Upates from Clinton-land (as well as why I’m a supporter)….

I figured since I’m a Hilary Clinton supporter, I should probably make a few updates about her ongoing campaign to become the next President of the United States. Let’s see where her campaign is at.

As far as polling is concerned, Real Clear Politics shows that Clinton is still the favorite on the Democratic side. In general, CNN/ORC has Clinton at 56% while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is at 19%. The latest NBC/Marist poll from Iowa shows Clinton in a 24-point lead. However, the same NBC News/Marist poll does show Sanders gaining on Clinton in New Hampshire (Clinton only has a 10-point lead there). Additionally, Hilary Clinton’s favorability ratings have gone down steadily as of late. However, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie tells us Clinton supporters not to panic (I tend to agree).

Dan Merica and Jeff Zeleny of CNN documented her response to the issue of the Keystone Pipeline, which she is apparently reluctant to take a stand on. I’m sure environmental groups were sounding the panic alarms about how that was an indication that Clinton would garner their support now and betray their trust later. As for me, I support the Keystone Pipeline so this isn’t really a big deal to me either way. On a related environmental note, Cameron Joseph at New York Daily News covered a recent radio interview Clinton gave while campaigning in New Hampshire. On the topic of off-shore drilling in the Arctic, Clinton made the following statement:

“I have doubts about whether we should continue drilling in the Arctic… And I don’t think it is a necessary part of our overall clean energy climate change agenda. I will be talking about drilling in general but I am skeptical about whether we should give the go ahead to drill in the Arctic.”

As someone who is okay with the idea of drilling in the Arctic (as is President Obama, for what it’s worth), this is not devastating news to me. Clinton’s skepticism towards drilling in the Arctic should sound more pleasing to the environmental Left, but at this point they may already be running high with a case of the Bernie Sanders fever.

Let’s move on to Hilary’s recent economic policy proposals. We’ve already documented Clinton’s support for raising the minimum wage and willingness to run with the Left’s passion for reducing income inequality. However, more recent Clinton economic statements have been about how Corporate America is too fixated on short term profits and not enough on how to invest in America for the long term. Hence her recent proposals for rethinking how capital gains should be taxed. Matthew Yglesias of Vox notes the following from his article regarding her proposal:

“Right now, the tax code distinguished between a short-term investment held for less than a year and a long-term investment held for longer than that. She wants to replace that with a different system, featuring a six-year sliding scale of rates to give genuinely long-term investors a leg up.

Her campaign has not yet released a fully-fleshed out plan, but they say she wants to make two changes. One is to push the current one-year definition of short-term capital gains out to two-years.

The second is that she doesn’t want to give every investment held for longer than two years equal treatment. Instead, she wants a sliding scale of rates over a multi-year period so that you would need to hold an investment for a full six years to qualify for the discount rate.”

I like this idea for multiple reasons, but instead of getting into that, I want to give my reasons for why I consider myself a Hilary Clinton supporter. I want to start by contrasting this course of action compared to her rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders has been known to rail against corporations, even going so far as to express his desire to “wage a moral and political war on billionaires and corporate leaders…”. Now, I understand that among many things that upset the political Left the most, it is how corporations use greed to augment their wealth at the expense of those in the middle class. I (partially) sympathize with this viewpoint, but on the other hand, I tend to see a different picture on the wall.

As much as I understand the desire to denigrate corporations and Wall Street and make them a political enemy, I’m just not interested in doing so myself. And no, it’s not because a sizable share of those who work on Wall Street vote Democrat. It’s because I believe that corporations and the middle class can coexist. I believe both entities can benefit from our government, and both entities can make American society better.

Bill Clinton is a good example of what I’m trying to relay here. In the 1990’s, Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy and corporations. But former President Clinton did not do so a means of punishment. He did not refer to those who work on Wall Street or those in the top-tier income bracket as malevolent or iniquitous. Clinton raised taxes because he understood that those who benefit the most in our society should pay a little more to help those who aren’t at the top of the earnings spectrum. And guess what? Economic growth was plentiful during the course of his administration. Oh, and Clinton was also balanced the budget, in part by raising taxes.

But the point I’m trying to make here is that there are plenty of Independent and Democratic leaning voters who don’t want to see income taxes for those at the top to exceed where they are now (there can be other forms of taxes implemented, such as a carbon tax, national sales tax, or a tax on financial transactions). There are plenty of Independent and Democratic leaning voters who don’t hold the view that Washington D.C. is programmed to benefit billionaire campaign contributors.

