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Posts Tagged ‘Democrats’

This was the first live chat I’ve helped plan and participated in. Although I got bumped from my afternoon slot to the end of the night by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, I did succeed in getting him to comment on my review of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Here was the chat line up:

10 am to 10:30 am: Kamau Bell, comedian
10:30 am to 11 am: Nick Baumann, Mother Jones
11 am to 11:30 am: Dave Levinthal, Center for Responsive Politics
11:30 am to 12 noon: Craig Newmark, Craigslist
12 noon to 12:30 pm: Staci Kramer, PaidContent
12:30 pm to 1 pm: Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight Foundation

BREAK

5 pm to 5:30 pm: Anthony Calabrese, MediaShift data viz
5:30 pm to 6 pm: JD Lasica, SocialMedia.biz
6 pm to 6:30 pm: Steven Davy, MediaShift
6:30 pm to 7 pm: Corbin Hiar, MediaShift
7 pm to 7:30 pm: Heather Gold, Subvert.com

Click here to see what we had to say.

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This is my second post on a topic of my choice for The Prospect‘s writing test. The first is here.

If you had asked me last week what lessons the US can learn from the Greek crisis, I would have only said, “don’t ask Goldman for debt advice.” Then over the weekend I read an insightful dispatch from Suzanne Daley in Athens:

In the wealthy, northern suburbs of this city, where summer temperatures often hit the high 90s, just 324 residents checked the box on their tax returns admitting that they owned pools.

So tax investigators studied satellite photos of the area—a sprawling collection of expensive villas tucked behind tall gates—and came back with a decidedly different number: 16,974 pools.

That kind of wholesale lying about assets, and other eye-popping cases that are surfacing in the news media here, points to the staggering breadth of tax dodging that has long been a way of life here.

It sounds like Greece is finally beginning to address the corrosive influence tax evasion and loopholes have had on both its battered budget and frayed social contract.

Tax evasion—long a favorite pastime in parts of southern Europe—is essentially an abdication of an individual’s commitment to society. Taxpayers provide revenue to the government, which in return provides public goods and services that markets fail to adequately produce. For example, most governments create transportation infrastructure and regulate water utilities. In Athens, the wealthiest citizens have upset this equation. They drive home along winding suburban streets and bask in pools filled with clean, subsidized municipal water—both of which are paid for in larger part by more honest (or audited) Greeks. The remainder of the balance has been paid for with unsustainable loads of foreign debt. As Daley notes, Greece “may be losing as much as $30 billion a year to tax evasion—a figure that would have gone a long way to solving its debt problems.”

Loopholes in Greece are less insidious, but also problematic. They exempt politicians’ favored constituencies from paying the full cost of the federal services they receive. Easily and inconspicuously slipped into law as an amendment to an unrelated bill, a tax giveaway then becomes maddeningly difficult to repeal. The beneficiaries will go all out to defend a targeted advantage most taxpayers are not even aware had been granted. Daley highlights one successfully repealed license to steal: Greek newsstand owners could avoid auditing by simply declaring an income of 12,000 euros (about $15,900). Any additional income was essentially tax-free.

All this lost tax revenue has added up. As Will Hutton reported in February, “uncollected tax runs at 13.6% of national output per year—more than the deficit.” No longer able to cheaply finance their growing sovereign debt on the skittish bond markets, Greek leaders have been forced to strengthen the country’s tax code. Unlike the cuts to wages, pensions, and public services that Prime Minister Papandreou’s Socialist government has been forced to make, this politically unpopular move will broadly benefit Greek society.

Although it may not be as flagrant or pervasive, America also suffers from tax evasion and a gamed tax code. (more…)

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The Prospect liked my previous pieces enough that they gave me the opportunity to take a follow-up writing test. This time around, they requested that I pitch a story for the mid-term elections and write three posts that could have been featured on the magazine’s group blog TAPPED. For the blog pieces, which I am posting on Hiar Learning, I tried to emphasize my analytical strengths in selecting the topics I chose to blog about. This first post has a slight environmental bent.

The Center for Public Integrity has published the results of a thought-provoking survey of vacant government oversight positions by John Solomon. The Center’s journalist-in-residence compiled a list of 73 inspectors general, chief auditors, or whistleblower protection positions across government and found that at least 15 are currently unfilled or being covered by acting officials.

Solomon makes a compelling argument that if the Obama administration intends to live up to its professed commitment to transparency, it must work to fill these important positions as soon as possible. “Over the years, government watchdogs have produced some memorable investigations, uncovering federal workers who watched pornography from government computers, revealing that federal housing vouchers were still being paid to dead Americans, and disclosing the FBI’s illegal gathering of phone records,” he notes.

There is nothing stopping the administration from immediately hiring inspectors general at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Communications Commission, the Labor Relations Authority, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Senate confirmation is not required to fill IG posts at these four agencies and, possibly the Federal Housing Finance Agency, too. (In the text of the report, it says the agency’s IG nominee is awaiting confirmation, but on CPI’s spreadsheet, it says the FHFAIG doesn’t require confirmation.) Since December, the House of Representatives has also had its own IG position to fill.

Why are the administration and Congress dragging their feet about these oversight openings? (more…)

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This was a self-selected Prospect article critique for my application to their fellowship program. See this post for more information.

They probably won’t vote for it. But by including GOP ideas in the finance bill, Democrats can make it difficult for Republicans to effectively campaign against it.

Tim Fernholz believes the best strategy for Democrats to win the fight over re-regulating Wall Street is to learn from the lessons of the health care reform. The question is, what exactly are the takeaways from that successful legislative battle?

