Kevin Drum

Palin's Kids

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 6:30 PM EDT

PALIN'S KIDS....MoJo's co-editor Monika Bauerlein is a little annoyed at some of the criticism being thrown Sarah Palin's way:

I have three kids, my youngest is three months older than Palin's, and that isn't stopping me from doing my job. Nor is it stopping Clara, my co-editor, who has a new baby....

Too many women have been patronized out of jobs they wanted with pseudo-considerate treacle like "I thought your priority right now was your family." It's happened to friends of mine; it's happened to me; if you have ovaries, chances are pretty good it has happened or will happen to you. That's the reality of living in post-women's lib America, and that's why one part of me is heartened by the Palin pick. People may find lots of reasons why she shouldn't be in the White House — but at least, having little kids didn't put her out of the running in the first place. And for that, I have to confess, I'm grateful to John McCain.

Agreed. There are loads of reasons to criticize McCain's choice of Palin, and I suspect that as Alaskans start to weigh in we're going to uncover even more. But being the mother of five children isn't one of them. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to get a clue.

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Sarah Palin and Taxes

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 3:19 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN AND TAXES....Let's talk policy! And to make it even more interesting, let's talk tax policy!

So here's an interesting thing about Alaska governor Sarah Palin: she's a tax raiser. Last September she proposed a new state tax plan called ACES, and by November she had successfully pushed it through the Alaska legislature in a special session. ACES had two goals. First, it replaced a year-old plan called PPT that was mired in corruption and was widely distrusted. No problem there. Second, it was designed to increase revenue. PPT had raised revenues by $1 billion, but that was still less than everyone expected. So Palin's plan increased that by another $700 million.

But it gets even more interesting. ACES, of course, is a tax on the oil industry, since that's how the rugged individualists up north fund themselves. (In addition to massive infusions of federal cash, that is.) And it had three basic provisions:

  • An increase in the basic tax rate on oil company profits from 22.5% to 25%.

  • A windfall profits provision. When oil prices went over $50/barrel or so, the tax rate would rise 0.2% for each dollar.

  • A tax floor. If oil prices fell below about $40/barrel, oil companies would still have to pay 10% of the gross price of the crude they produce.

Palin was especially dedicated to the windfall profits provision, or "progressiveness," as she calls it. For example, here's an op-ed she wrote about how the various pieces of her plan work together:

Progressiveness is the additional share we capture when oil prices and profits are high. I chose to set the progressiveness knob [i.e., the windfall profits tax] at a relatively low level in exchange for more security when prices are low. We accomplished this through a gross tax floor at our legacy fields. If the Legislature chooses to discard that floor, then the knob on progressiveness needs to be set higher — to make sure we capture a more equitable share when prices are high and profits extraordinary.

In the end, the Alaska legislature took Palin's plan and ran with it. The final version twiddled the knobs and ended up producing not $700 million in additional revenue, but more like $2 billion or so. Palin proclaimed herself delighted with the result and said she had no problem with signing an even bigger tax increase than she had originally proposed: "When I rolled [ACES] out," she said after the final version passed, "I had said I was so anxious to work with lawmakers to make this even better."

Now here's the thing: as near as I can tell, Palin actually did a pretty decent job of working with a fractured state legislature to produce a new tax regime in a short period of time. But a tax hike is a tax hike. Here, for example, is the reaction of cranky conservative Anchorage talk show host Dan Fagan:

Most folks think the oil industry with its so-called obscene profits can absorb a 2 1/2 percent increase in taxes. But even the 2 1/2 percent rate increase the media focus on, represents a 10 percent hike in the 22.5 percent production tax. But there is so much more.

Here's what most who rely on the mainstream media for information would be surprised to know. The governor's tax represents a 400 percent increase in the amount of production taxes paid. Four hundred percent increase, not 2 1/2.

....But where the Palin money grab really affects future investment is with the marginal tax rate. At today's oil price, every new dollar the industry earns in our state, the government takes a mind-boggling 85 percent.

