Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Socialism Scare

Recently, the right wing has seized on Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) admission that he wants to "spread the wealth around" as evidence that his tax policies are somehow socialist, communist, or Marxist. Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) compared Obama's policies to those of Cuba, saying, "Where I come from, where I was raised, they tried wealth redistribution. We don't need that here, that's called Socialism, Communism, not Americanism." House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said, "You want to talk about socialism. You put these people in office, it's batten down the hatches and watch out." The media have also piled on, with WFTV Orlando's Barbara West asking Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) during an interview, "How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?" Fox News' Sean Hannity said Obama has "doubled down on socialism for America," while Bill O'Reilly admitted that he "wouldn't have said the Marxism thing" but that Obama nevertheless espouses "quasi-socialism." All of these conservatives, however, are distorting the Obama plan, which simply makes the American tax system slightly more progressive -- an idea that the American public solidly supports.

REPEALING THE TOP BUSH TAX CUTS: As the New Yorker noted, "[T]he principle that Obama evinced, which most economists would regard as unexceptionable, can be traced to Adam Smith," who wrote in "The Wealth of Nations," "It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion." Obama's plan is to repeal the Bush tax cuts on the top two federal income tax brackets, raising their rates to 36 percent and 39 percent and from 33 and 36 percent, respectively. This returns them to the levels that President Clinton had set. A new analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice found that only 2.5 percent of Americans would lose any of their Bush tax cuts under the Obama plan. Meanwhile, making all of Bush's cuts permanent, along with the corresponding alternative minimum tax relief, would cost $4.4 trillion by 2018. Research has shown that both private business investment and job growth were significantly stronger under Clinton's tax rates than under Bush's.

AMERICANS FAVOR PROGRESSIVE TAXATION: Ever since the federal income tax was enacted in 1913, it has been progressive; rates have increased proportionally with income. And the income tax is part of an overall tax system that is otherwise regressive. All working Americans pay the payroll tax, as well as various local and state sales and property taxes. Payroll taxes are quite regressive -- the highest earning 20 percent of Americans pay a lower average rate than the lowest earning 20 percent. Additionally, the public strongly favors the concept of progressive taxation: a Financial Times/Harris Poll found that 62 percent feel "the government should tax the wealthy more." A Pew Research Poll released last week shows that the public "agrees with progressives' stance on taxation and rejects the conservative approach." Only 25 percent agree "with the centerpiece of the conservative tax program: making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent." Meanwhile, 37 percent want to repeal tax cuts for the wealthy while keeping the rest of the cuts, and 25 percent want to repeal all of the cuts.

CONSERVATIVE REVERSE SOCIALISM: Conservative economic plans also redistribute wealth, but to the wealthiest Americans in the form of tax cuts that benefit corporations and those in the top income brackets. Yesterday, Boehner unveiled his own economic recovery plan, which is focused on tax breaks that include cutting the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and suspending the capital gains tax for two years. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) proposed a similar "six point economic plan" this month, in which he advocated completely eliminating the capital gains tax and making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent. Some of these provisions are also embraced by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and they are all propositions from which the overwhelming benefit would go to the very wealthy. As the Tax Policy Center found, 75 percent of the benefit of low taxes on capital gains and dividends "already go to those making $600,000 or more. Half goes to those making $2.8 million or more." Simply cutting the capital gains rate in half gives two-thirds of the benefit to those making $1 million or more. Meanwhile, cutting the corporate tax rate sends $175 billion to America's corporations, and these corporations would have no incentive to reinvest the extra money. As a report by the Center for American Progress found, "economic policies with tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy as their centerpiece have simply failed to produce strong economic growth by a variety of measures," including employment, investment, and wage levels.


TERRORISM -- ROBERT KAGAN DISMISSES EVIDENCE OF BUSH'S IRAQ LIES AS 'CONSPIRACY THEORIES': Leading neoconservative scholar and former Reagan administration official Robert Kagan in a recent interview with Der Spiegel dismissed concerns that the Bush administration had misled the American public in the lead-up to the Iraq war as "silly" and "absurd." The newspaper asked whether it was possible to deny "that the war was based on manipulation exaggeration and flat-out lies." Kagan replied that such an assertion was "absurd" and repeated the right-wing talking point that President Bush used the same intelligence as the Europeans. "I think it's about time we moved beyond this silly conversation and these absurd conspiracy theories," Kagan insisted. It's no longer a matter of dispute that the Bush administration manipulated, exaggerated, and lied about the true nature of the threat Saddam Hussein posed. As the Wonk Room's Matt Duss points out, it's irrelevant that other countries shared the same intelligence; the important point is that "the German government and the French government didn't spin that intelligence into a justification" for the Iraq war.

