No Comments »

February 4th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

CBO Report on Obamacare Points to More Economic Justice Over Next Decade

Republicans have seized on news reports of the new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast about ObamaCare’s impact on the country over the next decade. The righties instantly and loudly pointed to what they claim is a finding that more than 2,000,000 jobs will be lost between now and 2024. Unfortunately, so far the media is playing along with their false reading of the study.  On his Plum Line blog Greg Sargent has a corrective commentary with an actual quote from the report, followed by a summation of his own:

“‘The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in business’ demand for labor, so it will appear almost entirely as a reduction in labor force participation and in hours worked relative to what have occurred otherwise rather than as an increase in unemployment (that is, more workers seeking, but not finding jobs) or underemployment (such as part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week).’

The CBO report actually says that the impact of the ACA will be ‘almost entirely’ due to a decline in labor that ‘workers choose to supply.’ It says explicitly that the ACA’s impact will not be felt as an ‘increase in unemployment’ or ‘underemployment.’”

Useful and necessary as Sargent’s correction is, I’ll  add an interpretation of mine, based on my own experience working in the freelance economy since 2009. That’s when a corporate publishing layoff cost me a full-time job, and my family what had been our employer-based health insurance. For five years–until this month, when we could finally get affordable coverage under the new law–the cost of private health insurance premiums has been an onerous burden on our household economy.

I interpret the CBO forecast as pointing to the likelihood that in future there will be fewer Americans working full-time jobs at major corporations with health insurance attached, as was our national norm in the 20th century. This was an American anomaly, not an historical inevitability, one of those times when our vaunted “exceptionalism” didn’t serve the national interest. This benefit offered people security, but only if you had a full-time job. It also shackled people to jobs they might not have otherwise continued working at. I anticipate that with health insurance reform, many more people will be able to be self-employed while finally enjoying reliable and affordable coverage. The CBO report suggests my hope could become reality.

Since President Obama’s election in 2008, when health insurance reform came back on the national agenda for the first time since the Clinton years, I’ve hoped that reform might unleash many enterprising solo and small shop operators. No longer tethered to corporate jobs, people would be able to take reasonable risk to start a business on their own or with a couple partners, confident that even if their new idea fails, they won’t have to spend down their security to keep themselves from being exposed to the truly terrible risk of illness without insurance. With many more people working for their dreams, we could become to a greater extent, a nation of entrepreneurs, business-builders, and job creators. This is something that pro-market conservatives always tout, so they ought to cheer for health reform that unleashes a new era of entrepreneurial energy.

I miss certain aspects of big-company employment, and continue to apply for full-time jobs as appropriate, and might be glad to take one, but my larger preference is that the economy just begin to grow again with many millions of flowers blooming.  I will add that if the country had not been forced to endure unwarranted austerity through Republican obstructionism the past five years, the editorial & publishing services consultancy I started in 2009 would’ve grown much faster. As to the CBO’s point that people will choose to work fewer hours, I see nothing wrong with people spending more time with their families, traveling, and enjoying new recreational pursuits. With so many of us having suffered financial pain since 2008 it would be economic justice indeed if by 2024 we’re all doing so well that people can work less while enjoying it more.

No Comments »

November 28th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Media, Blogging, Internet; Publishing & Bookselling

A Republican in Exile–Why FOX News Doesn’t Book Bruce Bartlett Anymore

Bruce Bartlett is a longtime economic conservative who worked for Republican officeholders going back to the first Reagan administration. He even worked in the company of Jude Wanniski, basically the originator of supply-side economics. He was, as is said, “present at the creation”–in this case of modern conservatism.

Beginning soon after George W. Bush’s re-election it became apparent if you knew Bartlett from earlier in his career that he was increasingly uncomfortable with Republican orthodoxy. For Bartlett, it arose specifically over Bush policies, especially the reckless spending he committed the country to, as in the 2006 Medicare drug bill. Bartlett voiced his opposition prominently in conservative media, and as he tells it in an important chronicle published Tuesday in the American Conservative, it got him called on the carpet at think tanks he’d written for and worked at, and dismissed more than once over the past several years. The ire directed toward him by true believers made things more difficult for him financially.

