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Oklahoma Tried the GOP’s Tax Plan. Now, It’s Electing Democrats

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Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine:

The backlash to the Republican tax agenda is already getting Democrats elected — in Oklahoma. On Tuesday night, 26-year-old mental-health counselor Allison Ikley-Freeman won election to the Sooner State’s Senate, in a district that backed Donald Trump by 40 points last November.

Ikley-Freeman did not win on the strength of her fundraising or political experience. She boasted little of the former and none of the latter. But like the three other Oklahoma Democrats who have evicted Republicans from state-house seats this year, Ikley-Freeman enjoyed one decisive advantage: She bore no responsibility for the regressive tax policies that had left the state in fiscal ruin.

Oklahoma was a low-tax state even before the 2010 GOP wave crashed over it. But tea-party Republican governor Mary Fallin and her conservative allies weren’t content with the low baseline they’d inherited. Like President Trump and congressional Republicans, Fallin believed that cutting taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses was the way to grow an economy, no matter what level those taxes were currently at, or how novel circumstances might change the government’s budgetary needs.

So, when global oil prices crashed in 2014, and took Oklahoma’s budget down with them, Fallin was unfazed. Faced with giant, annual revenue shortfalls, the governor didn’t just refuse to raise taxes — she cut them even further. Last year, the Sooner State found itself with a $1.3 billion budget gap — and Fallin responded by implementing a $147 million tax cut for Oklahoma’s highest earners, and preserving a $470 million tax break for oil companies that start new horizontal wells.

Instead of asking wealthy citizens and businesses to pay a bit more (or, in the former case, to pay as much as they had been previously), Fallin decided to strip resources from the state’s beleaguered public-school system. Between 2008 and 2015, Oklahoma had slashed its per-student education spending by 23.6 percent, more than any other state in the country. But Republicans felt there was still more fat to cut: While rich Sooners collected their tax breaks, Oklahoma schools suffered a 16.5 percent funding cut in the latter half of 2016. Many of the state’s school districts now make do with four-day weeks. Others struggle to find competent teachers, as the state’s refusal to pay competitive salaries has chased talented educators out of state or into other professions. Oklahoma’s health-care and criminal-justice systems are plagued by similarly draconian cuts. Bridges in the state are literally crumbling. Potholes litter roads.

But even this austerity has not been nearly enough to plug the state’s budget holes. Fallin and the GOP have become reliant on raiding emergency reserves to make up the rest. This has left Oklahoma profoundly vulnerable to the next recession. According to Moody’s Analytics, only three states are less prepared for a downturn, based on the gap between their actual reserves and what would be required to stay afloat.

This reliance on emergency, nonrecurring revenue sources has also ensured that the state will face a new budget crisis each and every year. In 2017, the shortfall came in at nearly $900 million, and Fallin lost her nerve. The governor has pushed for (largely regressive) tax increases to restore education funding. But the state requires a three-fourths majority to impose tax hikes, and there are more than enough tea-party zealots in the legislature to block any piece of progressive taxation.

This week, Republicans in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives passed an emergency budget bill in a special session. The legislation does increase taxes on oil production. But instead of raising taxes on the wealthy, or ending the state’s exemption for capital gains — as Oklahoma Democrats had proposed — Republicans opted to cut $60 million from state agencies, and drain another few million dollars from the state’s rainy-day funds.

Oklahoma’s overwhelmingly Republican voters do not like this idea. . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more, and it shows clearly that the Oklahoma GOP learned nothing from their northern neighbor’s disaster with lowering taxes. You’d think Huckabee’s policy failures in Kansas would have taught Oklahoma Republicans a lesson, but Republicans seem resistant to learning.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2017 at 12:14 pm

Sarah Silverman comments on Louie CK’s sexual offenses

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She describes how she feels about Louie CK and his actions, and I have much the same feelings about Al Franken: I like him and I think in the Senate he has done a good job, but what he did to the woman was very bad. He’s apologized to her (and called for an ethics investigation of himself), and she accepted his apology. But still he did it. And he admits it (unlike, say, Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and Donald Trump, but like Louie CK).

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 2:49 pm

Et tu, Sen. Franken?

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Bad news for Democrats, and I’m sure Al Franken may well have Democratic company: sexual harassment tends to come from big power imbalances between perpetrator and victim and strikes across party lines (e.g., Harvey Weinstein).

