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Democratic candidates differ on Philadelphia's soda tax

04/25/16 12:44PM

After a year of campaigning, it seemed as if we knew just about every point of contention between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but on "Meet the Press" yesterday, NBC's Chuck Todd asked the Vermont senator about a relatively new one.
TODD: Why are you against the consumption tax -- the soda tax in Philadelphia -- that would pay for Pre-K? Universal Pre-K. Hillary Clinton's for it.
 
SANDERS: Yes. I'll tell you why. Because it is a totally regressive tax and right now, at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when the wealthy are getting wealthier-- many of them pay an effective tax rate lower than working people. You have large multinational corporations not paying a nickel in federal taxes. That's where you get the money. Somebody's making $20,000 a year and they buy a bottle of soda, I don't think you charge them $0.30 more for that bottle of soda.
Sanders went on to note that he endorses Clinton's goal of universal pre-K, but he opposes the proposal put forward by officials in Philadelphia to pay for the policy through a soda tax.
 
This wouldn't be the first proposed soda tax, but it would be the largest: under the Philadelphia plan, the city would impose a 3-cent per ounce tax -- on distributors -- on sugary drinks. There's still some question about just how much of that would be passed along to consumers, but everyone agrees the cost of soda in the city would inevitably rise as a result of the policy.
 
It's also very likely that the tax would, in fact, be regressive, with evidence suggesting lower-income consumers are more likely to buy sugary drinks than higher-income consumers.
 
For local officials, however, it's worth pursuing a progressive goal -- universal pre-K -- even if that means adopting a regressive tax. Clinton is on board with the plan; Sanders is not.
 
So who's right?

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.25.16

04/25/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* In keeping with the recent pattern, Ted Cruz's campaign dominated at Maine's state Republican convention over the weekend: "Nineteen of Cruz's slate of 20 delegates were picked for the Republican national convention, meaning that at least 19 out of the 23 delegates Maine will send to the convention in Cleveland will be Cruz supporters."
 
* In the Democratic presidential race, Hillary Clinton is up by double digits over Bernie Sanders in Pennsylvania, but her leads in Indiana, California, and Connecticut are much smaller.
 
* In Rhode Island, one poll shows Sanders ahead by four points, while another shows Clinton ahead by nine points. We'll find out tomorrow which one is correct.
 
* The latest PPP results show Donald Trump cruising to easy wins in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
 
* On a related note, Trump told a Connecticut audience over the weekend that the recent chatter about him becoming more presidential is wrong. "I sort of don't like toning it down," he said. "Isn't it nice that I'm not one of these teleprompter guys?"
 
* In still more Trump-related news, the Republican tried on Friday to clarify his beliefs about transgender bathroom rights, but his comments didn't make any sense.
House Speaker Paul Ryan leaves after making a statement to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington ruling himself out as a potential 2016 presidential candidate April 12, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Paul Ryan's curious case against expertise

04/25/16 11:26AM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered a speech last week at the Ethics and Public Policy Center's anniversary gala, and the Wisconsin Republican highlighted an interesting excerpt from the remarks on social media over the weekend:
"That is the key difference between ourselves and the progressives: We do not believe we should be governed by elites. We do not believe that there are experts or elites who should steer us in their preferred direction. We see that sense of organization as condescending, paternalistic, and downright arrogant. We know it's wrong. [...]
 
"Because we believe that all of us are equal, we believe there is no problem that all of us -- working together -- cannot solve. We believe every person has a piece of this puzzle, and only when we work together do we get the whole picture."
The speech as delivered was slightly different from the speech as written, and some of the changes are notable.
 
Regardless, I found the speech interesting because it sheds light on Ryan's broader worldview and what he sees as the major points of contention in these divisive political times. What was challenging, however, was understanding the meaning of some of the Speaker's labels.
 
For example, what exactly is an "elite" and who believes we should be governed by them? Ryan didn't specify, though he did note that he supports the idea of crafting a health care reform plan that's guided by consumers guided by the free market, rather than relying on guidance from health policy experts at HHS.
 