ENVIRONMENT -- HERITAGE RESPONDS TO GREEN RECOVERY PLANS WITH FEAR-MONGERING: Earlier this week, Heritage Foundation blogger Nick Loris responded to the U.N. Environmental Program's Green Economy Initiative and the Center for American Progress's Green Recovery program with historical revisionism and a fear-mongering reference to "Nazi Germany." Loris wrote that the U.N. is proposing an "environmental 'New Deal,'" akin to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which Loris claims "made things worst" after the Great Depression. In fact, economists broadly agree that stimulative government spending is necessary to prevent a further collapse of the global economic system, just as the New Deal and the deficit spending of World War II revived the health of the global economy in the last century. The U.N. Green Economic Initiative is a mainstream capitalist effort, with research overseen by Pavan Sukdhev, a top investment banker and self-described "total capitalist." CAP's Green Recovery program primarily uses tax credits and federal loans to spur private investment, as well as investment in a 21st-century public infrastructure. Despite Loris's baseless claims that "taxing and spending does not create wealth," moving to a green economy will in fact generate more jobs and greater economic growth, as California's green economy has proven.

MEDIA -- FOX NEWS'S BRIT HUME CLAIMS HE IS 'A JOURNALIST FIRST AND A CONSERVATIVE SECOND OR THIRD': Soon after the election next Tuesday, Brit Hume, the Washington D.C. managing editor for Fox News, "will step down from the anchor desk and his long-running show, Special Report." Discussing his impending departure, Hume said yesterday that one of the reasons he is retiring is because the "whole general tone of politics in this country has turned so sour and so bitter and so partisan." At the same time, Hume decried increased partisanship, he defended Fox against claims that it is biased in favor of conservatives, saying that he and his colleagues constantly think about their "own biases." "I'm a journalist first and a conservative second or third," he claimed. But not everyone believes that Hume has successfully checked his biases. "Brit Hume injected his supposedly straight newscasts with an almost pathological conservative bent," Media Matters spokesman Karl Frisch told the Politico. In the past, Hume has said that Democrats "are kind of embarrassed by patriotism" and are "invested in our losing" in Iraq. He has also repeatedly pushed factually-challenged global warming skepticism.


Politico reports: "Two days after next week's election, top conservatives will gather at the Virginia weekend home of one of the movement’s most prominent members to begin a conversation about their role in the GOP and how best to revive" the party. The meeting will include a "who's who of conservative leaders."

Recently convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) "is asking the Justice Department to investigate the conduct of federal prosecutors" who prosecuted him. Stevens's attorney has requested an investigation into "numerous, serious constitutional violations" by government prosecutors, alleging that his trial was "irretrievably tainted by the prosecution team’s zeal to convict a high-profile but innocent defendant."

"After years of flooding Americans with credit card offers and sky-high credit lines, lenders are sharply curtailing both, just as an eroding economy squeezes consumers." The move "threatens an already beleaguered banking industry with another wave of heavy losses after an era in which it reaped near record gains from the business of easy credit that it helped create."

President Bush has transformed America's federal appeals courts, "advancing a conservative legal revolution that began nearly three decades ago under President Ronald Reagan." By Inauguration day, "Republican-appointed judges, most of them conservatives, are projected to make up about 62 percent of the bench" while controlling 10 of the 13 circuit courts. More »

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) returned to his Washington residence yesterday, after spending the last six months at his home on Cape Cod battling brain cancer. Kennedy's spokesperson "declined to speculate on when Kennedy might return to his full duties in the Senate," but his return is "a sign that his treatments have been progressing well."

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan now believe they need about 20,000 more troops to battle a growing Taliban insurgency, the Washington Post reports today. The recent troop requests reflect the struggles that the military is facing in the country, where overall attacks "are up about 25 percent from January to October this year, compared with the same period last year."

Afghans are increasingly pessimistic about their country, according to a new Asia Foundation poll. Only 36 percent believe they are "more prosperous today than under the 1996-2001 Taliban government," down from 54 percent in 2006.

"In a study conducted in Florida, researchers found that drugstores in the poorest areas charge more, on average, for four widely used prescription medications than do pharmacies in wealthier neighborhoods."

And finally: Happy Halloween from the White House, with special greetings from Barney, Miss Beazley, and Willie the cat.

CGI and its Impact on 160 Million Lives

Dear Hernan,

This year's Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a project of the Clinton Foundation, was our most successful to date. One thing was clear to all who attended: our work together has never been more important.

With mounting economic troubles exacerbating poverty levels around the world, health pandemics cutting lives short, education slipping out of reach for millions of children, and increasing temperatures threatening the future of our planet, action is needed more than ever. As President Clinton summarized, "We cannot afford to walk away from this work."

Members at CGI heeded this call, making more than 200 commitments this year alone, which will impact more than 160 million lives. The potential results of some of these commitments include:

* More than $400 million will be raised for investment and credit for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the developing world.
* $375 million will be raised to develop new vaccines and conduct medical research.
* 50 million people will have access to mobile financial services.
* 75 million people will have first-time access to health care or access to improved health care.
* 25 million children will have access to new or improved school feeding programs.
* 16 million children will participate in de-worming programs.
* The emission of 44 million metric tons of CO2 will be avoided.
* Enough clean energy will be created to power the equivalent of 7 million homes in the United States.
* Over 1 billion liters of safe drinking water will be distributed.

In the months to come, CGI will expand to new places and reach new people. On December 2nd and 3rd, the first in a series of CGI meetings outside of the United States will be held in Hong Kong. To learn more about CGI's meeting in Hong Kong, click here.

As always, you can join us by making your own commitment at We each have the power to transform words into action, and a responsibility to help make a positive change today.

Thank you,

Bruce R. Lindsey
Chief Executive Officer
William J. Clinton Foundation