Monday, December 29, 2014

Gallup Poll Shows Obama Ends 2014 As Popular As Ronald Reagan

It's been a pretty tough year for President Obama. He's been taking a quite the beating in the polls throughout 2014, but it looks like he'll be finishing the year off in a decent position:

Don't look now, but President Barack Obama has been inching up in the polls, tying Reagan for this juncture in his presidency. Several polls have him inching up to nearly 50 percent approval rating after a rough 2014.
According to polls by CNN/ORC, Rasmussen, and Gallup, Obama's polling at 48%, a pretty good improvement over the low 40s that he's generally remained in. But probably the best part is how Obama ranks against the greatest president in U.S. history in similar time frame:

Yes, it appears that Obama is about as popular now as the great Ronaldus Magnus was in 1986. I don't think conservatives are going to enjoy that stat very much.

When It Comes To The Failure of Trickle-Down Economics, Is Our Republicans Learning?

As we recently discussed, Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback subjected his constituents to his ultra right-wing economic policies upon the promise that they would transform the Sunflower State into an economic powerhouse. This was a promise that, unfortunately for Brownback, didn't exactly pan out.

But as bad as ruining Kansas' finances might appear, according to a report from Politico, Brownback's real major sin might be that he's ruining things for other Republican governors:
Ohio Gov. John Kasich will roll out “responsible” tax plans that protect against revenue gaps. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Arizona’s new Republican governor are delaying big dreams of nixing the income tax as they face budget shortfalls. And Missouri Republicans, once jealous of their neighbor Kansas’ massive cuts, are thankful they trimmed less.

Call it the Brownback effect.
Because of the catastrophic result in Kansas, Republicans in other states are either scaling back or even scrapping similar tax cut plans.
“It’s a cautionary tale on a national scale … Many of us felt that [Kansas] had been too aggressive,” said Indiana Senate Majority Leader and tax committee chairman Brandt Hershman, who helped GOP Gov. Mike Pence cut corporate taxes last spring. “We all like low taxes … but we have to ensure the stability of a revenue stream to provide basic services that our citizens expect.”
 But don't get the wrong idea. Republicans still believe in supply-side magic. It just needs to be done with the right rituals:

Of course, Republicans aren’t ditching supply-side economic theory or tax cuts. But they’re considering ways to avoid Kansas’ troubles. Their takeaways include smaller cuts over extended periods of time, stopgaps to protect revenues — and avoiding overpromising.

It’s making for an odd dynamic in which some Republicans now proudly say their tax plans will be “incremental” or “evolutionary” instead of “revolutionary.”

“Kansas did too much too fast, so at this point we’re continuing to look at our tax policy to make sure it’s competitive. But we’re not jumping — not following Kansas,” said Missouri state Sen. Will Kraus, a GOP tax writer who in 2013 pointed to Kansas as the reason tax cuts were needed in the Show Me State.
Well, that's a novel defense. Usually the excuse when SSE fails is that we didn't cut taxes enough.

However, the following has to be the most hilariously unrealistic plan Republicans have come upon with:

Republicans say they learned another lesson from Brownback: Don’t overpromise that tax cuts are going to spur job and revenue growth right away — be realistic.

“You can’t promise that everything is going to change overnight,” said Jonathan Williams, top tax adviser at the conservative policy group American Legislative Exchange Council, which lobbies states. Williams believes Brownback’s tax plan will pan out eventually, but he said messaging is key. “It’s going to be a change of incentives over several months and years.”

He said Republicans should tell constituents that “not all tax cuts pay for themselves” and warn about potential revenue shortfalls.
Oh yeah, that's definitely going to work out. How does anyone think Republicans get these terrible policies passed to begin with? They always say that it's perfectly okay to cut taxes because the revenue generated from the freedom fairy will make up for any potential losses from the tax cuts. This gives people the impression that they can have their cake and eat it too. '
But imagine if some Republican politician went up to some old lady and asked if they'd be willing to pay for a tax cut going to someone like Donald Trump by having it come out of their social security and medicare. I would presume she, and most of the populace, wouldn't be too keen on the idea. A republican cautioning that tax cuts might deplete revenue is like a diet pill peddler cautioning an obese person that they might still remain fat afterwards.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Republicans Will Be Screwed No Matter How the Supreme Court Rules On Obamacare Subsidies

The Supreme Court recently announced that they will be hearing arguments challenging the distribution of subsidies in Obamacare in March. If the plaintiffs are successful, this would mean that citizens of any state that doesn't have their own state run exchange will not be able to qualify for subsidies. This would result in millions of people who will no longer be able to afford health insurance. Conservatives, as you would probably expect, are salivating at the idea of the Supreme Court ruling in their favor..