Lest anyone start to think I’m a Republican in sheep’s clothing, I do not support privatizing Social Security or Medicare. I do support Universal Health Care (not a single payer system, but a hybrid public/private system ala the ACA). I do want to see the Welfare State expanded to support Universal Pre-K and Paid Maternity Leave. I do not believe that corporations should have the same rights as people. I support marriage equality and full LGBT equality. I support moderate forms of gun control. I support the federal government taking strong actions to combat the effects of anthropogenic global warming. I do want to see an increase in the minimum wage (to $10/$11).

I want to see Hilary Clinton continue the progress made by President Obama to shift America into a Center-Left country. I want to see Hilary Clinton make history by being the first woman President of the United States. But most importantly, I want someone as president who respects our political institutions and the political process, imperfect as they may be. While I respect Senator Sanders, I’m not interested in starting a revolution. I’m also not interested in supporting someone who just pivots to the extremes of whatever ideology they hold. I’m not interested in supporting a candidate just because he/she is anti-“mainstream politics” and is “outside the beltway”. In my opinion, these are just catchy tropes void of any serious substance. I’m interested in someone who will make incremental reforms to make our country and our government better.

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A great step forward on criminal justice/sentencing reform…

We’ve been hearing for a while now that the U.S. needs to stop putting so many people in prison. It’s expensive, it’s immoral, it’s racist, it destroys families, it’s an improper fix to deal with those who suffer from mental health issues, and so on and so on. Well, the good news is that it appears there’s finally enough traction to help fix this problem. The bad news is that it’s up to the U.S. Congress to pass a bill to deal with this issue.

As dysfunctional as our Congress is, there may be hope in dealing with our penchant for putting people in jail for long periods of time. Steven Benen of MSNBC lays out the foundation for the bill:

“So, what are lawmakers prepared to actually do? From the Times’ report:

As senators work to meld several proposals into one bill, one important change would be to expand the so-called safety-valve provisions that give judges discretion to sentence low-level drug offenders to less time in prison than the required mandatory minimum term if they meet certain requirements.
Another would allow lower-risk prisoners to participate in recidivism programs to earn up to a 25 percent reduction of their sentence. Lawmakers also would like to create more alternatives for low-level drug offenders. Nearly half of all current federal prisoners are serving sentences for drug crimes.”
Benen notes that even Republican hardliner Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa supports the changes, and in fact he is the one crafting a bill together (along with other Republican and Democratic colleagues). Lauren Fox at the National Journal also notes Senator Grassley’s change of heart on the issue of mandatory minimum sentencing. Just four months ago, Senator Grassley was skeptical at the notion that drug offenders were “non-violent” and had no inclination of making any changes regarding harsh sentences for crimes involving drugs. However, Senator Grassley is working with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) to give judges more flexibility on sentencing, among many other reforms.

Fox notes that there may be a patchwork of bills together to build a comprehensive reform package, including some from Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn and Senator Whitehouse’s Corrections Act. David McCabe of The Hill notes that the bill would “[take] a more moderate approach to reducing prison populations than other proposals that would implement reductions to mandatory sentences. It also supports programs that help prisoners avoid returning to crime after being released.”

Some have noted that President Obama’s legacy will rest on healthcare reform, financial reform and the Iran nuclear deal. This could end up being a huge part of President Obama’s legacy. The important thing is that we as a country have come a long way from the days of support for harsh sentencing (circa 1970-1995). We no longer have waves of violent crime like we did decades ago. Furthermore, we have seen the gross damages done to people of color who not only are subjected to extremely harsh prison sentences for banal things like having a gram of crack-cocaine, but are also ripped apart from their families and have their right to vote stricken from them for life. More importantly, America has the highest prison population in the world, and it gets us nowhere as a country. This type of reform needs to happen.

On another note, Mark Obbie of Slate has an interesting article about a man named Bill Otis, a conservative lawyer who is not happy about the impending criminal justice reforms. Highly recommended read.

On the topic of using stupid analogies to make a point

Here we have two recent examples of two politicians (okay, in fairness, one politician and one woman who refuses to accept that her 15 minutes of fame expired in 2011) who, in an attempt to make a valid political argument (despite my vehement disagreement with both points), used extremely stupid analogies to make said political arguments.

