THE YETI IS EXPECTING A SECOND BABY AND THEY TOLD OBAMA ABOUT IT AND ASKED HIM ABOUT NAMES AND HE SAID WHATEVER THE NAME IS TO NOT FORGET TO BE AWESOME
THIS IS OUR FAVORITE DAY. DFTBABY: THE SEQUEL.
Remember when the President told my unborn baby not to forget to be awesome?
Barack Obama. The President of the United States of America.
An Open Letter to Undecided American Voters
Somewhere around two percent of voters are ostensibly still undecided about who they’ll be voting for in the Presidential election. These people are often ridiculed, because it’s easy to make fun of a small minority, but many voters (including myself) are balancing competing interests and also trying to make conclusions about a candidate’s true intentions, which are always masked by a degree of political doublespeak.
In general, I’m disappointed by the tone of the political conversation this year, which is too rarely about policy and too often mean-spirited. Nobody running for President wants to destroy America. Nobody is evil.
The policy positions aren’t even that different: In the end, the purportedly “pro-rich” Romney wants the top marginal tax rate to be 28%; the purportedly “anti-rich” Obama wants it to be 39%. That may seem like a huge difference, but it really isn’t: In 1962, the top marginal income tax rate was 90%. In 1986, it was 50%.
I’m not going to give you a quiz that will tell you who to vote for; these already exist. Instead, I’m going to share what matters to me, and how I decided to vote to re-elect President Obama. This is a partisan attempt to convince you to vote for my guy, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but it comes from a true independent who has voted for many Republicans for state and national offices in the past (and will vote for a couple this year).
Here are the issues that matter to me:
1. The Economy: The Deficit. We can’t continue to take on debt without risking the long term financial health of the United States, but it’s really important to note that almost all of our current debt is extremely cheap, because interest rates are on T-Bills and the like are very low. So our current debt poses no risk to the American economy. (Here’s a further explanation.) But debt could become more expensive in the future, which could be a big problem. Both candidates for President have plans to reduce the deficit: Romney wants to cut spending and end some tax credits and deductions while also cutting overall income tax rates by 20%; Obama wants to cut spending and raise taxes, primarily by rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts on income over $250,000 a year. (Obama also wants to raise the capital gains tax modestly, from 15% to 20%, but this will never happen with a Republican congress.)
It’s not clear whose plan would cut the deficit more, because Romney hasn’t said which deductions he’d eliminate, and neither has really outlined what kind of spending they would cut, except for rhetorical stuff that isn’t very expensive (like federal funding for public broadcasting).
But to me, Obama’s plan is a lot more balanced and measured. It also incorporates a lot of Republican ideas, especially in restructuring Medicare costs to make them more sustainable, and if Obama is re-elected, the Grand Bargain that will need to be struck on deficit reduction will probably focus on spending cuts while also rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts on income over $250,000. I think Romney’s plan is just disingenuous; you don’t cut deficits by cutting taxes. You may spur economic growth (as we saw in the Reagan years), but you’ll never see surpluses that will allow us to better manage our debt (as we saw in the Clinton years). I think the current economic climate calls for a Clinton-esque response rather than a Reagan-esque response.
Some will say that President Obama shouldn’t be trusted with the deficit after growing it so much the past four years. But deficits are supposed to grow during recessions, and even during recoveries. (Indeed, that’s one of the reasons our debt is currently so cheap.) The deficit should shrink during times of economic expansion, which I expect the next four years will be no matter who is President.
2. The Economy: Jobs. Here’s my honest opinion: Presidents don’t create many private-sector jobs. It’s true that regulation stymies some growth that might lead to more employment, but it’s equally true that inadequate regulation can hurt the job market in the long run (as we saw with the banking collapse of 2008). I share a lot of Romney’s pro-business worldview, but most facilitating of private-sector job creation happens in local government, not on the federal side. (If Romney were running for governor of Indiana against Obama, I’d have a harder time making up my mind.)