But here's the thing. Even if the Supreme Court sides with conservatives, this wouldn't exactly be a slam dunk for the movement. Why? Because the Republican Party would find itself in a new, and arguably worse predicament.

Republicans may despise Obamacare, but it had one dirty little secret. Interestingly enough, it turns out that Obamacare was, in a way, a pretty sweet deal for Republican states. How so? As Ezra Klein explains:

For a bill that passed without a single Republican vote, Obamacare sure treats red states well. The law takes more money from blue states than from red states and it spends more money in red states than in blue states. It is, as Alec MacGillis wrote in the Washington Post at the time, "a rare triumph of principle over parochialism."
It wasn't just the spending side. Obamacare also favored Red states when it came to taxation as well:

So all else equal, a bill that spends its money covering the uninsured is going to spend more money in red states than blue ones. But all else isn't equal. The way Obamacare pays for itself also favors red states.
One of Obamacare's major pay-fors is a 3.8 percent tax on investment income earned by richer taxpayers. This hits blue states harder than red states because blue states are, well, richer. Of the 25 states with the highest median income, 19 voted for Obama in 2012.
Another way Obamacare funds itself is through its tax on "Cadillac" health-care plans, which begins in 2018. The tax is really just a levy on very generous employer-provided plans — which are more common in blue states, with their history of unionization, than red ones. That means the Cadillac tax will hit harder in blue states than red ones.

Now I gotta say, as far as tyranny goes, it could be worse. But that's where things start to get fun.  See, if the Supreme Court rules the way most Republicans want them to, they might not end up popping the champagne corks so quickly:

But after the Supreme Court's ruling, Republican governors and legislatures in state after state rejected the expansion. Rejecting the Medicaid expansion, however, doesn't exempt a state from the taxes and spending cuts Obamacare uses to fund the Medicaid expansion. A September analysis from McClatchy estimated that "if the 23 states that have rejected expanding Medicaid under the 2010 health care law continue to do so for the next eight years, they’ll pay $152 billion to extend the program in other states — while receiving nothing in return." That's a helluva gift from (mostly) red states to (mostly) blue ones.
Now the Supreme Court will take up King v. Burwell, in which the plaintiffs argue that the text of the Affordable Care Act makes it illegal for subsidies to flow through federally-run exchanges. If they're successful, then it will be possible for a state that opposes to Obamacare to withdraw from both the Medicaid expansion and the exchange subsidies — that is to say, from pretty much all of Obamacare's benefits. But they will still pay all of its costs. They will still pay the law's taxes and their residents will still feel the law's Medicare cuts. Obamacare will become a pure subsidy from the states that hate the law most to the states that have embraced it. It's like a fiscal version of reverse psychology.

Yes, the Republicans have put themselves into quite the pickle. If they lose in the Supreme Court, Obamacare will continue to happily chug along as it's been doing, gradually providing more and more people health care. If they "win" however, they'll wind up "rewarding" their constituents by having them subsidize health care for Democrats without getting anything in return.

I'd imagine most Republicans aren't exactly aware of the ramifications of taking on this provision. But even when they're finally clued in, will they attempt to pass legislation to return things back as they were (and should have remained to begin with)?

It's actually a pretty tough call. Republicans have generally been good about shielding their base from their own terrible policies (see how Romney/Ryan protected people over 55 from their draconian cuts to medicare, but screwed over everyone younger). Republican politicians may hate the idea of government spending money on social programs, but they don't mind as much as long as it's spent on other Republicans (welfare for me, not for thee).

Yet despite that, multiple Republican governors have refused to expand medicaid, turning away up to billions of dollars in otherwise free money because they simply despise Obama. The hatred that this president receives from these people is just staggering, and they would cut off their nose, ears and eyes to spite their face.

