Tag Archives: Biden

The Stakes

I’ve always liked Joe Biden, but the descriptive words that come to mind when I think of him are words like “decency” and “competence.” He’s an essentially understated man; unlike with Obama, the word “eloquence” is not the first word that comes to mind in connection with him.

His speech this week on democracy, however, was nothing if not eloquent– and heartfelt. It was also an accurate and important reminder of where we are right now in this experiment we call America.

I’m linking to the transcript of that speech, and begging you to click through read it. Completely.


About That Loan Forgiveness…

President Biden has announced his college loan forgiveness program. Let the carping begin!

Critics scream that forgiveness takes money from the broader tax base, mostly made up of workers who did not go to college, to subsidize the debt of people with valuable degrees. Technically, I suppose that’s true–but it’s also true for the massive corporate subsidies and tax credits that the GOP loves.

What about Trump’s 2017 tax cut for millionaires? Or those oil company subsidies and multiple other subsidies for big companies that can afford to hire good lobbyists?  How about those lower tax rates for hedge fund managers (“carried interest deduction”)?What about tax provisions benefitting only the rich–for example, allowing 100% deductibility for yachts purchased for “business purposes,” and  100% of the future depreciation for private jets in their first year of service?

Where are the GOP howls of “unfairness” about those examples of “socialism?” (I forgot–in the good old U.S. of A., we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us…)

Republican lawmakers screaming the loudest about “unfairness” are the most hypocritical: Marjorie Taylor Greene  had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven; Vern Buchanan (Florida) had more than $2.3 million forgiven;  Markwayne Mullin (Oklahoma) had more than $1.4 million forgiven; Matt Gaetz (Pedophile) had $482,321 forgiven. The list goes on. And on.

It also turns out that not all beneficiaries of loan forgiveness have those valuable degrees. A lot of them just have the debt. Researchers tell us that the people who struggle the most to repay their loans “are less likely to be baristas with six figures in debt and a graduate degree than blue-collar workers who have a smaller amount of unpaid loans but never graduated college.”

As Biden said, that worker has the “worst of both worlds — debt and no degree.”

The loan forgiveness program is specifically targeted to borrowers making less than $125,000 annually–those Yale graduates pulling down big bucks on Wall Street won’t qualify.  The relief will go to middle and low-income borrowers struggling to pay off their loans–and that targeted debt forgiveness is likely to have a significant positive economic impact. (As numerous studies have confirmed–when you give lower-income people more money, they spend it.)

A couple of things worth noting:  women ( Black women in particular) represent a disproportionate number of the borrowers who struggle with repayment; and school teachers are among those most likely to benefit.

A July 2021 report from the National Education Association showed that 45% of educators were student loan borrowers and over half of those still have a balance, averaging almost $59,000. Teaching typically isn’t a high-paying career, so paying off loans can be particularly burdensome. Experts say loan forgiveness would especially benefit early education (pre-K) teachers, who make even less than those in the K-12 system.

The loudest criticisms of loan forgiveness seem to come from people who paid off their own student debts. Alexandra Petri had a great –albeit snarky–response to those complaints in a Washington Post column.A couple of those paragraphs:

DISGUSTING! AWFUL! I have just received word that life is getting marginally better for some people, and I am white-hot with fury! This is the worst thing that could possibly happen! I did not suffer and strive and work my fingers to the bone so that anybody else could have a life that does not involve suffering and striving and the working of fingers to the bone. I demand to see only bones and no fingers!…

Every time anyone’s life improves at all, I personally am insulted. Any time anyone devises a labor-saving device, or passes some kind of weak, soft-hearted law that forecloses the opportunity for a new generation of children to lose fingers in dangerous machinery, I gnash my teeth. This is an affront to everyone who struggled so mightily. To avoid affronting them, we must keep everything just as bad as ever. Put those fingers back into the machines, or our suffering will have been in vain…

I fought uphill battles and squinted into the night and toiled and burdened myself in the hope that my children, one day, would also get to work exactly that hard, if not harder, and suffer at least as much as I did, and have, if the Lord allows, lives worse than mine. God, please make their lives worse!

