Paul Waldman

Three Cheers for Taxes

Flickr/Tobias Scheck

Tomorrow is tax day, when millions upon millions of Americans find themselves saying, "Grumble grumble govmint taxes grumble grumble" as they stand in a slow-moving line at the post office to mail their returns off to the tyrants in Washington. Every year at this time, I feel it's my duty to remind everyone of a few important facts about taxes, the most important of which comes at the end, so you'll have to wait for the payoff. But here we go:

The Missing Generation of Obama-Inspired Politicians

You can see the disillusionment on their faces.

The 2008 Obama presidential campaign, you'll no doubt remember, was a marvel of social engagement, particularly among young people. They got involved in politics, they saw the potential for change, they sent emails and posted to Facebook and knocked on doors. But as Jason Horowitz reports in The New York Times, not too many of them decided to run for office. I'll solve that mystery in a moment, but here's an excerpt:

Don't Let the Bush Administration Off the Hook For Torture

There's a new report out today from McClatchey on the CIA's torture program based on that Intelligence Committee report. They got a closer look at it than journalists have before, so there are some more details. But there's a danger in how this could be interpreted that will serve to let people who were complicit in the torture program off the hook, so we need to be careful about how we deal with this information. But first, here are their bullets:

Stephen Colbert Isn't the Only One With a Fictional Character

Flickr/Reid Rosenberg

So Stephen Colbert will be replacing David Letterman when Letterman retires next year, and you'll be shocked to learn that at least one conservative is spitting mad about it. "CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America," said Rush Limbaugh. "No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservative values—now it's just wide out in the open." Funny, I thought Hollywood's assault on traditional American values was pretty overt already.

The Most Expensive Health Care In the World

The high-grade stuff.

As a reader of this web site, you are informed and aware, so you no doubt saw the stories that came out yesterday about the data trove the government just released on what individual doctors bill Medicare. The shocking news was that some have managed to charge the government millions of dollars, including one ophthalmologist, Salomon Melgen, who billed Medicare an incredible $21 million in 2012 alone, and who just happens to be caught up in an investigation of influence peddling with a Democratic senator. But before this story disappears with some head-shaking about scandal and fraud, we should take note of what it teaches us about why we have the most expensive health care system in the world.

Why Clinton's Gender Problem Will Not Be Like Obama's Race Problem

Here's an SAT analogy question for you: Barack Obama's 2008 campaign IS TO race as Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign IS TO _______. If you said "gender," you're only half right.

The End of the "Ick Factor"

This hard-core rock-'n-roller knows his scripture. (Flickr/Center for American Progress)

Let it not be said that conservatives have failed to evolve on the question of gay rights. These days, even if you are adamantly opposed to marriage equality, you're required to express a kind of libertarian attitude toward homosexuality itself. Love the sinner, hate the sin? Not anymore. Now it's love the sinner, and as for the sin, well that's none of my business, you do what you like. But this public display of live-and-let-livism is a rather shocking contradiction with the very grounds on which many conservatives base their beliefs about this issue, namely the Old Testament. I give you Mike Huckabee, speaking yesterday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition: "I'm not against anybody. I'm really not. I'm not a hater. I'm not homophobic," he said. "I honestly don't care what people do personally in their individual lives."

Well hold on there! You honestly don't care? But doesn't the Bible condemn the act itself? Yahweh doesn't say, "Whatever you do in the bedroom is none of anybody's business, just don't think you can get married." Huckabee, a Baptist minister, certainly knows his scripture, and he explained why he can't change on this issue even if public opinion changes:

Thrown to the Lions

There have been many odd and interesting developments in American conservatism in the last few years, but there are few that liberals find more incomprehensible than the belief among many conservative Christians that not only are they currently being oppressed for their religious beliefs, but that today's outrages are but a prelude to a far more vicious and violent crackdown on Christianity that is right around the corner. There's a movie I want to talk about in a moment, but first, I'd like to explore where this is coming from, both from the perspective of the conservative Christians themselves, and the liberals who have such a hard time understanding it.

What Marijuana Legalization Won't Be in 2016

Flickr/Tha Goodiez

If you're an advocate of marijuana legalization, you've had nothing but good news for some time now, and more keeps coming. Today at that snappy new Vox thing the hip kids put together, there's an article pointing out that although many people predicted a spike in crime once pot became legal in Colorado, statistics from Denver show that crime has actually declined a bit over the last few months compared to the same period in 2013. It's a small period of time, to be sure, but it doesn't look as though there has been an explosion of robberies or any other kind of crime.

Beyond Corruption

AP Images/Mark Lennihan

There was a time in our history, thankfully long past now, when bribery was common and money's slithery movement through the passages of American government was all but invisible, save for the occasional scandal that would burst forth into public consciousness. Today, we know much more about who's getting what from whom. Members of Congress have to declare their assets, lobbyists have to register and disclose their activities, and contributions are reported and tracked. Whatever you think about the current campaign finance system, it's much more transparent than it once was.

How Should Liberals Feel About the Mozilla CEO Getting Pushed Out Over Marriage Equality?