Etc. If Palin were a Democrat, this is the kind of jeremiad you'd be hearing from Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist, but instead of talk about looting American businesses and destroying incentives to invest, we get crickets. Norquist doesn't even mention taxes here and Limbaugh, who's been talking up Palin for a while, doesn't either. "Babies, guns, Jesus. Hot damn!" was his reaction yesterday.

So: one of the first things Palin did after she took office was to propose a big tax increase that included a windfall profits tax on the oil industry. I don't have a big problem with that, and I'm sure the McCain campaign will eventually treat us all to a blizzard of spin about why her tax increase wasn't really a tax increase. But facts are stubborn things, and somebody really ought to poke the conservative anti-tax intelligentsia a little harder about how they feel about this. Grover? Rush? Newt? Sean?

UPDATE: It turns out there's more! "Hockey mom" Sarah Palin, when she was mayor of Wasilla, was the prime advocate for a sales tax increase to fund a huge new sports complex there. What's more, she bungled the land acquisition, which meant the city ended up paying $1.7 million for the land instead of the planned $146,000. That's fiscal conservatism we can believe in!

Palin on the Issues

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 1:43 AM EDT

PALIN ON THE ISSUES....Tyler Cowen believes that liberals are making a mistake if they harp too much on Sarah Palin's lack of experience on the public stage. Presumably, we should instead be targeting her on the issues. I don't think I agree with this, but there's certainly no harm in also targeting her on the issues. So here are Sarah Palin's stands on seven issues:

  1. Joe Klein on taxes: Palin exploded her state's coffers by imposing a windfall profits tax on the oil companies...sort of — no, exactly — like the proposal Barack Obama has made and John McCain has attacked. Apparently, she also supported the Bridge to Nowhere, despite her disclaimer at today's event. So how does McCain explain putting a tax-raising porker on his ticket?

  2. Alaska native Charles Wohlforth on the Troopergate scandal: In July, Palin fired the beloved commissioner of Public Safety, Walt Monegan, without meaningful explanation. Monegan said he had resisted administration pressure to fire a State Trooper who was in a bitter child custody battle with Palin's sister. Palin first denied the pressure, then released evidence, including a recorded phone call, that backed up Monegan's story. The legislature, which isn't exactly Palin-friendly, hired an ex-prosecutor to investigate. More here.

  3. Sarah Palin on creationism vs. evolution in public schools: I am a proponent of teaching both. And, you know, I say this, too, as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.

  4. Anchorage Daily News reporter Tom Kizzia on social issues: A significant part of Palin's base of support lies among social and Christian conservatives. Her positions on social issues emerged slowly during the campaign: on abortion (should be banned for anything other than saving the life of the mother), stem cell research (opposed), physician-assisted suicide (opposed), creationism (should be discussed in schools), state health benefits for same-sex partners (opposed, and supports a constitutional amendment to bar them).

  5. Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope on big oil: Palin herself told Roll Call earlier this week, "When I look every day, the big oil company's building is right out there next to me, and it's quite a reminder that we should have mutually beneficial relationships with the oil industry." No one is closer to the the oil industry than Governor Palin. Along with her support for drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and off our coasts, she also opposes a windfall profit tax on the richest oil companies. Under her leadership, Alaska has sued the federal governent for considering listing the Polar Bear as a threatened species even though global warming threatens its very existence.

  6. Sarah Palin on global warming: A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.

  7. Politico's Glenn Thrush on spending: Palin, who portrays herself as a fiscal conservative, racked up nearly $20 million in long-term debt as mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla — that amounts to $3,000 per resident. She argues that the debt was needed to fund improvements.

Palin's lack of public experience means that her views on most issues are actually unknown, which makes this exercise sort of difficult. But I'm sure we'll be finding out much, much more about Palin in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned.