These reactions do make me wonder why the owner of the corner hardware store isn’t howling about the unfairness of subsidies that pad the bottom lines of bigger businesses, or the tax cuts that saved him $10, but put lots more money in the pockets of the already-wealthy.

For my part, I really prefer having my tax dollars support the education of a kid from a low or middle-income family, rather than subsidizing the purchase of a yacht “for business purposes.”



This Isn’t Dunkirk

Longtime readers of this blog know that I rarely, if ever, post about foreign policy. There’s a reason for that–I am uninformed about most aspects of such policies, and I am deeply conflicted about America’s obligations vis a vis purely humanitarian concerns. 

When it comes to warfare, I mostly agree with those who insist we should keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off unless there is a very clear American interest to be protected, or a humanitarian crisis of significant proportions that we are actually in a position to ameliorate. I will readily admit that the definition of American interests and the nature and extent of humanitarian crises are matters of considerable debate.

If I had been the person determining the parameters of America’s intervention in Afghanistan, I would have approved an initial intervention to root out Al Qaida and “get” Osama Bin Laden–but not the slog of the subsequent 18 years, during which we wasted trillions of dollars–not to mention the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians.

But here we are.

President Biden has made what I consider the absolutely correct call–and the media and self-styled pundits, abetted by deeply dishonest Republicans sensing political advantage, are having a field day attacking him for, among other things, recognizing and admitting the obvious.

I think that Michael Moore, of all people, has it right in the following paragraphs. (I say “of all people” because I tend to find Moore tiresome–you usually know precisely what he’ll say because, like far too many people, he approaches all issues through an unshakable, pre-defined lens. Sometimes, of course, like that “stopped clock” he’s right; sometimes, not so much.)

In this case,I think he is “on point.” In his recent letter, Moore wrote about our departure from Afghanistan: 

This is nothing here to celebrate. This should only be a monumental gut-check moment of serious reflection and a desire to seek redemption for ourselves. We don’t need to spend a single minute right now analyzing how Biden has or has not messed up while bravely handling the end of this mess he was handed — including his incredible private negotiations all this week with the Taliban leaders to ensure that not a single enemy combatant from the occupying force (that would be us; e.g., U.S. soldiers and spies and embassy staff), will be harmed. And Biden so far has gotten every American and foreign journalist out alive, plus a promise from the Taliban that those who stay to cover it will not be harmed. And not a single one has! Usually a force like the Taliban rushes in killing every enemy in sight. That has not happened! And we will learn that it was because of the negotiating skills and smarts of the Biden team that there was no mass slaughter. This is not Dunkirk.

Dozens of planes have safely taken off all week — and not one of them has been shot down. None of our troops in this chaotic situation have been killed. Despite the breathless shrieks of panic from maleducated journalists who think they’re covering the Taliban of the 1990s (Jake Tapper on CNN keeps making references to “beheadings“ and how girls might be “kidnapped” and “raped” and forced to become “child brides”), none of this seems to be happening. I do not want to hear how we “need to study” what went wrong with this Taliban victory and our evacuation because (switching to all caps because I can’t scream this loud enough): WE ARE NEVER GOING TO FIND OURSELVES IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS AGAIN BECAUSE OUR DAYS OF INVADING AND TAKING OVER COUNTRIES MUST END. RIGHT? RIGHT!!

Unfortunately, we probably will find ourselves in similar situations, because a substantial portion of our citizenry believes we have the right–indeed, the duty–to impose our will around the globe, irrespective of any threat to genuine American interests.

Is our exit from Afghanistan being accomplished smoothly? No. To the extent both the war and the exit were bungled, we’ll need sober analyses of those failures in order to inform future foreign policy decisions. But sober analyses are not what we’re getting–for that matter, even presumably straightforward eyewitness reports of what is occurring “on the ground” are wildly inconsistent. 