One nugget that’s gotten play in the media today is Bartlett’s contention that when he published the book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (2006), bigwigs at FOX let it be known inside the network that he was not to be booked on any of their programs. Greg Sargent reported on this today in Plum Line.  Sargent spoke with Bartlett’s then-publicist at Doubleday, Nicole Dewey, who explained that

“She . . . tried extensively to get him booked on FOX to discuss the book — to no avail. ‘It was surprising to me that no one would book him,’ Dewey told [Sargent]. ‘He had been a regular on Fox News prior to that. He had been interviewed on any number of Fox News shows before that.’ Once Bartlett published the book, Dewey confirms, ‘I was pitching him directly to probably most of the shows that were on Fox at that point. No one would book him.’ A Fox spokesperson didn’t immediately return an email for comment. Asked directly about Bartlett’s claim that she’d been told that ‘orders had come down from on high’ that the book was to receive ‘no publicity whatsoever,’ Dewey said she didn’t remember precisely what reason she was given by Fox for not booking Bartlett for any appearances—it was six years ago. But she said Bartlett’s description of events ‘rings true to me. My general sense was that they didn’t like the message of the book,’ Dewey said. ‘Bruce’s recollection of events sounds exactly like what happened.’”

In the hours since Sargent posted his interview with Nicole Dewey, there’s been a little pushback from FOX and the Wall St. Journal (updates that Sargent has appended to his blog post) where Bartlett thought he had also been shut out. However, an editor there, Gerald Seib, denied this after seeing Bartlett’s article. Bartlett concedes in an update to his piece that he may have been wrong about the Journal, but contends his main point about FOX remains true.*

I love that Sargent sought out the publicist, Dewey (who now works at Little, Brown), and am glad for my industry that one of our professionals had first-hand knowledge and was available to be consulted about a matter where current events and publishing coincide so intimately in an important news item.

The title of Bartlett’s article “Revenge of the Reality-Based Community–My life on the Republican right—and how I saw it all go wrong“, is a nod to Ron Suskind’s pivotal 2004 NY Times Magazine story, “Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” Bartlett was quoted in Suskind’s story, after which he was “chewed out” by his boss. As important as Suskind’s article became in understanding the Bush administration’s divorce from reality, I think Bartlett’s will be judged equally important in understanding how life for many longtime Republicans has become untenable for them within their own party. Bartlett’s is piece is also a helluva read, kind of suspenseful and dramatic, with a lot of the author’s own self in it. I think this piece should be in all the round-ups of longform stories this week–even for the year 2012–whether longreads.com, longform.org, or the Daily Beast’s weekly round-up of imperative reads in narrative journalism. In fact, I think I’ll share this post with Lucas Wittmann, Books Editor at the Beast, and recommend Bartlett’s piece to him.

Disclosure: I am a Facebook friend of Bruce Bartlett (he’s got about 3,500 friends). We’ve never met or spoken.

*Update: David Frum, also the target of right-wing ostracism, vouches for publicist Nicole Dewey in a brief Daily Beast piece:
“I know Nicole Dewey, the source quoted by Greg Sargent in the piece linked, and she is indeed one of the best of the best in the business.”

No Comments »

September 21st, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet

Why Mitt’s Tax Summary Doesn’t Cut the Mustard

The Obama campaign views Mitt’s 2011 tax return, and the summary of returns from 1990-2009–released late this afternoon–quite skeptically. That’s no surprise, of course.  But, by providing only a summary for the bulk of years included, with a total average about what tax rate he paid over those 20 years–the Romney camp claims 20.20%–we can’t  determine how the number was arrived at. As Greg Sargent points on the Plum Line,

“The way [the Romney Camp did it] obscures the fact that [his] income may have fluctuated quite markedly from year to year. If Romney paid his lowest rates in a number of the higher income years, the overall 20 percent figure would overstate the rate he actually paid over the whole period. [Roberton] Williams, [a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center], provided the following purely hypothetical example:

‘Let’s say you have 10 years in which you paid 13 percent in taxes, and 10 years in which you paid 27 percent. . . . If you average those rates, you’ll get an overall rate of 20 percent. But if the 13 percent years were high income years, and the 27 percent years were low income years, then his total taxes paid as a share of total income over the 20 years would be less, perhaps significantly less, than 20 percent.’ 

Yet in that scenario, the Romney campaign would be claiming, by its chosen metric, to have paid 20 percent. How realistic is it that Romney could have had far higher income some years than others?

‘You can be a person like Romney and have a highly fluctuating income year to year,’ Williams said. ‘Some years Romney’s income could be much lower than in other years. When you average just the rates, you can distort the rate you’ve paid relative to your income over the whole period.’