Sarah Palin on Iraq

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 8:17 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN ON IRAQ....I thought that maybe if I transcribed this podcast it would make more sense, but no dice. Here is Sarah Palin a couple of weeks ago talking about energy supplies and the war in Iraq:

The GOP agenda to ramp up domestic supplies of energy is the only way that we're going to become energy independent, the only way that we are going to become a more secure nation — and I say this, of course, looking at the situation we are in right now, at war, not knowing what the plan is to ever end the war that we're engaged in, understanding that Americans are seeking solutions, and they are seeking resolution in this war effort, so energy supplies, being able to produce and supply domestically, is going to be a big part of that.

....I have a 19 year old who's getting ready to be deployed to Iraq. His Stryker brigade will leave on September 11th of this year. He's 19, he'll be gone for a year. [And so] kind of on a personal level, when I talk about, umm, the plan for the war, you know, let's make sure we have a plan here, and respecting McCain's position on that.

So it turns out that not only does John McCain's running mate not have even the slightest background in foreign policy, but that she can't even talk about it coherently. McCain's handlers really have their work cut out for them.

And here, Matt Yglesias confirms that McCain had apparently met Palin exactly twice before today: once a few months ago when she came to Washington to talk about oil drilling and once more for five minutes via phone last Sunday. [UPDATE: Nope, three times! He also met with her briefly on Thursday morning before offering her the VP slot at 11 am.]

This is all part of what I was talking about the other day when I noted that McCain is running such a palpably unserious campaign. Steve Schmidt seems solely interested in winning the daily news cycle; his staff spends its time gleefully churning out juvenile attack videos; McCain himself has retreated into robotic incantations of simpleminded talking points; and now he's chosen a manifestly unqualified VP that he knows nothing about. I've honestly never seen anything like it.

But hey — as long as we're on the subject of unseriousness, I have to say that humorists sure do work fast these days. Within a couple of hours of Palin's announcement, we got Palin on the cover of Vogue (the real Vogue pictures are here) and Sarah Palin's blog. For more, ThinkProgress and Andrew Sullivan have both become 24/7 Palin trivia machines.

More Reaction to Palin

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 5:38 PM EDT

MORE REACTION TO PALIN....Noah Millman on Sarah Palin:

I realize, of course, that she's totally unqualified to be President at this point in time. If McCain were to die in February 2009, I hope Palin would have the good sense to appoint someone who is more ready to be President to be her Vice President, on the understanding that she would then resign and be appointed Vice President by her successor.

....What's the Vice Presidency for, anyhow? Arguably, it's not for anything at all....Palin fits a different model. She's not a President-in-waiting; she's a President-in-training. That's what Quayle was supposed to be, and to the extent he failed it was mostly because of his own personal qualities.

And this is from a guy who likes her! Jeebus.

Lessee. What else? Ramesh Ponnuru weighs in here. Andrew Sullivan has two letters from readers here and here. The second one echoes my reaction to McCain's body language while he was introducing Palin. McCain was obviously pleased at the idea of being a father figure to a young woman who would accept his lead without question and never challenge him. Elsewhere, Steve Doocy, who apparently read my joke earlier this morning, seriously suggests that living across the Bering Strait from Russia makes Palin a foreign policy expert. And Jon Chait notes that a couple of bloggers have already unearthed the fact that Palin supported Pat Buchanan in 2000:

Neither of them really dwells on the significance of this, so I wanted to back up for those who don't remember the circumstances of the time. This isn't like supporting Buchanan in the GOP primary. When Palin was supporting him, Buchanan was running as a third (actually, fourth) party insurgent, appealing to conservatives who thought George W. Bush was too moderate. This suggests that she's not just a run-of-the-mill movement conservative but a hard-core right-winger.

That's all for now. Conservatives on the tube are really, really struggling to defend this choice. I almost feel sorry for them. I'm sticking to my guns that before long this will be seen for the debacle it is.

Friday Cat Blogging - 29 August 2008

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 4:09 PM EDT

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....I can't let Palin fever distract me from more important duties, can I? And what's more important than catblogging? On the left, Inkblot is cruising the fence, looking for a branch to scratch himself on. On the right (taken a few minutes before), Domino is napping on the garden bench while his majesty snoozes in the background.