In other words, Paul Ryan seems to have a problem with expertise. Indeed, he explicitly rejected the idea of "experts" helping guide policy debates.
 
And if the Republican Speaker believes this is an important difference between conservatives and progressives, he may be onto something.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to guests and supporters during a rally at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on April 20, 2016 in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump abandons one of his more outlandish promises

04/25/16 10:41AM

It wasn't the most offensive thing Donald Trump has said as a presidential candidate, but when it comes to public policy, it was almost certainly the most ridiculous: the Republican frontrunner vowed earlier this month that, if elected, he would eliminate the national debt in eight years.
 
Specifically, Trump told the Washington Post that he wants to see the United States "get rid of the $19 trillion in debt." Pressed for details, the GOP candidate said he "could do it fairly quickly," eliminating the debt "over a period of eight years."
 
Even by Trump standards, this was bonkers. He was effectively promising to deliver multi-trillion-dollar surpluses every year for eight years, even while approving massive tax breaks and increasing military spending. By any sane measure, the arithmetic made this literally impossible.
 
Last week, in an interview with Fortune magazine, Trump quietly pretended he never said what he said.
FORTUNE: You've said you plan to pay off the country's debt in 10 years. How's that possible?
 
TRUMP: No, I didn't say 10 years. First of all, with low interest rates, you can think in terms of refinancings, and get it down. I believe you can do certain things to pay off the debt more quickly. The most important thing is to make sure the economy stays strong. You can do it in smaller chunks. You can do it in larger chunks. And you can do it in refinancings.
 
FORTUNE: How much of the debt could you pay off in 10 years?
 
TRUMP: You could pay off a percentage of it.
Asked what percentage he had in mind, the GOP candidate added, "It depends on how aggressive you want to be. I'd rather not be so aggressive."
 
In other words, what Trump said three weeks ago is pretty much the opposite of what he said last week.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., during an interview in Washington, July 24, 2009.

Lieberman mistakenly believes he has it all figured out

04/25/16 10:00AM

Though this may come as a bit of a surprise, the No Labels organization continues to exist, despite the fact that it doesn't appear to have had any influence on anyone at any time on any level. A couple of years ago, Yahoo News reported that the outfit "spends a disproportionate part of its budget maintaining and promoting its own organization, trying to keep its profile high while ensuring a steady flow of fundraising dollars" from undisclosed donors.
 
The revelations did not, however, do any real lasting damage to No Labels, and as Slate's Jim Newell explained the other day, the group and its leader even have a new election-year blueprint it wants the political world to take seriously.
Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, co-chairman of the nonpartisan "problem-solving" advocacy group No Labels, has a novel theory of what we're seeing this campaign. "Take a look at the two most interesting, surprising candidacies of the presidential year," he said Thursday at an event celebrating the release of No Labels' "policy playbook" for the 2016 election. "They want people to do something different. The best politics may be unconventional politics."
 
Lieberman, unconventionally, was explaining why he believes the moment is ripe for entitlement reform.
Ah, yes, there's the Joe Lieberman we all know. The aggressively centrist former senator sees Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders generating some excitement on the right and left, respectively, and Lieberman naturally assumes their success reflects an opportunity for a policy agenda neither Trump nor Sanders want any part of.
 
"The best politics may be unconventional politics"? Maybe so. But consider the gap between the message and the messenger: a senator-turned-lobbyist appeared in a D.C. ballroom at a luxury hotel to pitch a centrist platform that no doubt delighted other D.C. centrists. It's hard to even imagine a more "conventional" scenario. To think this relates in any way to the excitement surrounding Sanders and Trump is to miss the point of recent political developments in a rather spectacular way.
 
Or as the Slate piece put it, "For today's discontented voters, the sort of ballroom-luncheon centrism practiced for so long by the likes of Lieberman is more the target than the solution."
Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, speaks as Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, listens, during the Republican presidential debate on March 10, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. (Photo by Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Cruz and Kasich hatch scheme as latest polls bolster Trump

04/25/16 09:20AM

The conventional wisdom has shifted more than once about Donald Trump's chances of locking up the Republican nomination before the party's convention, but as things stand, his odds aren't bad at all.
 
