRS will need to hire varies widely, depending on who asks: Republican Congressmen estimate 16,500, but the IRS says this is inaccurate, and that the budget calls for no more than 1,200. Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, plans to hold a hearing next week in the hopes of finding a more concrete estimate of what the IRS will need.
Here's an interesting loophole, though: the IRS doesn't have a whole lot of recourse to collect the tax from the uninsured, besides withholding a tax refund. And if the tax exceeds the refund, not paying it will be more of a money saver:
The penalty will be fully phased in by 2016, when it will be $695 for each uninsured adult or 2.5 percent of family income, whichever is greater, up to $12,500. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 4 million people will pay the penalty that year.
The law, however, severely limits the ability of the IRS to collect the penalties. There are no civil or criminal penalties for refusing to pay it and the IRS cannot seize bank accounts or dock wages to collect it. No interest accumulates for unpaid penalties.
So how can the IRS enforce the mandate? Scary letters and threats to withhold tax refunds.
The law allows the IRS to withhold tax refunds to collect the penalty, and most filers get refunds. This year, 77 percent of the 135 million individual income tax returns processed by the IRS qualified for a refund. The average refund: $2,707.
For those who don't qualify for a refund, a stern letter from the IRS can be effective, even if it doesn't come with the threat of civil or criminal penalties, said Elizabeth Maresca, a former IRS trial attorney who supervises the Tax & Consumer Litigation Clinic at the Fordham University law school.
"Most people pay because they're scared, and I don't think that's going to change," Maresca said.
It'll be interesting to see how effective the tax is -- but of course, the better option would be a full repeal before implementation is necessary. Here's hoping...
It would have been easy for President Obama to miss the finer points of yesterday's jobs report, given that he only spent 26 seconds speaking about it in Ohio. But do these numbers look like "a step in the right direction" to you?
The economy created just 80,000 jobs in June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. But that same month, 85,000 workers left the workforce entirely to enroll in the Social Security Disability Insurance program, according to the Social Security Administration.
The disability ranks have outpaced job growth throughout President Obama's recovery. While the economy has created 2.6 million jobs since June 2009, fully 3.1 million workers signed up for disability benefits.
In other words, the number of new disability enrollees has climbed 19% faster than the number of jobs created during the sluggish recovery. (Even after accounting for people who left the disability program because they died or aged into retirement, disability ranks have climbed more than 1.1 million in the past three years.)
And the disability ranks will continue to swell. In just the last month, almost 275,000 put in applications for disability benefits. Experts say that more people try to get on disability when jobs are scarce, and changes to eligibility rules enacted back in 1984 have made it far easier to qualify.
Yes -- more people went on the government dole than found jobs, and our president called that progress. The safety net is obviously here to help those who need it, but it's very clear that too many people do need it right now -- in other words, this isn't much of a recovery.
Consider a few more troubling statistics from the jobs report:
[T]he "labor force participation rate" — the number of people who have jobs or are actively looking for one compared with the entire working-age population — is now 63.8%, down from 65.7% in June 2009. This participation rate is at the lowest levels in 30 years. In previous recoveries, the participation rate has almost always risen, not fallen.
Other indicators show that the three-year-old economic recovery isn't producing jobs in adequate numbers:
The unemployment rate has been above 8% for 41 consecutive months. In the previous 60 years, the jobless topped 8% in a total of only 39 months.
The number of people with jobs is still nearly 5 million below its pre-recession peak.
The number of long-term unemployed — those out of work 27 weeks or more — is still 5.4 million — almost 1 million higher than when the recovery began, and almost twice the level it ever reached prior to Obama's recovery.
Fewer people seeking work, more unemployed for longer periods of time. Obama won this election on promises of economic growth, and not only has he failed to deliver, he seems to have exacerbted our struggle. And yet there he is, telling us all we're on the right track.
Hope and change, everyone! Forward!