Regardless of party, it’s bad behavior and should be stopped. Powerful people need to examine their behavior.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Democrats, Law

Donna Brazile and the Latest Great Hillary Scandal

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Kevin Drum has a good analysis that suggests we should all calm down. (And it’s worth noting that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat and Hillary Clinton is, so it’s scarcely surprising that the Democratic National Committee would support the Democratic candidate.) Drum writes:

I’ve gotten lots of requests to comment on Donna Brazile’s “sensational,” “shocking,” “blockbuster” book excerpt in Politico yesterday. The reason I haven’t, to be honest, is that the more I dive into it the less sure I am what really happened. So let’s start with a short summary of what went down:

  • After 2012, President Obama basically left the Democratic National Committee broke.
  • Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the DNC chair, did little to address this. Also, pretty much everyone agrees she was a crappy chair for a variety of other reasons.
  • In mid-2015, Hillary Clinton set up a “joint fundraising agreement” with the DNC.
  • The gist of the JFA was that Clinton would raise tons of money by asking rich donors for roughly $350,000 each in both 2015 and 2016. This is way above normal contribution limits, but it was legal because it bundled together donations to Clinton, the DNC, and 33 state parties. Clinton’s campaign would then split up the money and send it to the appropriate places.
  • However, the money for the state parties was mostly routed immediately back to the DNC for things like building voter lists. That was the deal the states accepted when they signed onto the JFA. Depending on your outlook, this is either slightly shady or just a smart way for state parties to help finance things that will help them in the long run.
  • Although states didn’t get much actual cash from the JFA during primary season, they did get it during the general election. So states did pretty well in the end.
  • Bernie Sanders was also offered the opportunity to set up a JFA, but he decided to go the small-dollar route instead.

So far, there’s nothing new here. It was all reported long ago and litigated during the campaign. Whatever you thought about it back then, feel free to continue thinking. But then Brazile added one more thing: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2017 at 10:27 am

Posted in Democrats, Election

The Twitter thought experiment that exposes “pro-life” hypocrisy

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Paul Rosenberg interviews Patrick Tomlinson in Salon:

Last Monday, a tweetstorm eviscerating abortion foes went viral. Science fiction writer and comedian Patrick Tomlinson introduced it this way:

Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I’ve been asking for ten years now of the “Life begins at Conception” crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly.

The question is as follows: Would you save one 5-year-old child from a burning building, or save 1,000 embryos. The point: No one actually thinks that embryos are the same as living children. But an entire movement is based on lying about it, and using that lie to manipulate people, in order to control women like slaves.

You can see the whole tweetstorm at the link above, or at Crooks and Liars or Raw Story, which both republished it. It’s very straightforward, which is part of why it went viral so furiously. Naturally the obfuscation brigade came forward, with Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire leading the way. But he didn’t actually dispute Tomlinson’s main point. “Tomlinson is correct that we all have a moral instinct: to save the five-year-old,” he admitted, then going on to argue that it didn’t matter.

But it clearly does. If it were one 5-year-old vs. 1,000 actual babies, things would be different. “No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children,” Tomlinson wrote. “Those who claim to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women.”

If no anti-choicer could answer the question Tomlinson posed, they could still respond — with everything from death threats to a DDOS attack on his website. Which only proved his point: They can’t handle the truth. And they desperately need to protect the lie, as if their very lives depended on it.

If the tweetstorm was simple, its echoes and implications are not. They are as broad as the culture wars, and they go back centuries — if not millennia. I’ve written before about the book “Asymmetric Politics,” for example, but Tomlinson’s tweetstorm reveals a different, more basic sort of asymmetry than the one between “ideological Republicans” and “group interest Democrats.”

It’s an asymmetry between fanciful big lies and direct, concrete truths — the kinds people actually have to live and struggle with. The kinds that novelists have been writing about for centuries, that TV and movies and comics and more all deal with today, much to the consternation of traditional moralists, who have all the pre-packaged answers for us laid out on their Procrustean beds.

As a writer and comedian, Tomlinson seemed perfectly suited to shed more light — not just on the tweetstorm 10 years in the making, but on how its exposure of lies, hypocrisy and manipulation fits into a bigger picture. So I spoke with him last week. Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You say you’ve been putting this question out there for 10 years. How did you first come up with this hypothetical, and what were the first responses?

When I say I’ve been saying it for 10 years, I mean I’d say it to people over beers, in bars, in different contexts. So for 10 years in conversation, I’ve thrown this at people. A lot of folks online have been like, “Oh that’s just a modification of the trolley problem,” and yeah that’s true. But it’s also irrelevant. If you look at the trolley problem, it was probably called the cart problem back in the horse-drawn carriage days. Before that it was probably the rolling rocks problem. It’s a modification of something that I didn’t claim was my own.

I came up with it because I was sick to death of the irresponsible and frankly dishonest framing of the whole debate. I am not, as Ben Shapiro called me, a “pro-abortion fanatic,” which is complete nonsense. Nobody is pro-abortion. People are just pro-“Hey maybe since I don’t have a vagina, I shouldn’t really have a whole lot of say in what people do with theirs.” The framing of the debate from people who want to call themselves pro-life — I prefer anti-abortion, or anti-choice — they frame it as “you’re killing babies” or “you’re killing children.” ​T​hat kind of language absolutely suffuses the whole argument that comes from their side. And it’s completely false. It’s completely dishonest, and it’s intended only to emotionally manipulate the conversation.