The first, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who is also running for president, recently said the following about the Iran deal:

“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Now, again, take out whether or not you agree with the framework of the Iran Nuclear Treaty. Why you would compare a nuclear proliferation deal to a genocide is beyond me. How exactly will Iran kill 8 million Israelis? Governor Huckabee does not say, but he is refusing to apologize for his outrageous remarks (despite the pleas from random conservatives for Huckabee to apologize and for the RNC to denounce his comments). So why would Governor Huckabee make such a stupid analogy? Simple. He’s running for president. Huckabee saw the results of Donald Trump’s recalcitrance and refusal to apologize for Trump’s comments about undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

Trump is now polling very well not just in the general GOP field, but more specifically in the all important states of Iowa and New Hampshire (where he is polling second and first, respectively). The problem for Huckabee is that this does not make his presidential campaign exciting in the way that Trump’s campaign is. The “oven” comments just make Huckabee look desperate, lost and unable to come up with a viable strategy to climb the GOP nomination ladder (or at least catch up with the sensationalized Trump campaign). Furthermore, if history is any indication, this desperate attempt to appeal to Jewish voters will not pan out well for Huckabee or the GOP (typically, the GOP only gets 23-28% of Jewish voters in presidential elections). However, Governor Huckabee does have (some) support from the public. Not about the “oven” comments, but about the Iran deal itself. The latest poll from CNN/ORC has the deal polling at 52-44, with 52% of the public saying Congress should reject the deal. However, this latest CNN poll is somewhat of an anomaly among a variety of other polls indicating majority support from the public regarding the Iran deal.

Let’s move on to the other stupid analogy. Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin made a Facebook post yesterday posing the following question: “Which symbol killed 90,000 black babies last year?” (On the Facebook post are two symbols, one is the Confederate Flag and the other is Planned Parenthood’s “PP” logo).

Let’s put aside the question of the morality of abortion. People who are pro-life see the fetus as a baby, therefore consider abortion to be murder. People who are pro-choice see a fetus as a fetus, hence they feel that abortion is morally benign (thank you Kevin Drum for this eloquent phrasing).

Let’s also put aside the argument over whether the Confederate Flag could serve as motivation for a White person to kill a Black person in the name of White Supremacy. For now, let’s just focus on why Palin’s analogy is idiotic. Black women (as well as White, Latino and women of all races, ethnicity, yadda yadda yadda), voluntarily seek out the services of Planned Parenthood (which abortion services only consist 3% of). Planned Parenthood does not go to Black women’s houses, jobs or places of worship and kill them (or their babies). Planned Parenthood provides a wide variety of services that help women of all nationalities, specifically catering to women who have low-incomes. What benefits has the Confederate Flag provided to Black women, let alone women of any race and/or ethnicity? That’s right, none. That’s why it’s a stupid question and an even stupider analogy.

Even if you believe abortion is murder (which I believe is insane, FWIW), you cannot seriously compare the damage that the Confederacy has done to black life and black wealth to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood did not enslave Black Americans and tear them apart from their families. The Confederacy did just that (as well as many other horrific and vile things). Once again, Governor Palin has shown that her circus act is limited to making provocative and idiotic statements. Palin was a terrible Governor, a terrible political fundraiser, and a terrible spokesperson for the Republican Party and the Conservative movement.

Ted Cruz not having a banner week….

Ted Cruz, Republican Senator from Texas who is also running for president, took up a fight to rid the world of the country’s Export-Import Bank. However, Senator Cruz failed to get an amendment included in the Senate Highway Bill, and then accused Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) of lying to him.

Now, I know you’re wondering “what does the Export-Import Bank have to do with funding our highways?” And that’s a great question! Unfortunately, when a political institution like the U.S. Senate suffers from an idiotic amount of gridlock, members of Congress tend to do deals jam-packed into legislation that may not have anything to do with the original bill. Hence, even though the bill is about funding our highways, people who are desperate for attention like Senator Cruz use this as an opportunity to remind people that he’s running for President. Senator Cruz believes that a government agency like the Export-Import Bank should be rid of due to its “… cronyism and special interests.”

Now, the funny thing is, there are a sizable amount of liberals who actually agree with Senator Cruz about the Export-Import Bank and its perpetuation of crony capitalism. I happen to not be one of them. As I’ve argued before, I believe that the Export-Import Bank provides more benefits than it does downsides. Also, the fact that many other countries also have an Export-Import Bank makes it that much more necessary that we keep ours (as we have for over 81 years now). Furthermore, as Glen A. Carlson III (owner of Acme Manufacturing Co., a fourth-generation family business based in Michigan) notes, “[t]he bank has supported some 1.3 million jobs across the U.S. over the past six years, including nearly 60,000 jobs in Michigan right now as a result of more than $9.3 billion in export sales from the state. The bank did all this without costing the taxpayers a dime. In fact, the bank actually returned $2.7 billion to the U.S. Treasury over the last six years.”