And the award for the most incoherent response to today's jobs report goes to...Richard Trumka of AFL-CIO fame:
For America’s working people, the economy is simply not delivering right now. The trend of slow job growth is both frustrating and heartbreaking. The economy added only 80,000 net new jobs last month – not nearly enough to bring unemployment down and fuel a robust recovery.
Republicans in Congress have responded to a massive jobs shortage and weak economy with obstructionism and dishonesty. They have repeatedly blocked public investment that would create jobs and spur growth, including President Obama’s American Jobs Act. They have held up countless necessary bills, including relief for student loans, by insisting on yet more tax cuts for the richest one percent and preserving existing tax breaks for outsourcers. They push a politics of austerity, which here and in Europe is strangling our economy.
Republican priorities are more tax cuts for the richest one percent and more layoffs for teachers and firefighters. The cruel reality is Mitt Romney and his Republican allies in Congress are willing to sabotage the recovery in the hope of scoring political points against the President.
That's the statement he issued, and yes. He is totally using the student loan interest rate battle as a reason for high unemployement. Of course, Congress has passed a bill keeping those rates down -- by wide, bipartisan margins in both chambers -- which the president will sign in the coming days. Regardless, the connection between $25 extra in loan payments per month and the stagnant economy is unclear.
Honestly, there's not much to say about the statement, because its absurd non sequitur-ism speaks for itself. This is total grasping at straws, especially when considering that it's been the Senate Democrats who've largely refused to move legislation (or even propose a budget!). Just know this: everything is because Republican obstructionism.
And of course, it's delicious to see Trumka's clear disappointment with numbers that Obama characterized as "A step in the right direction." Perhaps the White House and the unions ought to have a beer summit, and coordinate their talking points?
At first glance, it's something out of a Sasha Baron Cohen film, but this is real life. North Korean's Kim Jong-un, also known as The Great Successor, has a theme song, so brush off your North Korean and sing along to "Onwards Toward the Final Victory!"
"The song hardens the will of the Korean army and people to devote their all to the prosperity of the country with high national pride," said state news agency KCNA.
Unlike the songs associated with his father and grandfather, it does not specifically mention Kim. Instead, it takes its title from the closing words of his address marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, the country's founder Kim Il-song.
"It's almost like remixing his speech; it's not really a paean to him," said John Delury, an expert on North Korea at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Hong Kwang Sun, vice-minister of culture, told KCNA: "The song is just a powerful trumpet call of the revolution encouraging the army and people in the drive to build a thriving nation as well as a stirring drumbeat of victory."
Unfortunately, no direct translation of the words, but essentially, the North Korean propaganda machine is working to build up the "Great Successor's" public image. Given his secretive upbringing, he's not yet achieved the mythical, god-like status afforded to his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather, Kim Il-song, so this is one of the many tools the government will employ to hype the young leader. The psychology of a totalitarian state, folks. Stranger than fiction, indeed.
I'd characterize this as a "Friday Fun" post, but considering the millions of oppressed people suffering in cold and hunger while the deranged, Soviet-style communist government wastes time and money on failed military build-ups...well, fun just isn't the right sentiment.
Check out this page from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website, from the Ocean Facts subheading, and revel in your tax dollars' latest effort: the federal government has just informed us that mermaids aren't real. Because we were so concerned before!
The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species. Magical female figures first appear in cave paintings in the late Paleolithic (Stone Age) period some 30,000 years ago, when modern humans gained dominion over the land and, presumably, began to sail the seas. Half-human creatures, called chimeras, also abound in mythology — in addition to mermaids, there were wise centaurs, wild satyrs, and frightful minotaurs, to name but a few.
But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists.
Why, indeed? Thanks for that deep thought, federal government. And hey America, aren't you so glad to know that someone on the federal dime -- your dime -- wrote this? Seriously: it's an entire blog post that says, "Everyone loves mermaids. Mermaids don't exist. So why does everyone love mermaids? Who knows!"
I certainly feel more informed; don't you?
Tax dollars: workin' hard, or hardly workin'?
h/t Amanda Carpenter