I think we can have an honest debate, an​ ​honest​ conversation about abortion and its proper place in our society. But when you’ve got somebody calling everybody on the other side baby-killers, you’re not contributing to that honest debate. You are emotionally manipulating people, you’re trying to appeal to that paternal and ​m​aternal instinct that we’ve all got on some level, to protect kids, to protect children — because we all care about them — but it’s not appropriate to the situation. So that’s why I started saying that to ​people. Not to say, “Hey, you’re wrong to be against abortion. You’re wrong to be pro-life.” That’s not actually the point I’m trying to make. The point I’m trying to make is, you’re wrong to say these are children, because they aren’t, and you don’t even believe it.

It’s not just that I don’t believe they’re children, it’s that you don’t even believe what you’re saying. You’re just using this as a club to beat people who are standing up for the rights of women. That’s all. That’s all you’re doing. For 10 years, in one-on-one scenarios — which is the point I was trying to make in the tweets — when having one-on-one conversations with people, they never answer. Never. I never had somebody say, “Oh, I would save the 1,000 embryos and let the child burn to death.” No one’s ever said that. And no one will ever say that. Not when you’re looking at them. And I never had somebody say, “I would save the child,”​ because they know what they’re conceding by saying that.

They instead have always – again, I want to emphasize, when talking to someone one-on-one, not talking at​ 50,000 of Ben Shapiro’s followers on Twitter. When I’m talking to people in one-on-one conversations, they try to weasel out of answering. They’re like, “Oh, well, what if …” And I’m like, “No, no, no. Just answer my scenario. We’ll get to your scenario, but you have to give me an answer to mine first. Then we’ll worry about if it’s an elderly person in a wheelchair, or whatever the heck you want to do with it. Answer mine, and ​then we’ll deal with yours.”

They never want to do it. Because they would have to admit that ethically, morally and logically, we aren’t talking about children. We aren’t talking about babies. And it is dishonest for them to use that language as a weapon against people who are trying to stand up for the rights of women. That’s all I’m looking to get out of it. I’m not trying to say that they’re wrong for opposing abortion. I’m trying to say they’re wrong for saying that we’re murdering children.

Did you start off not knowing how anti-abortion folks would respond, or did you have a feeling from the beginning this would be a real conundrum for them?

I didn’t realize how much of a conundrum it would be for folks. I’ve asked it enough times that I know how much it flummoxes them. But when I brought it up on Twitter, it wasn’t because it was “Oh, this is going to earn me 7,000 followers” or, “This is going to help my book sales go through the roof.” I love people who accuse me of that whenever I have a tweet that goes kind of viral. It’s like, “Dude, if I knew which tweets were going to go viral, I would only write those tweets, wouldn’t I?” You can’t predict this stuff.

Anyway, the reason I put it up when I did was that the House has just passed that complete nonsense 20-week abortion ban. Which is so flagrantly unconstitutional. It’s just a complete waste of time. Everyone knows it’s going to get shot down; they’re just wasting time and trying to appeal to this base that they are just whipping into a frenzy, while ignoring the fact that they kind of elected a serial sexual predator to be president. The moral disconnect there makes me so angry.

I do some standup comedy, and I’ve told that in joke form in front of audiences a few times. Depending on the audience, it can go either way. Either people are really with that, or I lose the audience forever. But that’s down to me, my timing,​whether I read the audience right. That’s just comedy. So I didn’t expect it to blow up. I didn’t expected to be on Raw Story, I didn’t expect Ben Shapiro and Matt​ Walsh to write pissy articles about it the next day. I didn’t think any of these things was going to happen, and I wasn’t shooting for those things. I had something to say and I put it out there.

One reason this caught my attention is that I think this is a much broader problem than the abortion issue. There’s a lot of deceptive and manipulative framing from the right, and while there is something to be said for both sides having extremes that get carried away, it’s highly asymmetrical.

It’s very asymmetrical. The nature of the NFL protests, for example. All of a sudden Trump decides to bring that up, because oh, by the way, Robert Mueller keeps interviewing people closer and closer to his inner circle so let’s declare war on the NFL because we’re not winning any other battles. He brought that back up and then dishonestly refram​ed the whole thing as “They’re attacking our soldiers!” What the hell are you talking about? The entire protest had nothing to do with disrespecting the flag, it had nothing to do with saying our soldiers were whatever. It had nothing to do with that.

It was just Trump and the right co-opting the debate and the narrative away from black athletes who have influence and have a platform so they can talk about these things that impact their communities and their families in a way that white people in the NFL and white people in the Trump administration will never have to deal with.