Other amendments that were attempted to be added to the Highway Funding Bill were Utah Senator Mike Lee’s repeal of Obamacare. That failed, too. So all in all, we have yet another “establishmentarians vs. revolutionaries” battle among our ranks in the U.S. Senate. I happen to side with the establishmentarians, but it’s not because I’m a huge fan of the Export-Import Bank. It’s because I love seeing Senator Ted Cruz fail. And just like his attempt to shut down the government in the fall of 2013, this is almost as spectacular of a fail. This failure won’t stop Senator Cruz from his dedication to make the U.S. Senate as dysfunctional as possible. However, every setback that Senator Cruz has is a step forward for progress in our country (i.e. funding our highway system that millions of Americans use on a daily basis and having a government agency that creates jobs in America and expands the global economy).

Read more about the Export-Import Bank here (H/T Erica Werner). Also here (H/T Congresswoman Joyce Beattie D-Ohio and Business Insider).

About Senator Rand Paul’s tax plan…

Senator Rand Paul’s campaign did two things yesterday in a desperate attempt to revitalize his shrinking campaign. The first thing Senator Paul did was print out the federal tax code and mutilate it with a chainsaw (hey, Senator Paul? The environment would like a word with you). The second thing Paul’s campaign did was release a laughably bad plan to reform the tax code. Because I’m in a bipartisan mood today, I would like go over the response to Paul’s delusional flat-tax plan from a conservative economist as well as a liberal one. Let’s start off with the conservative response.

Writing at Bloomberg View, here is Ramesh Ponnuru’s take on Paul’s flat-tax plan. Ponnuru is one of those interesting “reform conservatives” who believes that the federal government should do more to improve people’s lives other than simply “get out of the way”. To be fair, Ponnuru is undoubtedly a very conservative guy. Ponnuru wrote a book in 2006 called The Party of Death, which vehemently criticizes abortion supporters (mostly Democrats, surprise, surprise). But even for someone as conservative as Ponnuru, he isn’t buying Paul’s flat-tax plan. Ponnuru starts off with the basic details:

“[Senator Paul’s plan] has two main parts. First, Paul would replace the income and payroll taxes with a 14.5 percent flat tax with exemptions of $15,000 for filers and $5,000 for dependents. Families of four therefore wouldn’t pay taxes on their first $50,000 of income. Second, Paul would replace the corporate income tax with a new 14.5 percent ‘business activity tax.'”

Ponnuru liken the “business activity tax” to a Value Added Tax (VAT), which is used in many European countries as a type of national sales tax. VAT’s are one reason (among others) that a variety of goods tend to be more expensive in places like Canada, the U.K. and Germany than they are here in the U.S. Ponnuru concludes his views about the plan thusly:

“All in all, then, what Paul is proposing is a big tax cut for high earners and businesses with almost no direct benefits for most Americans. It’s the latest evidence that a flat tax that cuts most people’s taxes while keeping revenue at a plausible level is just not possible.”

This could not be more correct. For instance, what value does lowering the capital gains tax to 14.5% have on ordinary Americans? According to Wikipedia, the current capital gains tax rate is 0% for the 10%–15% brackets; 15% for the 25%–35% brackets; and 20% for the 39.6% bracket.). Capital gains rates were much higher during the Clinton years, and we had a booming economy then that benefited all Americans in all income brackets. Furthermore, lowering the top labor income tax rate to 27% does not mean this will lead to increased purchasing of consumer goods. It does not mean wages will grow for anyone, except those (roughly) 10% of Americans who fall in that top income bracket. Most importantly of all, it does not address how economic growth at the top will trickle-down to those at the bottom. If you’re going to state that economic growth is the only thing keeping poor Americans from joining the middle-class, you need to explain how a cashier at Wal-Mart is going to get a raise if the economy grows at 4% annually (he/she won’t). Senator Paul needs to explain why his constant fear of inflation continues to exist, despite that inflation is currently hovering around 2% (the Federal Reserve’s exact target). Senator Paul constantly loves to attack the Federal Reserve, but has little to no explanation of how auditing the Fed or getting rid of it will benefit the overwhelming majority of Americans who need jobs and increased wages.

Let’s now take a look at what the liberal economist has to say about Senator Paul’s plan.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones starts off his review of the plan the way any review should start: “[i]f Stephen Moore is one of the brains behind this, we can be pretty sure it’s the usual hodgepodge of innumerate nonsense he’s famous for.” This could not be more correct. Stephen Moore, famous conservative economist who writes for the Wall Street Journal, has an incredibly poor track record predicting that tax cuts will generate economic growth. Basically, Stephen Moore’s economic predictions are the equivalent of Bill Kristol’s foreign policy predictions in that 97% of the time, they turn out to be flat out wrong. But let’s save Moore (and Kristol) for another day.