There are five primaries tomorrow, and Trump is well positioned in all of them, including a big lead in Pennsylvania, this week's largest prize. Next week is Indiana's primary, and two new polls show Trump ahead there, too. For good measure, the GOP frontrunner even has a sizable advantage in California, which has more delegates available than any other state.
 
The road ahead for Trump isn't easy, but if these polls are correct, and he wins by sufficient margins, it's hardly unrealistic to believe the New York developer will secure the necessary delegates by the time voting ends in early June. If Ted Cruz and John Kasich are going to prevent that outcome, they're going to have to do something.
 
So, they're doing something. NBC News reported:
The campaigns of Ted Cruz and John Kasich announced an agreement Sunday night to coordinate their efforts to prevent Donald Trump from winning the GOP's presidential nomination before the Republican National Convention.
 
"To ensure that we nominate a Republican who can unify the Republican Party and win in November, our campaign will focus its time and resources in Indiana and in turn clear the path for Gov. Kasich to compete in Oregon and New Mexico," Cruz's campaign manager Jeff Roe said in a statement late Sunday.
 
The Kasich campaign sent its own statement minutes later.
For his part, Trump accused his rivals of "colluding" against him, which seems fair, given that his rivals really are "colluding" against him.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse, June 9, 2015. (Photo by Paul Beaty/AP)

Hastert's allies plead for leniency for former House Speaker

04/25/16 08:40AM

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is facing two very different kinds of accusations. One, which led to his arrest, involved the Illinois Republican lying to the FBI about covering up "misconduct" from his tenure as a high school coach many years ago. Hastert has already issued a guilty plea as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors.
 
The second is the "misconduct" itself: Hastert is accused of being an alleged serial child molester. It's the severity of these accusations that's led prosecutors to seek the harshest possible penalty, including jail time. It's also prompted many of the former Speaker's allies to seek leniency.
The wife and sons of Dennis Hastert and former politicians have written letters asking a judge to spare the ex-Speaker of the House prison in his hush-money case, according to court documents made public Friday.
 
Prosecutors are asking that Hastert, 74, be sentenced to six months in prison for structuring withdrawals to avoid bank reporting laws. Hastert's attorneys are asking for probation.
Perhaps no letter is quite as striking as the one sent by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who told the judge, "We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few."
 
It's almost like an ugly punch line to an inappropriate joke:  Hastert's few "flaws" include being accused of sexually abusing several minors and then orchestrating a scheme to cover up his alleged misdeeds.
 
DeLay added that Hastert "doesn't deserve what he is going through."
 
No, seriously, that's what he said.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders arrives to speak on the campus of Penn State University in State College, Penn., April 19, 2016. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Sanders reflects on Dem race, says poor people 'don't vote'

04/25/16 08:00AM

In recent weeks, as his odds of winning the Democratic nomination have grown longer, Bernie Sanders has offered different explanations of why he's come up short thus far. The senator has pointed several times, for example, to the results from Southern primaries, which has proven problematic for a variety of reasons.
 
Yesterday, however, talking to NBC News' Chuck Todd, Sanders put forward a new take on the Democratic race. Here was the exchange on "Meet the Press":
TODD:  I have quite some interesting numbers here. So 17 of the 25 states with the highest levels of income inequality have held primaries. Sixteen of those 17 states have been won by Hillary Clinton, not by you. Why?
 
SANDERS: Well, because poor people don't vote. I mean, that's just a fact. That's a sad reality of American society. And that's what we have to transform. We have one -- as you know, one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country on Earth. We have done a good job bringing young people in. I think we have done -- had some success with lower income people. But in America today -- the last election in 2014, 80% percent of poor people did not vote.
It's a provocative thesis, which is half-right. Note, for example, that Sanders' case that low-income Americans vote in much lower numbers is absolutely correct. There's ample evidence that points to a striking relationship between income and voting participation: the more money a voter makes, the more likely it is that he or she will participate in an election.
 
Demos published a fascinating report on this a couple of years ago, scrutinizing the 2010 cycle, and making the same point Sanders stressed yesterday: affluent citizens voted at rates "as high as 35 percentage points [higher] than low-income citizens."
 