Williams concluded: ‘The only way we can know for sure what rate he actually paid is to see what his tax payment and his income was for each of the 20 years.’”

With that truth for context, I suggest the Obama campaign’s statement packs a potent punch, one that DEMs and the media ought to ask on the Romney tax issue (italics added are mine):

“Today’s release of Mitt Romney’s 2011 tax returns confirms what we already knew – that people like Mitt Romney pay a lower tax rate than many middle class families because of a set of complex loopholes and tax shelters only available to those at the top. Yet, Mitt Romney still wants to give multi-millionaires an additional $250,000 tax cut at the expense of middle class taxpayers who will see their taxes go up. While the tax return for the one year released today continues to mask Romney’s true wealth and income from Bain Capital, leaving the American people in the dark about critical details about his finances, it does confirm that he continues to profit from millions of dollars invested overseas. These types of investments, the use of tax loopholes, and the resort to foreign blocker corporations enabling him to reduce his U.S. tax obligations, all raise basic and still unanswered question – why does Mitt Romney not just release the full returns, instead of the bare summary he has provided of the last 20 years, so voters can make their own judgments about Mitt Romney’s finances? As Mitt Romney’s father said, candidates should release several years of returns, because one year could be a fluke. President Obama, Vice President Biden and nearly every other candidate in recent memory has met that test, but Mitt Romney continues to fail it.”

No Comments »

August 11th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

5 Key Analyses of Mitt’s VP Pick

I’m sure there will be lots more important columns to read as the process of vetting Paul Ryan moves forward, but this is where I recommend we begin. Dear readers, if you have faves of your own, please let me know what they are.

1) Greg Sargent’s take at the Plum Line on Mitt’s choice to double down on economic radicalism; 

2) Benjy Sarlin’s TPM piece, Democrats Can’t Wait to Run Against Paul Ryan’s Budget;

3) Also at TPM, Evan McMorris-Santoro reports that (incredibly, but typically and absurdly) Mitt’s already trying to distance himself from the Ryan Budget;

4) At the WonkBlog, Ezra Klein writes about what he believes the Ryan pick means, with a helpful 10 point list;

5) At NY magazine, Jonathan Chait explains It’s Paul Ryan’s Party: With Romney VP Pick, Movement Conservatives Openly Control GOP At Last.

No Comments »

July 8th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet

Tax Fairness High on the President’s List & a Video on Mitt’s Offshore Accounts

Greg Sargent is reporting in his Morning Round-up on the Plum Line that President Obama will today reiterate his intention to end the Bush-era tax cuts on affluent people making more than $250,000 annually. To be precise, the reversion to higher rates, those that prevailed in the 90s when the economy did much better than in the 2000s, would actually apply only to that portion of their income above $250K, not on the amount below it. This fact won’t quell the outcry from the right-wing who are already claiming it’s a tax hike on small businesses, but that’s just rhetoric. As Sargent explains, the key point of tax fairness is one that the president will be campaigning on through the fall, offering potent contrast with Mitt Romney’s stated policies, and to Mitt’s own taxes. The Obama campaign will also use the issue to highlight the Republican candidate’s stunning lack of transparency about his finances, and the rate at which he pays taxes.

In this same vein, be sure to read Paul Krugman’s column today, Mitt’s Gray Areas, where as Sargent observes,

“Romney’s refusal to be transparent about his own finances suggests he doesn’t want to reveal the extent to which he would personally benefit from the policies he’s advocating, because so doing would be deeply damaging.”

Meantime, on my tumblr I’ve posted a new video from the Obama campaign, asking key questions about Mitt Romney’s offshore investments, including Sankaty High Yield Assets, the fund he transferred to his wife in 2003, the day before he was sworn in as MA governor. For convenience, the video is also right here. Share it around if you like, as Mitt’s offshore holdings bear a lot more scrutiny. Clearly, the Obama campaign is hoping that the media will continue reporting on Mitt’s opaque finances, with many unanswered questions about his investments and holdings.