The first lesson, Fernholz says, is to be assertive. In the wake of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, congressional Democrats realized they would have to take a strong, cohesive stance to enact health care reform. And with that decision made, they rallied together and passed a controversial bill. Fernholz notes that their assertiveness has boosted both the popularity of their health care reform overhaul and, if the breathless reporting of POLITICO is to be believed, the party’s midterm reelection chances.

Fernholz’s other lesson is that Republicans cannot be counted on to cooperate. “If Democrats want to replicate their health-care success,” Fernholz suggests, “the best strategy for strong reform is to bring a tough bill to the floor and dare Republicans to filibuster it.” But Republicans don’t need too much taunting to call a filibuster. Indeed, with little substantive provocation, the minority party has set a new record for obstinacy this congressional session. And, as Fernholz notes, this is a strategy Republicans have doubled down on in the wake of their crushing health care defeat.

By focusing primarily on the assertiveness Democrats showed at the last moment and the stonewalling of the GOP, Fernholz overlooks perhaps the most important lesson from the battle for health care: the importance of co-opting the best Republican ideas. (more…)

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I volunteered to fill in for one of the San Francisco editors on weekend website duty and got stuck writing this post on a Saturday. I will not make that mistake again.

One highlight: Bill Moyers asked a question regarding the Wall Street-bashing article from Rep Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), about which I had previously blogged.

Recently DC Bureau Chief David Corn and blogger Kevin Drum have had to wear a lot of makeup—that’s what happens when you’re on three different shows in the course of two days. If you haven’t had a chance to see all the clips yet, the links are below in bold.

On Friday, the two sat down with PBS’ Bill Moyers for an insightful hour-long conversation about the unrepentant and unreformed financial industry. Moyers began his show by detailing how completely Wall Street has recovered since bankers like Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein, the Financial Times‘ Person of the Year, nearly destroyed the global economy. “How do the bankers pick our pockets so thoroughly with barely a pang of guilt or punishment?” he asked. “You will find some answers in this current edition of Mother Jones magazine, one of the best sources of investigative journalism around today.”

Moyers went on to point out that MoJo and, surprisingly enough, the Wall Street Journal are both skeptical of the administration’s efforts to reform derivatives trading. They discussed the House Committee on Financial Services, which David pointed out “is called a money committee…because if you serve on that committee, you have access to a lot of money. Campaign cash.” The first half hour concluded with talk about the lack of outrage over the infamous carried interest rule that allows hedgefund millionaires to pay income tax rates lower than those of their secretaries. “We should lay some of the blame,” Kevin suggested, on “the media…People don’t see it enough to get angry about it.”

In the second half of Bill Moyers Journal, Kevin said that part of the reason real financial reform hasn’t occurred is because “the bailout last year succeeded in a way, too well” and now people think “we can go back to business as usual.” After a lost decade in which new jobs were not created and median wages did not increase, Moyers asked what the two made of the much discussed new article in Forbes by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) bashing Wall Street. “Well, the Democrats have to worry,” David replied. “There is an opening here for the Republicans.” Kevin concluded by offering Obama a suggestion from FDR’s playbook: “If there’s any one issue where…a real show that he was going to take these guys on could bring the country together, it very well might be taking on Wall Street.” Better late, than never!

Click here for the Rachel Maddow Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann links or to comment on the MoJo blog post.

Photo of Mother Jones and her TV: georgia.g (via Flickr)

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Painting by Nelson ShanksThis blog post is a critique of a piece from a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who currently writes for The New Republic. Matthew Yglesias and I both objected to William Galston’s calculations, albeit for entirely different reasons.

UPDATE: My post got noted in The Hill‘s “Blog Briefing Room“, top billing on Politics or Poppycock, by the Campaign for America’s Future and featured on the Healthcare Newsladder.

What’s the riskier political move for Obama: pushing for an ambitious health care overhaul, even if this entails a drawn out process that shifts his attention from other pressing issues (i.e., the economy, climate change)? Or trying to get a bill—any bill—passed quickly?

Former Clinton advisor William Galston has suggested the president’s best bet is the latter. In a blog item on Friday, he encouraged Obama to take “what he can get on health care” so he can “focus more on the economy over the next three years, and persuade average Americans that the economy is as central to his concerns as is it to theirs.” There may be political consequences if he doesn’t, Galston warned:

A jobless recovery helped undermine George H. W. Bush’s reelection prospects in 1992. Its continuation weakened support for Bill Clinton’s economic program and contributed to the Democratic Party’s rout in 1994.

Galston surely hopes to see Obama avoid the same fate as his former boss, but the problem with his advice is that the political terrain is markedly different today than it was 15 years ago…

Click here to read the rest of the MoJo blog post or make a comment.

Image credit: cliff1066 (via Flickr)

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Yesterday Campus Progress, the youth-oriented project of the sprawling Center for American Progress empire, concluded a two-day series of events on activism and the media. The Center for American Progress (CAP) was founded in 2003 by John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, and like the Heritage Foundation during Reagan’s presidency, the young organization has quickly become the think tank du jour in Washington. It was no surprise then to see Democratic Party stars such as the Special Advisor for Green Jobs Van Jones, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and, of course, former President Clinton featured in the speakers line up for Wednesday’s massive Fifth Annual National Convention.

Although the Daily Show’s John Oliver did his best to steal the show, the loudest applause was elicited by the Madam Speaker.  At the end of a long day heavy on weighty wonkery, Pelosi’s brief speech full of lofty promises garnered elated cheers, especially when she promised to “have a health care bill out of the House by the August break…. And it will have a public option.” While it was surprising to hear her speak about such a difficult and contentious bill in such concrete terms, her short 2010 campaign rally warm-up was also notable for what went unsaid.

(more…)

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