There are all kinds of important political and societal consequences associated with this trend, not the least of which is policymakers, eager to keep their jobs, catering to the interests of those most likely to be engaged. If low-income Americans voted in greater numbers, national politics would likely look a lot different.
 
Where Sanders' explanation comes up short, however, is his belief that he'd be the principal beneficiary if these struggling voters showed up in greater numbers.
A Noah's Ark exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. An extensive portion of the museum explains Noah's Ark and how the great flood wiped out the majority of dinosaurs and shaped the land today.

This Week in God, 4.23.16

04/23/16 07:33AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Kentucky that we've been watching for years, about a controversial theme park that's subsidized by taxpayers, but which is nevertheless openly discriminating in its hiring.
 
The Kentucky Associated Press reported, "Want to serve food or operate rides at Kentucky's new Noah's Ark attraction? Then you must first pledge your Christianity."
The theme park will be searching for 300 to 400 workers to fill food service, ticketing and other theme park-related positions at the 510-foot long Ark Encounter before it opens in July and Ken Ham, founder of the ministry Answers in Genesis, says employees will be required to sign a statement saying they're Christian and "profess Christ as their savior."
 
The religious group, which will run the ark's operations, won a federal court ruling in January that clarified that it can make religious-based hires even as it seeks a Kentucky tourism tax incentive worth millions.
Ken Ham said last week that he's "requiring" employees to be Christians, even if their specific jobs have nothing to do with religion.
 
A report from Raw Story added job seekers must submit a "creation belief statement" and "salvation testimony" before being hired, in addition to endorsing the official Answers in Genesis "Statement of Faith," which among other things, dictates that the planet is roughly 6,000 years old.
 
On Twitter, Ken Ham wrote, "Secular media think it's big news that a Christian organization with a specific Christian purpose @ArkEncounter will employ Christians -DUH!"
 
And while that may not seem controversial, this story is a little different. As longtime readers may recall, the Answers in Genesis ministry sought and received taxpayer support for the project, and state officials, in the name of boosting tourism, approved $18 million in tax subsidies to bolster the theme park's finances.
 
The state of Kentucky pulled back, however, after it learned that Ark Encounter intended to discriminate in hiring. If the ministry wants taxpayer money, the state said, it can't discriminate against the same taxpayers supporting the project.
 
Answers in Genesis took the matter to court, arguing that Kentucky was discriminating against the ministry because the group wants to discriminate. Inexplicably, a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush ruled in the ministry's favor, ordering the state to subsidize employment discrimination.
 
Maybe this will be reversed on appeal? Actually, no -- because new Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) likes the ruling and has no interest in challenging it.
 
And so, the theme park will discriminate against Kentucky residents, even as Kentucky residents help pay for the theme park.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.22.16

04/22/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* An important step: "Secretary of State John Kerry celebrated the signing of the Paris climate agreement on Friday, telling United Nations delegates it should sharpen the world's focus on fighting climate change."
 
* Mass shooting: "Eight people were found slain Friday in a small Ohio town east of Cincinnati -- and seven of them were killed 'execution-style.' The victims were believed 'to possibly be members of the same family' and all appeared to have been shot to death, Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement."
 
* He's right: "President Obama joined a chorus of critics calling for the repeal of controversial legislation seen as anti-LGBT on Friday, saying that laws that have been passed in Mississippi and North Carolina 'are wrong.'"
 
* When making a list of the most ridiculous antics of the Republican Congress, the assault on the IRS has to be right up there.
 
* Chicago: "A week after a task force assembled by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) released a scathing report pillorying his police department, the city is making a series of changes aimed at reforming the force."
 
* A story we've been keeping a close eye on appears to be over: "The Missouri Senate announced Thursday it is suspending contempt proceedings against a Planned Parenthood CEO after reaching an agreement to review some documents a legislative committee investigating the organization subpoenaed last year." (Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but was not involved in this controversy.)
 
* Florida: "The Florida Supreme Court suspended the state's 24-hour waiting period for abortions on Friday until it decides whether to hear a lawsuit claiming the law is unconstitutional."

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