taxes

Asymetrically Expected

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 6, "An Aroma Sweet, a Heart Bitter...".

Steve Benen brings both setup and punch line, which is what it is, and he is certainly fine talent―

Republican voters opposed bombing the Assad regime in Syria, until Donald Trump took office, at which point they changed their mind. GOP voters thought the American economy was awful, until a Republican became president, at which point they suddenly reversed course.

And Gallup reported late last week that Republican voters had deeply negative attitudes about the current U.S. tax system, right before they changed their minds in early 2017.

―but come on, Republicans are making it too easy. Or perhaps this is part of their faustian bargain, that such simplicity, daring to be stranger than fiction in a distinctive context akin to denigrating parody and pantomime, is the price of their desires. To say this is how Republicans or conservatives behave—to predict or expect such simplistic behavior—merely for the basis of political affiliation ought to be some manner of offensive stereotype.

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The Donald Trump Show (Telltale Taxes)

Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], 6 March 2014, at National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This is one of those things that has just been bugging me, even though it’s kind of moot. Well, okay, work with me, here. Let us, first, rewind.

It was arguably one of the most important moments of this week’s presidential debate. Hillary Clinton was speculating about why Donald Trump would choose to be the first modern American presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns. “Maybe,” she said, “he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Unprompted, Trump interrupted to say, “That makes me smart.”

A Washington Post reporter, watching the debate with undecided voters in North Carolina, noted there were “gasps” in the room after the exchange. “That’s offensive. I pay taxes,” one said. “Another person would be in jail for that,” another voter added.

Steve Benen’s telling of the tale is not unfamiliar; indeed, his formulation of the moment is not unique, because it reads a little better that way, like a one-two. But it is also inaccurate, as is any telling in which Hillary Clinton sets up Donald Trump by saying, “Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Hillary Clinton did say that. And as part of the setup. But this telling gives Donald Trump a bit of wiggle room, which Benen, in turn, aims to debunk:

Perhaps now would be a good time to note that “That makes me smart” and “That would make me smart” are not the same sentences.

Indeed, let’s also not forget that in the same debate, Trump talked about how the government doesn’t have the necessary resources for public needs. “Maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years,” Clinton interjected. Trump fired back, “It would be squandered, too.”

As we discussed the other day, the comment was striking because of its apparent acceptance of the underlying premise. By saying his tax money would have been “squandered,” Trump seemed to be conceding that Clinton’s argument was correct: he hasn’t paid taxes.

That analysis responds to Donald Trump’s appearance on FOX News two days after the debate:

O’REILLY: Okay. And those of us in Manhattan know that’s true. Now, they are going to come after you, they being the Clinton campaign, on the statement that you made that you were as smart for paying as few taxes as you could possibly pay. You know it’s going to be in the next debate, it’s going to be on campaign ads. Do you have any defense for that right now?

TRUMP: No. I didn’t say that. What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, well, that would make me very smart.

O’REILLY: Right.

Right there, you see Donald Trump lying and Bill O’Reilly helping him: “I didn’t say that”, Donald Trump explained of saying he was smart to not pay taxes. “What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, well, that would make me very smart.” And this is what Benen picked out, and he is exactly correct insofar as the point goes: “Perhaps now would be a good time to note that ‘That makes me smart’ and ‘That would make me smart’ are not the same sentences.”

O’Reilly teed the point up again:

O’REILLY: All right. I’m Hillary Clinton in the next debate. And I say to you what she said yesterday in North Carolina. Hey, if is he not going to pay any taxes and he thinks that’s smart, what does that make us? We pay taxes. Are we stupid? How are you going to answer that?

TRUMP: Well, first of all―first of all, I never said I didn’t pay taxes. She said maybe you didn’t pay taxes and I said well, that would make me smart because tax is a big payment. But I think a lot of people say that’s the kind of thinking that I want running this nation.

O’REILLY: Okay.

Note they are using the same narrative Benen did. So, here’s the thing about stylistics and narrative: Sometimes tailoring for the punch actually weakens the narrative. And this time, the tailoring hands Donald Trump his talking point.

What Hillary Clinton actually said, and how Donald Trump actually responded:

CLINTON: Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

(Washington Post)

The thing is that Hillary Clinton really did say, “maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes”. And then she said, “because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax”. And that is when Donald Trump said, “That makes me smart.”

Telling the story the way Steve Benen and Donald Trump alike tell it overlooks a specific point: Certes, there is a difference ‘twixt, “That makes me smart” and, “That would make me smart”. But what did Donald Trump actually respond to?

CLINTON: … the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

In this telling, Donald Trump doesn’t get to rely on “maybe”. He acknowledged Secretary Clinton’s argument. Despite his protestations and Mr. O’Reilly’s agreement, Donald Trump really did say paying no federal income tax makes him smart.