If people of good will are truly concerned about the fate of non-Taliban Afghanis–especially Afghani women–under a fundamentalist religious regime, what they can and must do is extend a welcome to those who want to emigrate, and work to facilitate their speedy immigration and resettlement.

It is telling–but not surprising– that the monkeys throwing poo in hopes it sticks to the administration are unwilling to do that.


Hopeful Signs

During some twenty years on a university faculty, I learned to appreciate the vast differences in the reliability of research, especially survey research. It isn’t simply the “garbage” studies that are promoted by partisans of one sort or another–even serious efforts at determining attitudes and beliefs of particular populations run into problems with the way in which questions are posed and the selection of representative respondents, among other minefields.

Carefully crafted, reliable surveys require skilled researchers (they’re also very expensive), so we need to look carefully at the source of data coming from survey researchers. One of the most skilled, reliable and reputable of such sources is Pew Research–which is why I was so heartened by a recent study Pew published, showing that the electorate is shifting — and not in the Republican Party’s favor.

As The Week reported:

A new deep dive into the 2020 electorate by Pew Research contains mostly bad news for Republicans, whose approaching demographic doom is less racial than it is generational. While it shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point that young voters are a solidly blue voting bloc, the more worrisome developments for the GOP are the unexpectedly elderly nature of the party’s coalition and the unyielding Democratic lean of younger voters as they age. If Pew’s numbers are to be believed, the only solidly Republican age demographic last year was 75 and over, meaning that every time the sun comes up, the GOP’s struggle to win a majority of American voters gets harder.

Pew’s in-depth study uses validated voter files – matching panelists to a registration database confirming whether or not they turned out – to offer a different, and possibly more accurate, view of the electorate than the exit polls taken on Election Day. Often this new data can challenge narratives that set in stubbornly and immediately after the votes are counted – in 2016, for example, Pew’s research found that Donald Trump won white women by a considerably smaller margin than Election Day surveys indicated, upending one prevailing story about who was most responsible for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss.

Some of the ways in which Pew’s findings differed from the arguably less-precise findings of exit polls included the extent of Trump’s inroads with Latino and Black voters (he did somewhat better with Latinos and worse with Blacks than previously reported) and the fact that he did not win married men by 11 points–in fact, Pew found that married men went for Biden by 5.

But it was the age numbers that I found most hopeful. Exit polls had shown Biden winning 18- to 29-year-olds by 24 points, 60-36; Pew found it at a similar, albeit slightly smaller 58-38. Exit polls also showed Trump with just a 52-47 edge among voters over 65, and Pew’s numbers were almost identical – 52-48 for Trump over Biden.

Pew also broke the survey down into not just age groups but generational cohorts. And it’s here where you’ll find the most terrifying information for the GOP. According to Pew, Trump won a decisive majority only with members of the “Silent Generation,” those born between 1928 and 1945 (and the extremely tiny number of living people older than that). Trump dominated that cohort by 16 points, 58-42. That means that the only reliably Republican voter bloc will shrink considerably between now and 2024, and that 65- to 74-year-olds must have been a much more blue-leaning group in 2020 to produce Trump’s comparatively narrow 4-point margin with all over-65s.

As the article notes, you don’t need a degree in actuarial science to know that 65- to 74-year-olds will be around considerably longer than 75- to 102-year-olds.

Perhaps even worse for former President Trump and his acolytes, the Pew data showed little erosion in the millennial preference for Democrats over Republicans. Fifty-six percent of millennials voted for Clinton in 2016, and 58 percent voted for Biden in 2020. Remember, the first millennials voted in 2002, and as a group they simply have not budged. “Elder millennials” are turning 40 this year and they don’t love the Republican Party any more than they did when George W. Bush was lighting several trillion dollars on fire prosecuting a pointless war in Iraq. And that’s terrible news for the GOP’s hopes of ever becoming a majority party again, because if they keep losing the youngest voters by double digits election after election, they need a significant number of them to get more conservative as they age just to hold current margins in place.

This is all good news–in the long run. Even in the medium run.