So they’re like, “Gosh, how can we make this no longer be about the fact that black men are three and a half times more likely to be killed by police than white men? How can we get away from that conversation? Oh, I know: We’​ll say black athletes are attacking troops.” Which is a complete and utter lie — and was from the beginning. But it plays well to the NASCAR crowd. So, right. It is very asymmetric. There’s no similarity between how both sides are handling themselves on these issues.

The Weinstein thing is another example. You’ve got Harvey Weinstein finally, apparently, exposed as a sexual predator, and what does the left do? Well they started giving his donations back, or giving them to women’s groups. He got fired from his job. And everybody on the left condemned him. What did the right to when they found out that Donald Trump was irrefutably a sexual predator? They elected him president. So there’s nothing resembling equivalency here. Nothing. And I say that as someone who identifies as a classic conservative, by the way.

How would you define that, being a classic conservative? . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. One later question and answer:

As you say, no one’s ever answered the question, but you have gotten death threats. That’s a whole other level of asymmetry.
​The attacks are meant to silence and intimidate, in order to preserve the status quo of the conversation and the underlying power dynamic. The nominal right wing has long positioned itself as the true arbiter of absolute morality, patriotism, fiscal responsibility, respect for the troops, defenders of life, liberty, yada yada. It lets them set the parameters and tone of public debate.
Never mind that in literally every instance, their claims to ethical and moral authority are laughably false. “Conservatives” are responsible for installing a Russian traitor in the White House, exploding the deficit under Bush II (which Obama cut by a trillion dollars, with a T) and refusing funding for the VA to handle the surge in wounded veterans that resulted from their wars of choice. They have relentlessly attacked the gains we’ve made in health care coverage and the uninsured rate with the ACA, and on and on. 
But it’s not enough to point out their hypocrisy and their “do as I say, not as I do” approach to governance. The baseline assumption that they have the authority in the first place to decide ethical standards of public policy needs to be attacked. And when it is, hoo boy, do they get nervous.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 12:43 pm

Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier; conservatives’ heads explode en masse.

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2017 at 3:45 pm

House Democrats Push for Tougher Oversight of Regulators’ Conflicts of Interest

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Robert Faturechi reports in ProPublica:

A group of House Democrats introduced a bill on Wednesday that would require federal officials to disclose any potential conflicts of interest before they implement significant changes in U.S. regulations.

The lawmakers said the legislation is intended to alert the public if those involved in the decisions, including the president and his top advisers, would personally profit from revising or replacing the rules.

“President Trump ran and campaigned on this idea of draining the swamp,” said the bill’s author, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. “We see, in fact, he has filled the swamp with people who have deep business interests and may be using their positions in the government to advance their financial interests.”

Among those who would have to project how much they would personally benefit from any particular regulatory changes are members of the new deregulation teams Trump has installed at federal agencies. The groups are tasked with weakening or eliminating government rules found to be overly burdensome for businesses.

The Congress members cited a recent investigation by ProPublica and The New York Times revealing that members of these deregulation teams have deep industry ties and are reviewing regulations their previous employers sought to weaken or kill. Appointees include lawyers who represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political groups raising so-called dark money and employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules. At least four were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

Federal agencies have defended their deregulation teams, saying appointees are adhering to strict ethics rules and generally avoiding topics that would narrowly affect recent former employers. The Trump administration has said its deregulatory push is necessary because similar reviews of existing rules by past administrations were not rigorous enough.

Cicilline’s bill, co-sponsored by Reps. John Conyers, Raul Grijalva, Lloyd Doggett, Gerry Connolly and Peter DeFazio — all Democrats — would require “an assessment and quantification” of the conflicts of interest for any major regulatory action. The report would disclose any possible personal benefit for the president, his senior advisers and members of the deregulation teams, along with the heads of the agency issuing the rule, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Though ProPublica and the Times have identified nearly three dozen deregulation team members with potential conflicts, a full vetting of industry connections has been difficult because some agencies have declined to provide information about the appointees — in many cases, not even their names.

Cicilline was among a group of Congress members who wrote a letter to the White House in August calling on the administration to release the names of all deregulation team members as well as documents relating to their potential conflicts of interest.

He said they have received no response. “This sadly has become the practice of this administration to routinely ignore members of Congress. That’s very disturbing to me and other members,” Cicilline said.

The congressman does not yet have any Republican support for his legislation, which would be needed for it to pass. “One would hope that shining light on this would be a bipartisan issue,” Cicilline said. Members of the House Republican leadership didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

The deregulation teams are part of Trump’s push to cut red tape across government, and have created a new avenue of influence for industries trying to kill rules they say hurt profits, depress job creation and raise prices.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 1:09 pm

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