3. The Supreme Court. The next presidential term will likely see one or two Supreme Court appointments, and while all the ink will be spilled about abortion rights and marriage (both very important issues), the biggest question facing the court to me is about the role that corporations play in our country and whether they should be treated as people under the law. Romney has implied he is likely to look to conservative justices who believe in corporate personhood; Obama has shown that he is likely to appoint judges (whom to me seem centrist but to conservatives seem liberal) who argue against corporate personhood. This is a defining issue of our time, and I don’t think corporations should have the same set of rights as individuals, so this is a big push toward Obama for me.
4. Foreign policy. This is pretty simple: Governor Romney wants to increase defense spending at a time when I don’t think it needs to be increased. I think the Afghan War has been poorly managed under Obama, but it was also poorly managed before. Vitally, he brought an end to the Iraq War (although again, we were put on that road by the Bush administration).
My biggest foreign policy concern is that Governor Romney has advocated for more intervention in Syria and Iran. I don’t think the US should act unilaterally anymore on the world stage. I also don’t want to see us return to the aggressive and hawkish rhetoric of the Bush era. We can’t afford it, and it doesn’t make us stronger.
5. Social issues. I believe in marriage equality and abortion rights, which line up with the President’s positions better than Governor Romney’s.
So that’s how I decided. A lot of people are going to choose differently, and that’s okay. I think President Obama is a better choice at this historical moment, but I don’t think Governor Romney is evil or even that he’d be a bad President. In short, I don’t blame you for being undecided. Thanks for reading.
Who Doesn’t Pay Taxes And Why
Mitt Romney is in a bit of hot water for comments he made during a closed-door fundraiser about the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes.
I’m generally pretty sympathetic to people saying stupid things in closed-door fundraisers, but the whole flap raises an interesting question: Is it really true that 47% of Americans pay no federal income tax? And who are these people? And do they believe that they are victims entitled to health care and housing?
How many people don’t pay federal income tax in the US?
Lots of people. The 47% stat is accurate, as long as you only count federal income taxes. (More than 85% of Americans under 65 pay either income tax, federal payroll tax, or both—and almost all Americans who own land and/or buy things pay state and local taxes.)
Who are these people?
Many elderly people who live off social security pay no income tax (social security benefits are only taxable if your total income is over $25,000 a year). Only about 25% of Americans over the age of 75 pay federal income tax, but it’s important to remember that most of them did pay federal income tax when they were working.
Also, many young adults pay no income taxes, because they are full-time students or have very low incomes. You can see a chart here that shows that about 30% of 18-year-olds pay federal income tax, while over 65% of people in their 40s do.
People living in poverty are also unlikely to pay federal income taxes. A married couple filing jointly making under $18,700 annually pays no income taxes. But it’s worth noting that in 1996, 99.5% of all nontaxable returns came from people making less than $30,000 a year. Today, that number is closer to 76%.
The fastest growing segment of Americans who pay no tax are those who earn between $75,000 and $100,000 each year. As explained here, there’s been a 12,000% increase in nontaxable returns in this income category thanks to middle income tax cuts and tax credits introduced by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Romney’s central mistake is imagining the data as static. In 2000, for instance, I paid no federal income tax. This doesn’t mean that I am a drain on the system: In fact, I have paid lots of federal income tax in other years. 2000 just happened to be a weird year, because I had a lot of health care expenses and not very much income.
This is the case for most Americans: Romney’s comments implied that the same 47% of Americans pay no federal income taxes every year. In fact, the members of that 47% are constantly changing as people age into and out of the work force.
Do these people believe that they are victims entitled to health care and housing?
Both these comments are rhetoric and not policy, so shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but the underlying ideas here are very important to me.
When the President says that higher education is an economic necessity, he’s is absolutely correct. If you look at the industrialized economies that are struggling around the world, they line up very closely with higher education rates. (Look at Portugal, for instance.)
So, like, “the U.S. experienced a fairly large growth in population from 2000 to 2009. During the period, the population increased 8.68% — the 12th highest among OECD countries. Meanwhile, the rate at which the share of the population with a tertiary [post high school] education is growing has slowed to an annual rate of 1.4% — the lowest among the 34 OECD countries. Just 71% of funding for educational institutions in the country comes from public funds, placing the U.S. sixth-lowest in this measure.” [source]
So we already have one of the lowest rates of public investment in education in the industrialized world, and the lowest rate of growth in post-secondary education.