Drum continues:

“It’s the usual flat-tax utopia: One rate for everyone, no deductions, end of story. No discussion of how to define “income,” of course, which is what makes the tax code complicated in the first place. But no matter. According to Paul, the rich will end up paying 14.5 percent in taxes, with no loopholes to pay less. Given that the rich currently pay about 22 percent of their income in federal taxes, they should be pretty happy about that. They should also be pretty happy that he’s getting rid of the estate tax entirely.

And the middle class? Well, they no longer have to pay payroll taxes. Just 14.5 percent of their income.

Happy days! And how will this add up? The usual way: it will supercharge the economy blah blah blah, and we’ll all be making such huge buckets of cash that tax revenues will go up. Easy peasy.”

Easy peasy, indeed. Can anyone explain to me why exactly simplifying the tax code is the key to economic growth? I mean, if this is the case, why have a tax code at all? Seriously, let’s just have a tax code where a few lines are scribbled onto a piece of paper, and then bada-bing, bada-boom! Economic growth of 4 percent arrives at our doorstep. Hell, forget 4 percent. Why not make it 10 percent?

The overall point I’m trying to make here is the guys like Stephen Moore have had several years now to convince us that wealthy people paying very little taxes and deregulating all industries will lead to a better life for everyone. Except that wages have been stagnant for decades, and the only time we’ve have 4 percent economic growth was during Clinton. And guess what? Clinton raised taxes. Hell, even Reagan raised taxes. It really is a shame that conservatives don’t listen more to Ponnuru, James PethokoukisRoss Douthat, Josh Barro and Reihan Salam. I don’t even agree with these gentlemen the majority of the time, but at least they have some new ideas.

John Kasich’s hat gets tossed into the ring…

Current Ohio Governor (as well as former Ohio Congressman) John Kasich made the announcement that he’s running for president yesterday. There are several reasons why John Kasich is a long shot (according to the latest polls he’s sitting at 1 percent). Kasich is not well known nationally, not very popular in his own state and has very limited funds to support his campaign.

But the biggest reason why he won’t get the nomination is the following: GOP primary voters hate politicians who are capable of compromise and working with Democrats. Now to be sure, Kasich is certainly conservative on many issues. As Governor of Ohio, Kasich has implemented Right-to-Work laws to decrease the power of unions (voters later voted on a referendum to repeal those laws), implemented stricter abortion regulations (a 20 week ban) and is a staunch opponent of gun control (yes, as a Congressman he did vote for the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, but has since pivoted to the right on this issue). However, as The Editors at Bloomberg View note, he has also expanded Medicaid in his state (as part of the ACA), closed corporate tax loopholes, and (like Jeb Bush) supports the Common Core education standards. Kasich has also flirted with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, although at the moment it appears as if he will take Jeb Bush’s position and advocate for a path to legalization (where undocumented immigrants can legally live and work in the U.S., but not obtain citizenship).

Kasich also has a problem when it comes to selling himself. As David Catanese of U.S. News noted yesterday, his “I’m running for president” announcement yesterday was widely panned. Catanese stated that Kasich “…muffed his first impression, delivering a disjointed and meandering speech mostly off the cuff that dwelled too much on the past and lacked an overarching vision for the future.” Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week takes it even further, calling Kasich “…a jerk, in other words. An insufferably pious one.” Personality issues aside, Kasich is going to have a ton of trouble getting the attention of the U.S. media, which is already currently fixated on a different obnoxious blowhard.

As for his record as Governor of Ohio, it’s mixed but leans favorably towards Kasich. Ohio’s current unemployment rate is currently 5.2 percent, which is a bit below the national average (5.5%). While Ohio’s economic growth has not been spectacular as Kasich assumed office in 2011, it has not been terrible either. However, Henry J. Gomez of Cleveland.com has some criticisms of Kasich’s tenure as Governor:

“But national journalists have yet to pick apart Kasich’s record as thoroughly as they have other governors’ and former governors’. That will happen, if not immediately, then when Kasich shows signs of being the top-four contender that he and his advisers believe he is.

For example, JobsOhio, Kasich’s privatized economic development agency, has provoked questions about ethics and transparencyRecent controversies over charter schools aren’t helpful, either. And Kasich insiders dread each time a new reporter stumbles upon the story of him calling a police officer an idiot.”

So in the end, Kasich has a very tough road ahead of him. I will say though, of all the second-tier candidates, his candidacy has the most potential for a dramatic upswing. It’s up to Kasich to see if he can make that happen (lack of funds and temperament aside).