And while the latest absurd chapter illuminated by the New York Times pretty much renders last week’s maybe moot it still seems worth pointing out.

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Image note: Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], 6 March 2014, at National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Barstow, David, et al. “Donald Trump Tax Records Show He Could Have Avoided Taxes for Nearly Two Decades, The Times Found”. The New York Times. 1 October 2016.

Benen, Steve. “Has Donald Trump paid federal taxes or not?”. msnbc. 29 September 2016.

Blake, Aaron. “The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate transcript, annotated”. The Washington Post. 26 September 2016.

O’Reilly, Bill. “Interview with Donald Trump”. The O’Reilly Factor. Transcript. FOX News. 28 September 2016.

A Reflection on History, Standards, and the Establishment

Detail of cartoon by Matt Bors, via Daily Kos, 23 March 2016.

“Hillary Clinton is indeed, as her critics claim, part of the “the establishment.” Like all women of lofty ambition, she is keenly and woefully aware that in 2016, less than a century out from women’s suffrage, pioneering into a space formerly only occupied by men requires an acceptance that gender constrains one to work within the system, rather than from outside of it.”

Katie Massa Kennedy

Two generally grim thoughts arise and insist:

• The nagging feeling that my fellow liberals are about to blow our best opportunity in generations, and seemingly because the GOP has decided to run dangerously out on a limb, and we want a little bit of that spectacle for ourselves.

• The nagging feeling that it isn’t blindness toward history driving the liberal need to endanger this chance, but, rather, the proposition that some will do anything to keep a woman out of the White House.

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The Mike Huckabee Show (Republican Virtue)

Mike Huckabee: "I trust @BernieSanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador! #DemDebate" (13 October 2015, via Twitter)

In truth, given the terrible rhetoric earning Ben Carson rewards, why wouldn’t Mike Huckabee, go out of his way to throw down a racist jab that only invites reminders about the time his son sadistically killed a dog.

This is Mike Huckabee, after all.

And this is your 2016 Republican presidential clown car.

Oh, right. That. You’re going to love the follow-up.

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Image note: Composite ― Detail of photo by Charlie Niebergall/AP; tweet by Mike Huckabee, 13 October 2015.

Huckabee, Mike. “I trust Bernie Sanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with a labrador!” Twitter. 13 October 2015.

Lavender, Paige. “Mike Huckabee Got Pretty Racist While Live-Tweeting The Dem Debate”. The Huffington Post. 13 October 2015.

The Rand Paul Show (Chainsaw, Chuckle, and Sigh)

'Now why was that?'

This is … well, okay, we might suggest this is interesting, but only the way an obvious joke might be when it occurs that you haven’t yet recognized it. A brief chuckle, then a sigh.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) released an intense new video on Tuesday where he appears to be literally destroying the US tax code.

Paul has made tax reform central to his presidential campaign. To draw attention to his plan, Paul is asking his supporters to vote how they want to see him shred the current tax system.

The options for his supporters are: chainsaw, fire, and wood chipper.

(Campbell)

2016 GOP presidential nomination campaign advert showing Sen. Rand Paul using a chainsaw to destroy the tax code.  The junior Republican senator from Kentucky is asking fans to vote for how he should destroy the tax code, by fire, chainsaw, or wood chipper.  (21 July 2015)There really isn’t much to add. After all, it’s Rand Paul doing something stupid to beg for everyone’s attention while he reminds us how much he hates taxes. Maybe next time he could try being a bit more original. Like, you know, having a point. Or being something other than a predictably petulant brat. I mean, he could try being intelligent for once, perhaps … if, you know, that isn’t asking too much of the man.

Or, you know, perhaps that’s not fair. In the reality television show known as the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination Super Fun Happy Patriot Time Show … er … ah … yeah, we’ll work on that title. That is to say, this year spectacular is the new black.

Goddess grant, that sounds even worse than usual. You know, can we finally be done with assertions of the new black? I mean, black is black is black, and the only reason orange, or pink and silver with brown, or whatever the season demands, must necessarily be the new black is because we can’t be bothered to think of anything more intelligent to say.

To wit, the point being that the theme of this year’s Republican nomination contest would seem to have something to do with necessary sensationalism. It’s kind of an open thesis right now, observing the question of candidates playing to national polls instead of early state voters, and also the fact that Donald Trump is in the race and pretty much basking the overwhelming chatter and noise drowning out his competitors. Some might wonder about the dignity and assertion of presidential demeanor about publicity stunts involving maniacal wielding of chainsaws, but this is also the 2016 Republican presidential nomination contest. Spectacle is the rule of thumb, and watch the candidates pander for attention. In a way, Rand Paul chainsawing the tax code makes perfect sense. Nor is that a justification; Republicans did this to themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Rand Paul Show.