This is a real long-term and structural problem for the US economy, because the only future growth available to industrialized nations is in jobs that require education. If we only offer higher education to people who can afford it, we will lose to the many nations where university education is more highly subsidized, because they’ll have better educated workforces that will earn more and in turn pay more in taxes, which will allow future generations to be better educated still.
Both parties would like to take political credit or assign political blame for the unemployment rate and the pace of growth etc. But the truth is, government doesn’t have a lot of say in that stuff (unless of course they screw things up so royally that there’s a debt default or something). A lot of the government’s role in economic growth is much longer term—it’s stuff like infrastructure and long-term political stability and creating a better-educated workforce.
“I am Republican. But kind of a RINO (Republican in Name Only.) Can I still be a nerdfighter, because it seems like the majority of us are Democrats?”
So asks Jack in my sometimes-still-broken ask box.
1. Let’s take a wild guess and assume there are about 100,000 people who, if asked, would identify as a nerdfighter. About 30,000 of those people live outside of the United States, so they are probably neither Republicans nor Democrats. Of the remaining 70,000, I’d estimate that around 65% think of themselves as liberal or Democrats etc. That’s a sizable majority, but it also means that 35% consider themselves Republicans or conservative or whatever. That’s 24,500 people. Not the smallest club you’ll ever belong to.
1a. So yes, you can be a nerdfighter and be a Republican. Many of us are. Ours is a big tent, and the entire definition of the word nerdfighter is “someone who thinks of themselves as a nerdfighter.” Nerdfighters invented the term, and nerdfighters define and redefine it over time.
2. That said, I understand how Republican nerdfighters can feel excluded at times, because neither Hank nor I nor anyone else in this community should put aside their values merely to make everyone feel welcome. As an example, I believe same-sex marriage should be legal, and I’m not going to keep quiet about it just because it happens to be a controversial opinion at this historical moment. But I also believe lots of things that can make people on the Left feel excluded—like for instance, I support capitalist institutions like kiva.
Of course, I might be wrong. It’s possible that socialism addresses poverty better than access to capital markets does. It’s also possible that gay marriage would somehow damage the social order. I don’t think I’m wrong, obviously, but I understand that I might be. I’ve been wrong before.
3. A word about the term RINO: It can be difficult to keep extremists from taking a word away from you. Every time I identify as a Christian, people look at me funny, because they think being a Christian means opposing gay marriage, or thinking that atheists will burn in the fire of hell for eternity, or that human beings are not a product of evolution. In fact, Christianity is a big and diverse religious tradition and has never been a monolith. The same can be said of both major political parties in the U.S. The idea that we should all walk in lock-step with each other has hurt American political discourse and made it harder for either party to govern effectively. I’m not a fan of radicalization, and there is unfortunately much less ideological diversity in the Republican party than there used to be. I would encourage you not to cede the definition of Republican to the Tea Party.
4. On a personal note: I’m going to vote for President Obama in November, but I don’t think it’d be fair to call me a liberal. I believe that over-regulation of business limits growth and inhibits innovation. I favor market-based solutions to healthcare access like we see in the Affordable Care Act, which used to be a Republican idea. I favor a cap-and-trade system to control carbon emissions, which used to be a Republican idea. I favor a return to Reagan-era income tax levels, which used to be a Republican idea. Of course, there have always been places where I’ve disagreed with the Republican mainstream, but there have also always been places where I’ve disagreed with the Democratic mainstream. As the Republican party has drifted to the right in the past decade, though, I’ve personally felt increasingly distant from it.
I have friends and family who will vote for Romney in November. Generally, I think it’s both wrong and unproductive to dismiss those you disagree with as merely ignorant or cruel or evil or unAmerican or whatever. We are a nation born of compromise and complexity. Even our Revolution was, all things considered, quite moderate. Compromise may be out of fashion, but I still believe in it.