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Republican Party Platform (Part 1 of ?)

logo-GOP

I got a copy of the draft 2016 Republican Party Platform. It’s subject to amendment through this morning, so I will compare to the finished product when it becomes available.

Restoring the American Dream

Rebuilding the Economy and Creating Jobs

This section is just statistics and criticism of Obama for the economy not performing as well as it usually does post-recession. No specific policies suggested, so there’s no real criticism here.

Fair and Simple Taxes for Growth and Jobs

“Our proposal is straightforward. Whenever taxes penalize thrift or discourage investment, they must be lowered. Whenever current provisions of the code are disincentives for economic growth, they must be changed.”

Again, few specifics in this section, but the second sentence has interesting ramifications. Theoretically, what we want for economic growth is economic activity. Thrift–especially by the wealthy–is harmful to the economy because spending money is what generates economic activity. If a corporation is thrifty by maintaining high profits while paying large portions of its workforce wages at or near the minimum wage, this is a thrift that should be penalized. If your idea of investment is to buy real estate and invest the bare minimum to make the property available for rent, this is not positive economic activity. We should encourage investment in companies that improve the world while discouraging investment in companies that prey on the public. Not all investment is good.

Fundamental Tax Principles

A few things here worth mentioning:

  1. Opposing “tax policies that deliberately divide Americans or promote class warfare.” No one likes taxes. The wealthy view paying increased taxes as class warfare, while the poor may look at those same policies as improving equity. The current cap on Social Security contributions is seen as fair by the wealthy–as there’s a limit on what they can get from the system–but it’s seen as punishing the poor by taxing a higher percentage of their income.
  2. Maintaining the tax-free status of religious organizations. I think there should be a difference between money donated to and spent by a religious organization for the purpose of religion and money donated to and spent by a religious organization for charity. A megachurch pastor shouldn’t get his home and income tax-free. If your church endorses specific candidates for public office, that’s not religion, that’s politics, and it should be taxed accordingly.
  3. Calling for a value added tax or national sales tax with the simultaneous repeal of Amendment XVI (the amendment that authorized the income tax). I’m not opposed to a national sales tax in principle, but I think it should be phased in as the income tax is phased out. An immediate switch could be catastrophic for the economy. I also think we need to be very careful about how we implement a sales tax. If it shifts the burden of taxation to the poor, there’s a problem.

American Competitiveness in the Global Economy

This section is criminally misleading. Yes, the U.S. has the highest (or one of the highest, depending on your source) corporate tax rates in the world. If that rate was what corporations actually paid, this would be a problem. But it’s not.

According to The Congressional Research Service, the effective corporate tax rate is comparable to that of other OECD countries, once standard deductions are included. If you compare the tax rates weighted for GDP, the U.S. tax rate is 27.1% and the rest of the OECD is 27.7%. Office of Management and Budget figures show the percent of taxes paid by U.S. corporations is 10%, compared to 32% in 1952. Corporate tax deductions need to be reworked to reward producers and penalize leeches. I’m not sure the GOP knows the difference.

International Trade

“We need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first.”

Trade agreements are not a zero-sum game. It is rarely a case of one country winning and another losing. More often it is a case of boosting already strong sectors of the U.S. economy while sacrificing sectors that are struggling. There are problems with the way the U.S. negotiates trade agreements, because once government negotiators get enough experience to be effective they are poached by the private sector, but I don’t see the Republicans addressing that problem.

The call for China to stop excluding “U.S. products from government purchases” is hilarious in its naïvete. The bargaining chip there is ridiculously simple: Open U.S. contracts to Chinese products. Because far more industry in China is state-owned than in the U.S., we would be opening far less competition here than China would be opening there. But, of course, China’s negotiators are probably too smart to let that go as an even trade. Regardless, complaining about another country doing the same thing we do is a bit silly.

Restoring Financial Markets

Dodd-Frank wasn’t perfect, but it did introduce much-needed regulation into portions of the financial industry that were neglected–and which, contrary to what the platform says, contributed heavily to the 2008 recession. The GOP is correct when it says Dodd-Frank imposed a heavy regulatory burden on small banks, inadvertently allowing large banks to grow faster as they could more easily absorb that burden. One of the largest problems in government overall is the tendency to add new regulatory paperwork requirements while it never goes back to old requirements to reduce or eliminate obsolete or redundant paperwork.

The bulk of this section is a rant against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As with Dodd-Frank–and Obamacare, and untold other government entities–the default method of fixing something for the Republicans is to eliminate it and start over. Sometimes, yes, things are so bad that you just need to get rid of it and begin anew, but most of the time the problem is something you can fix. You don’t get rid of your car just because it needs a new oil filter.

Rebuilding Home Ownership and Rental Opportunities

The GOP, once again, blames the government rather than private lenders for the housing crisis that caused the 2008 recession. As a result, the GOP wants to roll back environmental regulations on home purchases and eliminate lending requirements based on race for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and federally-insured banks. I am fairly confident that the U.S. has not reached a level playing field for mortgage lending, so removing race-based quotas is premature. I could see removing the quotas on a case-by-case basis, if an institution has shown a pattern of compliance over a significant period. Environmental regulations may need to be updated and streamlined, but older homes still have lead-based paint, and the government is usually the only defense against other environmental contaminants.

Finally, the GOP wants to make sure that zoning decisions are made at the local level. Too often, zoning is used for gentrification purposes, at the expense of established minority neighborhoods. It sometimes seems like zoning officials get their marching orders from Rick Tyler.