 

No Comments »

January 18th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet

The Anvil Drops On Mitt

According to Greg Sargent’s Plum Line, ABC  News’s Brian Ross has the goods on Mitt Romney’s offshore holdings–it has seemed for weeks to many observers including me in posts here and here–that his willingness to get pounded over the refusal to release his tax returns might be explained by the presence of parts of his personal fortune nested in foreign entities, money beyond the reach of taxation, which prevents the American treasury from getting a fair share of money earned here. Turns out, we were all right all along. From ABC, via Sargent:

“Romney has used a variety of techniques to help minimize the taxes on his estimated $250 million fortune. In addition to paying the lower tax rate on his investment income, Romney has as much as $8 million invested in at least 12 funds listed on a Cayman Islands registry. Another investment, which Romney reports as being worth between $5 million and $25 million, shows up on securities records as having been domiciled in the Caymans. Official documents reviewed by ABC News show that Bain Capital, the private equity partnership Romney once ran, has set up some 138 secretive offshore funds in the Caymans.”

Sargent concludes in this analysis he must have done on the hop, as Ross’s story was breaking for the 6:30 news:

“Take special note of the quote that one expert gave to ABC: “His personal finances are a poster child of what’s wrong with the American tax system.” As I noted earlier, this is very dicey for Romney. Dems want to paint Romney as the walking embodiment of everything that’s unfair about our tax system and of all the ways the system is rigged on behalf of the rich and against the middle class. This won’t hurt that case. One wonders if these revelations — combined with the layoffs at Bain; Romney’s tax rate; the fact that his tax plan would give the very wealthy enormous tax cuts while raising taxes marginally on lower income people; and his penchant for saying things that perfectly feed the “one percent” storyline — will generate any concerns among Romney’s top backers about his electability.”
With Gingrich supposedly surging as we get near the SC primary Saturday, and another debate tomorrow night, if Newt comes on strong and finishes close, or wins–and if Rick Santorum is finally certified the actual winner of the Iowa caucuses, a call that still has yet to be made official, swiping Mitt’s claim to be “the first blah-blah in history to win both blah-blahs in Iowa and New Hampshire–Romney may yet end up in a real battle for the nomination. His electability will ultimately come into question, if Newt keeps pounding him on it, and if more shoes keep dropping.
If so, much of the country will be riveted, with moderate voters and many independents appalled at Romney’s opportunism in feathering his own economic nest all these years, to the dereliction of the country. That’s not patriotic, will be one message from the Obama campaign as the campaign stretches on.  So if the Republican also-rans s drag it out for another 2-4 weeks at least, and the drip-drip of information continues landing on Mitt’s squared-off brow, he will be more and more of a hobbled general election candidate. If he does still prevail, he’s going to be damaged goods by the time just the primary is over, leave alone what the Obama campaign will do once the primary’s settled. If he doesn’t prevail and it’s Newt, that will be a disaster for the right-wing too, as the Republican id roams the land unleashed for nine months.

No Comments »

January 2nd, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet

Greg Sargent Nails the GOP Plan to Unseat Pres. Obama

I met political commentator and analyst Greg Sargent in 2003, around the time I was working with Ambassador Joseph Wilson on his book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity. Greg was then a reporter and media critic for one of my favorite websites, talkingpointsmemo.com (TPM). He later moved on to create a blog called the Plum Line at washingtonpost.com, absolutely one of the best things at the Post. I’ve always found his analysis penetrating and clear, and his first post this morning, “The GOP’s Game Plan to End Obama’s Presidency,” nails why I find the Repub game plan for 2012 so diabolical.

I mean, the Bush administration failed to thwart a preventable terrorist attack on my city and our capitol, capitalized on that event to polarize the country into a needless foreign war, then cavalierly depleted our national treasury to the point that the middle class can barely hang on to what they’ve got. Amid the worst recession in seventy years mass layoffs occurred in many industries, including my own and I lost my job. At that desperate point, the keys to the national mansion were handed to a Democrat who promised to try and do things differently. After handing this new president the foulest bag of excrement ever, Repubs then set out to delay, deflect, destroy, and sabotage his agenda, not bothering with the merits of an initiative, even ones they’d earlier supported, doing their utmost to prevent that agenda from being implemented. It was shameless, and appalling for its clear disregard of the national interest, one that the media failed to accurately label, with rare exceptions.

Now, according to Sargent’s cogent analysis, those same Repubs plan to channel the electorate into blaming President Obama for supposedly falling short of what he’d pledged to accomplish–and which a clear majority of the country was, and may well still be, eager for him to achieve. Apart from the transparent sabotage of the president and the economy that’s been the undeniable plan of the Repubs, it was never likely that Barack Obama could in four years repair what had been in broken over the previous eight years. This among many reasons is why I will work for the president to give him, and the country, the second term he needs to really do the job. Meantime, I’ll be reading Greg Sargent for lucid analysis of the shifting political tides. Thank you, Greg!