By now you may have heard the story of Brendan Eich, who was named the CEO of the Mozilla corporation, which runs the Firefox web browser, then resigned ten days later after it was revealed that he donated $1,000 to the campaign for California's Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in the state and was later overturned. Eich's resignation came after the company came under pressure from many directions, including the dating site OKCupid, which put a message on its site asking its users not to use Firefox. This is something of a dilemma for liberals: on one hand, we support marriage equality, but on the other, we also support freedom of thought and don't generally think people should be hounded from their jobs because of their beliefs on contentious issues. So where should you come down?

In order to decide, there are a few questions you need to ask, some of which are easier to answer than others:

How Our Campaign Finance System Compares to Other Countries

The world, including places that are not us.

With the Supreme Court's decision in the McCutcheon case, some people think we're heading for the complete removal of contribution limits from campaigns. Jeffrey Toobin, for instance, argues that the way Justice Roberts defines corruption—basically, nothing short of outright bribery qualifies—means that he could well be teeing things up to eliminate contribution limits entirely in some future case. Which got me thinking: if we really are headed for that eventual outcome, how would that place us compared to other countries? For instance, if you're a Monsieur Koch in France, can you write a candidate a million-euro check?

Fortunately, the good folks at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), an inter-governmental agency, have gathered this kind of information together. Of course, a large database of laws from all over the world is going to miss many of the subtleties and loopholes that characterize each individual country's system. But if you were thinking that other similarly advanced democracies must all have tighter laws than ours, you wouldn't be exactly right.

How Barack Obama Trapped the GOP On Health Care

It was all downhill from here.

Barack Obama has done many dastardly things to Republicans. He regularly ridicules their arguments. He insists on being treated as though he were legitimately the president of the United States. And most cruelly of all, he beat their standard-bearers in two national elections. Is it any wonder they loathe him so? But one thing Obama has done to the GOP has gone unnoticed: he made it impossible for them to be serious about health care policy.

By now you're well familiar with how the core of the Affordable Care Act—a ban on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions (also known as "guaranteed issue"), accompanied by an individual mandate and subsidies for people of moderate incomes to purchase private insurance—was originally a conservative proposal. The idea was that unlike in most other western countries where a large government program like Medicare covers all citizens, you could achieve something close to universal coverage and health security through the use of markets. When Mitt Romney installed it in Massachusetts, it worked quite well and everybody was pleased. But then Barack Obama came along and embraced it, so all good and true conservatives had to conclude that it was not only a terrible idea in practical terms but a vile and wicked plot to rob Americans of their freedom.

And that has left Republicans in a difficult spot. They would very much like to have market-based health care ideas they could rally around, if nothing else than to demonstrate to the public that they sincerely want to fix what's wrong in America's health care system. But the theft of the guaranteed issue-plus-mandate-plus-subsidies framework has left them with nothing but unappetizing scraps off the health care table, none of which will do much of anything to address problems like the large number of uninsured Americans.

Will Disclosure Save Us From the Corrupting Influence of Big Money?

You'll have to do a lot better than that. (stockmonkeys.com)

There is going to be a lot of speculation about how the Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. FEC to eliminate the aggregate limits on campaign contributions will affect the influence of big money in politics. That's because it serves to make an already extremely complex system a little more complex, and there are multiple ways the decision could matter; on the other hand, it might make no difference at all. For the moment, I want to consider the role of disclosure, because I think it's going to become increasingly important in the near future, particularly if the Court goes all the way and eliminates all contribution limits. It should be said that in this case, they could have done that, but decided not to (only Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, advocated eliminating all limits). But there is some reason to believe that the conservatives on the Court will go there eventually. And if they do, disclosure is going to be their justification: that as along as we know who's giving money to candidates, the risk of corruption will be small. That might strike you as reasonable, or it might strike you as absurd (you think the banks aren't getting their money's worth when they donate to every member of the committees that oversee them?), but it will be an argument that conservatives are likely to be making with increasing frequency in the coming years as they try to remove the last bricks from the crumbling edifice of campaign finance restrictions.

Laying It All Out On Medicare

Flickr/Donkey Hotey

The release of a new Paul Ryan budget plan is always the occasion for a lot of ridicule from liberals, for a whole bunch of reasons, and this year's will be no different. Ryan's budgets always manage to combine a remarkable cruelty toward poor people with a sunny optimism that draconian cuts to social services will result in a veritable explosion of economic growth, allowing us to balance the budget without taking anything away from the truly important priorities (like military spending) or, heaven forbid, forcing wealthy people to pay more in taxes.

I'm sure there are other people preparing detailed critiques of the Ryan budget, but I want to focus on one thing this brings up: the question of how we talk about Medicare. As he has before in his budgets, Ryan proposes to repeal the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, like subsidies for middle-class people to buy insurance and the expansion of Medicaid, but he'd keep the tax increases and Medicare cuts that the bill included in order to pay for it all, which helps him achieve his "balanced" budget.

Yes, it's true that when Ryan was running for vice president, he joined Mitt Romney in condemning those very Medicare savings. But nobody really believed he was doing anything at the time but being a team player. So we can give him credit for taking at least a step toward putting his money where his mouth is on Medicare. Sure, it may be couched in some misleading words (the document refers to "strengthening Medicare" no fewer than ten times), but there's no mistaking the policy.

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