America on the Move: Transportation

There are several policy recommendations in this section. First, the GOP wants to remove non-highway-related programs from being funded by the Highway Trust Fund, including mass transit, bike-share programs, sidewalks, and scenic byways: “These worthwhile enterprises should be funded through other sources.” If I had any confidence that these would be funded through other sources, I would wholeheartedly approve this initiative. However, state and local governments–especially Republican-controlled governments–are almost universally hostile to the idea of funding mass-transit or urban transportation programs, like bike-share and sidewalks. I think on this issue, what the Republicans criticize for “coerc(ing) people out of their cars,” is actually a pretty good thing. We should encourage people to live near their jobs and encourage companies to allow as many employees as possible to work from home.

Again, the GOP wants to lower environmental protections, this time in the National Environmental Policy Act–ironically, signed into law by Richard Nixon. They want to get rid of worker protections, namely the Davis-Bacon Act, which require government contracts to pay workers the prevailing wage in an area. The GOP also opposes an increase in the federal gas tax, which is problematic, since the tax is set at 18.4 cents per gallon instead of being set as a percent rate. As a result, since the tax has not increased since 1993, when accounting for inflation the tax should be about 30 cents per gallon. This tax should be converted to a percent rate.

Finally, the GOP wants to encourage private investment in rail and high-speed rail transportation. I’m skeptical on this point, as I am not sure the infrastructure investment is something that can be handled privately, especially with the right-of-way purchases required. The start of the California high-speed rail system is a comedy of errors, especially starting in the middle instead of at either end toward the outer suburbs where people already commute, but I don’t think removing federal funding is necessarily the answer.


Five pages down, fifty-three to go. Not sure how many sections overall. Tomorrow, I will take a break to do my candidate analysis for the August primary.

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Overestimating Voters

I had a friend say the following to me a couple of days ago regarding the need for anti-Trump protests:

“It’s kind of silly to imply that there is anyone left who is unaware of what Trump stands for.”

First, I’ve researched him extensively and I’m not sure I know what Trump stands for. He may be trying to run the country like a business, he may be a Nazi, he may just want to be President because he’s a narcissist.

But that’s really not my point. My point is that most voters are woefully undereducated about the candidates and the issues.

Exhibit A

In 2012 Senator Bob Corker was running for reelection. His Democratic opponent was Mark E. Clayton. Mr. Clayton is a conservative libertarian with ties to an anti-gay hate group. After he won the primary, the state Democratic Party disavowed him and encouraged voters to vote for others.

Mr. Clayton ended up winning 30.4% of the vote (700,753 votes). In Corker’s 2006 election, 879,976 people voted for his Democratic opponent. Based on this, I feel confident in assuming that about 80% of Democratic voters will vote for anyone with “Democrat” after their name on the ballot in general elections.

Why?

I don’t believe the Republicans are any better than the Democrats in this regard. There are too many people who do things just because that’s the way they have always been done. They eat the same foods their parents did, the go to the same churches their parents did, they support the same sports teams their parents did. There’s a faction of the Republican Party that actively discourages the teaching of critical thinking, because, obviously, critical thinking leads to rebellion.  The Republican Party of Texas 2012 platform states: “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” (page 20, Republican Party of Texas, 2012, from Texas GOP Declares: “No More Teaching of ‘Critical Thinking Skills’ in Texas Public Schools”).

People think they have more important things to do than political research. Most people find it boring. To do it right takes time, and that’s another thing people aren’t willing to relinquish. So they take the easy way out. I’m guessing, based on Exhibit A above, that for 80% of people who are registered Democrats or Republicans, their research begins and ends with who has their party’s label after their name on the ballot. Beyond that, it’s name recognition. Trump and Clinton have that locked up.

Are things hopeless?

There’s another problem in American politics: Politicians are afraid to admit when they don’t know something. So, can we educate enough voters to make a difference?

I don’t know.

My main message is simple: Stop looking for fights and try working together for the good of everyone. I don’t know if I can get enough people to pay attention, but I’ll try.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Donald Trump is a Poopy Head

Donald Trump Poop Toupee by Mstyle183 at shapeways.com

I like John Oliver, and his takedown of Donald Trump on Last Week Tonight was very well done. Where I disagree with him is with #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain. (For the title of this post I tried to pick the most childish insult imaginable so that people would understand that it was a joke. I was surprised to find the picture above, but my intent was to make an over-the-top point, not to really insult Donald Trump.)

Political discourse has deteriorated to playground name calling. Donald Trump is possibly the worst of them all, calling people fat, stupid, neurotic, fools, shrill, and crazy, among other things. Marco Rubio called Trump’s supporters a “freak show” and made a comment about Trump’s small hands indicating something else. Rand Paul called Trump “Gollum.” Ted Cruz called Barack Obama “the leading state sponsor of terrorism.” Hillary Clinton called Ted Cruz a bully. Other politicians not running for President are as bad or worse.

I’m guilty of the occasional name calling myself, usually in the heat of the moment when I let my frustration get the better of me. I prefer to confront people on the issues, criticizing their ideas and records instead of insulting them. There’s a big difference between calling a politician’s idea stupid and calling the politician or his supporters stupid.

Name calling won’t get us anywhere. Calling Donald Trump “Donald Drumpf” won’t help get us better policies or better leadership. It just reduces him from a candidate with bad policy positions to a funny name.

I grew up having to regularly ask people to call me “Topher,” instead of “Bernard”–Bernard is my father, not me–or “Christopher,” after telling them that Topher was short for Christopher. Despite this, certain types of people–generally older people, but occasionally not–insisted on calling me something other than Topher. Not addressing people how they would like to be addressed, within reason, as some divas need to be brought back down to Earth, is disrespectful. No one is going to listen to you if you don’t respect them enough to address them properly. Calling Tea Party members “teabaggers” or Bernie Sanders’ supporters “dirty hippies” is no way to start a conversation. It just starts an argument, and we have enough of those already.

Be polite, find common ground, and work together to accomplish something.

If your primary is today, get out and vote!

Topher

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