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Image notes: Top ― “Now, why was it?” Mamimi loses her train of thought. (FLCL, episode 1, “Fooly Cooly”) Right ― Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wields a chainsaw for a campaign advertisement, 21 July 2015.

Campbell, Colin. “Watch Rand Paul literally shred the US tax code with a chainsaw”. Business Insider. 21 July 2015.

The Bobby Jindal Show (Fake Super Funtime Sneak Pak Preview Peek Pass)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) speaks at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, 6 October 2014. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

This takes a bit of work. Just a little, but, you know, still. Sorry. The hard part is trying to wrap your head around the idea that this is somehow real. Let us then start earlier this week. Jordan Weissmann of Slate picks up the tale:

While Kansas has become a strictly tragic cautionary tale about what happens when a politician actually tries to govern in line with radical conservative tax dogma, Louisiana is turning into more of a dark comedy. Coming into this year, the state was facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall. Unfortunately, Gov. Bobby Jindal—America’s spirit of hopeless presidential ambition incarnate—had signed Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise any taxes. This left lawmakers in a bit of a bind, since cutting their way to fiscal health would have meant decimating public health or higher education funding.

Last week, however, legislators ultimately passed a budget that raised hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue, sparing hospitals and colleges. Better yet, Jindal says he’ll sign it. So, how’d they square this circle?

With a mind-numbing budget gimmick, of course ....

.... Jindal created a fake fee for students, and a fake tax credit to balance it out, which ultimately leads to no money changing hands, but apparently satisfies whatever agreement Jindal struck with Norquist to preserve the illusion that he didn’t raise taxes. “It’s an embarrassing bill to vote for,” one Republican state representative told the New York Times, demonstrating the sort of candor that only becomes possible once your own party’s governor has alienated the vast majority of his state and abandoned all pretense of rational policymaking in pursuit of an inevitable also-ran performance in the GOP primary.

It really is futility. The Hopeless Clown has yet to officially jump into the race, but it has been clear to many that his mind isn’t on his work as Pelican State executive. When last we checked behind the scenes of the Bobby Jindal Show, the governor was posing for the national stage, hoping to enact a high profile bill by executive order after the legislature said no.

But wait … there’s more!

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The Shadow Over Kansas

The Capitol of Kansas, in Topeka.

Kansas will face a $279 million budget shortfall by July, far worse than state officials had thought before a new revenue forecast Monday that will force Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators to consider spending cuts.

Associated Press

The news only gets worse from there, you know.

Look, we are an American community.

Quick, someone tell the folks in Kansas. Wait, what’s that? They don’t care?

I realize Brownback has an “R” after his name, but the fact that Kansans actually re-elected this guy, despite the option of a credible and experienced challenger, and despite the disaster of his signature issue, is kind of amazing.

Of course, let’s not forget Art Laffer, the Republican economist who helped shape Brownback’s plan, who’s perhaps best known for his “Laffer Curve” which says tax cuts can pay for themselves. He, of course, feels vindicated, not because the Kansas plan is failing, but because Brownback won re-election regardless of his performance.

(Benen)

In this photo taken Sept. 6, 2014, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback speaks in Hutchinson, Kansas. The writing is on the wall for gay marriage bans in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina after federal appeals courts that oversee those states have made clear that keeping gay and lesbian couples from marrying is unconstitutional. But officials in the three states are refusing to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses without a court order directing them to do so. It could be another month or more before the matter is settled. In a political campaign debate Monday, Brownback vowed to defend his state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. A federal court hearing is scheduled for Friday.(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)As tempting as it might seem to rub our hands in curious satisfaction and chuckle deep in our throats like supervillains about to watch mindless, ant-like humanity destroy itself, the simple fact is that we’re Americans, not supervillains. And what Kansans are doing to themselves ought to be their own business, except, like masturbation, it becomes a problem when you visit your kinks on other people who don’t want anything to do with the mess you’re making.

And that’s the thing. Not every Kansan stays in Kansas, and the longer this goes on the more and more noticeable it will be when the young generation shows up in other states, with less education, and suffers in the job market. That is to say, even if we find some justification to say we’re just fine with the Sunflower State willfully squandering the futures of its youngest generation, everybody else is going to have to take up the slack.

We can’t just build a border fence and pen them in. That’s just not what Americans do.

But at the same time, these are the United States of America, after all. If general decency is insufficient, then think of the inconvenience this sort of thing might cause you in a future not so distant.

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Associated Press. “Kansas faces $279 million budget shortfall by summer”. KSN. 10 November 2014.

Benen, Steve. “Brownback’s economic failures start to look even worse”. msnbc. 11 November 2014.