There is also the possibility that Republicans are perhaps hoping that the insurance market going into a death spiral in Red states may have reverberations in Blue states as well (because many major insurance companies sell plans in multiple states). There's little doubt that insurance is gonna sky rocket in places like Texas and South Carolina, but I honestly don't know how badly that would effect plans in California or Massachusetts. 

March is going to be a hell of a month.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Behold, The Kansas Economic Miracle

When Kansas governor, Sam Brownback enacted his tax cut scheme, he and his conservative allies argued there would be two significant and beneficial results. The first was that these tax cuts would generate more revenues. 
Brownback said he thought the tax breaks would generate enough economic growth to ward off major cuts to "core" government services, including schools and public safety programs.
"I think the growth will come before the cuts come."

Sadly, that didn't exactly pan out. Who would have thought that when you allow people to pay lower taxes, it would result in...lower taxes?

Ah, but that's okay, say Brownback advocates. For you see, the other positive side effect - which they currently argue is now the only thing that actually matters -  from the tax cuts would be massive job growth. Here's the father of supply side doctrine, Art Laffer making the case:
The states that cut their taxes really outperform the states that raise them," Laffer said. "People will see that. It's really hard to balance a budget on the backs of unemployed, and people really do leave states when that's tried. Look, the problem with cutting taxes is that you are going to suffer short-term losses in revenues. When you raise taxes you think you've got a windfall. Then in a few years, you’re Detroit. Kansas, by contrast, is going to do very well. Kansas City is going to be located in Kansas, not Missouri, if you give it a couple years."
It's interesting Laffer admits that tax cuts will cause short-term revenue losses, considering he's argued the exact opposite for his entire career as an economist. It probably would have been nice if he had mentioned that to Brownback before he signed those into law.

But what about his claim on job growth? Unfortunately that didn't go according to plan either:

The new Kansas jobs numbers were released Friday morning, bringing horrible news to state taxpayers and Gov. Sam Brownback.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the total number of nonfarm jobs in Kansas fell by 4,100 in November.

Kansas’ disturbing experience was at odds with how much of the rest of the country did. A total of 37 other states gained in employment in November, while only 13 others, including Kansas, dropped.
Missouri boosted employment by 4,500 in November, for instance, while Oklahoma gained 3,400 jobs. Two other neighbors, Nebraska and Colorado, were among the job losers, though not close to the number shredded in Kansas.

Laffer is correct that you can't balance a budget on the backs of the unemployed (of which there are 4,100 more in Kansas now). And while it's possible that Missouri might not look too hot in the future, it's currently doing better than Kansas is:

 However, Friday’s federal figures now show the state has added only a meager 12,200 total jobs for the first 11 months of the year. That’s barely more than 1,000 a month, and a growth rate of under 1 percent for the year. Missouri, by contrast, has a more robust 1.6 percent growth rate for 2014.

Read more here:
Missouri had both a better November and a better year overall than Kansas, despite the latter being a right-wing utopia at this point.

As if those numbers weren't embarrassing enough, there was one other interesting bit of data from the BLS report:

The biggest job gains occurred in California, which added 90,100 jobs in November, followed by Florida, which gained 41,900. Texas added the third-most jobs, with 34,800.

Yes, the high tax dystopia that is California added 90,100 jobs, not only annihilating Kansas' pitiful performance, but also creating almost three times more jobs than even the mighty Republican economic oasis that is the great state of Texas. Texas! Mind you, those numbers for California aren't just good, they're also the second largest gain the Golden State's had since 1990.

How in the world is such a thing possible? If we were to believe Brownback, Laffer and the entire conservative intelligentsia, freedom loving, pro-business states like Kansas should be economic powerhouses, while socialist, blasphemous states like California should resemble post apocalyptic wastelands.

There is only one logical explanation: Obviously, Jesus has forsaken conservatives in Kansas for not cutting taxes enough.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Buzzkill States Sue Colorado Over Marijuana Legalization

So much for states' rights:
In the most serious legal challenge to date against Colorado's legalization of marijuana, two neighboring states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the history-making law.

Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the lawsuit directly with the nation's highest court on Thursday. The two states argue in the lawsuit that, "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system."

"Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems," the lawsuit alleges.
 Indeed, these blood red states insist that all states must submit to the will of the federal government:
Nebraska and Oklahoma's complaint argues that Colorado does not have authority to pass laws that conflict with the federal prohibition on marijuana. Doing so, the states claim, violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
I'm sure James Madison will no doubt be pleased to hear that Nebraska and Oklahoma finally came around.