By the way, one unanticipated benefit of the new blog is its sheer size. Those of you who have been begging for years for larger catblogging pictures finally have them. Maybe still not as grand and glorious as you (and the cats) would like, but bigger than they used to be. Enjoy!

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Nowhere to Go

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 3:39 PM EDT

NOWHERE TO GO....Sarah Palin is getting props in the media for her decision last year to cancel Alaska's notorious "bridge to nowhere," but it's worth pointing out that this was hardly a brave decision. Originally, while she was running for governor and stumping for votes, she thought the bridge was a fine idea:

As for the infamous "bridges to nowhere," [debate moderator Steve] MacDonald asked if the candidates would forge ahead with the proposed Knik Arm crossing between Anchorage and Point MacKenzie and Ketchikan's Gravina Island bridge. Each has received more than $90 million in federal funding and drew nationwide attacks as being unnecessary and expensive. He also asked if they support building an access road from Juneau toward — but not completely connecting to — Skagway and Haines.

"I do support the infrastructure projects that are on tap here in the state of Alaska that our congressional delegations worked hard for," Palin said. She said the projects link communities and create jobs.

She later changed her tune, but only after Congress had already decided not to fully fund the Gravina bridge and it was clear that Alaska itself would have to put up most of the money for the project. What's more, it's not as if she was giving up anything: the funding that had been approved still went to Alaska. It just wasn't earmarked for the bridge. So this wasn't quite the profile in courage that the McCain campaign would have us believe.

McCain's Angle

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 3:01 PM EDT

McCAIN'S ANGLE....I should add, in case it wasn't clear from my previous posts, that I certainly understand the political calculation behind John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Their thinking is that she's a hard-right conservative who appeals to the base (David Brody was just on CNN telling us that Christian conservative leaders were high-fiving each other over the Palin pick), but not a famous hard-right conservative who's going to scare off independents. Soccer moms will like her. She's inexperienced, but no one can hold that against her this year — and anyway, her lack of a track record also means she doesn't bring a lot of baggage to the campaign. She's got great anti-corruption cred. She's young and vibrant and has an attractive family. Joe Biden will have a hard time going on the attack against a woman. She's unknown, but frankly, to most low-information voters (i.e., to most voters), all VP picks are unknown.

So sure, I get it. And who knows? Politically speaking, it could turn out to be an inspired choice. Frankly, I doubt it, and I suspect her weaknesses will become clearer as everyone gets over their initial shock and starts thinking this through a little harder. But you never know.

As for mooseburgers, I'll bet I'd like 'em too if I ever got a chance to try one. Anyone know where I can score one in Southern California?

Yet More Palin

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 1:41 PM EDT

YET MORE PALIN....Well, Palin just managed to get a crowd of 10,000 Republican die-hards to throw up a huge cheer for Hillary Clinton. That's a first.

This whole thing is crazy. Various conservatives and TV talking heads, now that they've gotten used to Palin, seem to be working hard to dig up reasons why she's the most brilliant choice ever. She's a reformer, her son is headed to Iraq, her husband is a union member, anybody with five kids knows how to handle pressure, she's popular with Alaska voters, women are going to love her, etc. etc.

Look, call me a partisan hack. Whatever. But I'm just stunned by the cynicism of the whole thing. I'm sure Palin is a fine person, loving mother, devoted wife, learning her way as governor, and so forth. But a heartbeat away from the presidency? Someone with virtually no serious political experience, and no serious experience of any other kind to make up for it? She's going to shake up Washington?

I don't know how she'll do on the stump or in the debates. Maybe she'll be great. Who knows? But a potential leader of the free world? You gotta be kidding.

News Flash

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 1:37 PM EDT

NEWS FLASH....MSNBC's crawl at the moment:

Palin: This is a moment when principals matter

Our nation's educators will be glad to hear it.