The task for those of us who are terrified by the GOP’s current efforts to win elections by cheating–gerrymandering, vote suppression, placing unethical partisans in positions to oversee elections, etc.–is to work our fannies off to keep them from destroying democracy in the short run.



Enforcing The Rule Of Law

Americans spend a lot of time arguing about legislation. For that matter, this blog is predominantly focused on what we call “public policy,” which is essentially a term meaning “laws and regulations.” What tends to get much less attention is an equally important aspect of the rule of law: enforcement.

With the exception of policing–the enforcement of criminal laws–we tend to ignore the behaviors of those who have been authorized to enforce the laws once they’ve been passed. For one thing, it is much harder to ferret out the degree of enforcement. If Congress or a state legislature passes a measure, reporting that fact– or opining about its wisdom– is fairly simple. Figuring out whether the law is being fairly and evenly applied–or applied at all–requires considerably more effort.

Take tax law. Bills to raise or lower taxes receive widespread reporting and discussion. But enforcement–or the lack thereof–is equally important, and gets much less attention. When we are talking about taxes, however, there are two equally effective methods for reducing  tax liability for the mega-rich: lower rates, and inadequate investigation and application of those rates. When staff levels at the IRS are kept too low, when the agency lacks the ability to audit more than a handful of returns, the millionaires and billionaires can be confident that the odds favor the significant success of various tax avoidance ploys.

President Biden has moved to beef up IRS’ staffing, which has been decimated by the former guy’s administration, and six former IRS commissions have applauded that move in a column for The Washington Post.They provide the context.

As former IRS commissioners, we know the challenges of administering the tax system, which has grown in size and complexity, particularly in recent years.

Yet, during the past decade, budget cuts have substantially diminished the IRS workforce. In real terms, the IRS budget is smaller than it was in 2010, and it has 21,000 fewer employees. The IRS has fewer auditors today than at any time since World War II. Moreover, the agency has struggled to keep pace as complicated tax structures, such as partnerships and pass-throughs, have grown in popularity. Workforce attrition has been most pronounced among agents who examine these complicated tax filings: Thirty-five percent fewer revenue agents handle these returns today than a decade ago.

Their essay goes on to remind readers that, despite its reduced workforce, the IRS has seen its responsibilities increase. The agency administers significant provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and during the pandemic, it has been the IRS that has delivered three rounds of federal payments to hundreds of millions of taxpayers. Now, the agency is preparing to deliver periodic payments of the recently-enacted expanded child tax credit.

Thanks to its expanding authority and reduced staffing, the former commissioners report that

There has also been a substantial decline in enforcement scrutiny of high-earners and large corporations with complex returns: Audit rates for millionaires have fallen more than 70 percent since 2011; audits of large corporations decreased from essentially 100 percent a decade ago to less than 50 percent, according to the most recent IRS estimates.

This situation is no fault of the IRS or its committed workforce, who are dedicated to fair implementation of the tax code and the strongest possible support for taxpayers. Provided appropriate resources, the IRS can make good on its commitments.

The former Commissioners agree that the changes and additional resources that President Biden proposes would “produce a great deal of revenue by reducing the enormous gap between taxes legally owed and taxes actually paid — much of it through increased voluntary compliance.”

The Biden proposal includes provisions on third-party reporting, leveraging information from financial services providers to learn basic information about account inflows and outflows. This information could assist taxpayers in filing accurate returns and help the IRS better focus collection efforts. Research shows that when the IRS has access to third-party reporting, compliance rates top 95 percent. Without third-party information reporting, compliance rates are below 50 percent. Reliable information is critical to an effective and fair tax system.

The statistics cited in the essay demonstrate the importance of effective enforcement. It isn’t simply tax rates that favor the rich–lax enforcement costs an enormous amount that the rest of us must make up. Estimates are that uncollected taxes from those sources are equal to the total taxes paid by the lower 90 percent of individual taxpayers.

It is long past time to give the IRS the resources it needs to ensure that corporations and billionaires pay their taxes. If enforcement is fair across the board, the rest of us will feel a lot better about paying ours.