But there were also other reasons these states had for bringing forth this suit:
But much of the complaint focuses on harms the two states say have come to them as a result of legal pot sales in Colorado. The lawsuit says the states have suffered increased costs from arrests, the impoundment of vehicles, the seizure of contraband, the transfer of prisoners, and other problems associated with marijuana — which is strictly illegal in the two states — flowing into Nebraska and Oklahoma. The states say the problems amount to "irreparable injury."
The lawsuit does not cite any figures to back up the claims.
Color me shocked.
News stories since Amendment 64's passage have repeatedly noted the complaints of law enforcement officers in neighboring states that marijuana legalization in Colorado is straining their budgets. For instance, the police chief in Sydney, Neb., told a television station this year that half of his department's traffic stops now result in a marijuana arrest. He said the department burned through its yearly overtime budget in six months, mostly paying officers overtime to go to court to testify in marijuana prosecutions.
You know would probably help save money and resources, Chief? Not having to go after these people in the first place. It seems the problem isn't that pot is legal in Colorado, but rather, it's still illegal in Nebraska. 

This lawsuit seems worth keeping a close watch on.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Florida Republican Wants To Mandate Anti-Obama Film In Classrooms

Another day, another idiot Republican making the state of Florida look bad:

An effort to require students in Florida public schools to watch a controversial documentary by conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza gained ground this week with the support of a state House member.

Rep. Neil Combee, a Lakeland Republican, filed a bill seeking to mandate that all eighth- and 11th-grade students view the film America: Imagine the World Without Her. His legislation is identical to a measure filed by Sen. Alan Hays in November.
Indoctrination is bad. Unless of course, it's the Right kind of indoctrination. Remember, kids. Like with everything in life, it's okay if you're a Republican.

While D'Souza's latest opus is an inflammatory, straw man laden, example of right-wing propaganda, it's also just simply a pretty terrible movie.

Also, too. Any time this wretched movie is brought up, I have to provide a link to a thoroughly enjoyable thrashing by David Corn and Tom Ashbrook. Those two provide some very entertaining tag team action against D'Souza and his inane, nonsensical arguments.

Sam Brownback Finds Some Ways To Mitigate The Economic Damage He's Inflicted On Kansas

Since we last saw Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback, he was trying to convince everyone that his disastrous tax cut policy wasn't so disastrous that it required any change in direction or anything. Last week, Kansas media outlets reported that Brownback's found some alternate, much more preferable solutions to close the budget gap (via brother Benen):

Gov. Sam Brownback plans to transfer $95 million from the state highway fund and cut the budgets of state agencies by 4 percent to help plug a budget deficit.
State agencies will see their budgets reduced by 4 percent from January through June, resulting in about $79 million in savings. The state will also transfer $201 million from dedicated funds, including the highway fund, into its general fund.
 The fun doesn't stop there. Brownback also wants to raid Kansas' public employees pension funds:

The plan drew immediate, bipartisan criticism from state Senate leaders because it would divert $41 million from the pension system for teachers and government workers. Obligations to retirees over the next two decades are only 60 percent funded, and that figure was expected to climb over time thanks to a 2012 law that increased both the state’s and employees’ contributions to stabilize the system’s long-term health.
“It reneges on the commitment that was made,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.
In his successful re-election campaign, Brownback pointed repeatedly to the pension fixes – which promised full funding of its obligations in 2033 – as a major accomplishment.

I'm sure Brownback feels terrible about having to resort to such things. But here's my favorite line:

“It’s kind of, uh, well where are you going to go for the funds? And I don’t like it, but it’s kind of what’s your other option if you don’t hit K-12 and higher ed with allotments?” Brownback said.

 Well, uh, I dunno. I mean, uh, I'm just spitballing here, but maybe, uh, we could probably start by reversing the uh, useless and idiotic tax policies that caused this mess in the first place?

Read more here:

Yes, I'm Still Alive

Sorry about being worse than usual when it comes to updates. Had lots of real world issues to deal with these past couple of weeks. Fortunately, those problems have been taken care of so I can (hopefully) go back to blogging at a normal rate again. Fingers crossed!