Paul Ryan's latest budget relies on even bigger unnamed savings
There's something breathtaking about any Paul Ryan budget. There are the savage cuts to healthcare and safety-net spending for the young and poor. The deep cuts to education, research, and infrastructure. The way current seniors are spared from any of this fiscal pain. The increased defense spending. And the tax cuts -- heavily tilted towards the rich, of course -- that will supposedly be paid for by eliminating loopholes.
It's this last bit that might be the most breathtaking. Ryan wants to radically simplify the tax code, and radically reduce rates in the process. His plan shrinks our seven brackets into two -- 10 and 25 percent -- while eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, the Obamacare taxes, and the expanded tax credits from the stimulus. On the corporate side, he wants to move to a territorial system, and lower the rate from 35 to 25 percent. Oh, and he wants revenue to average 18.8 percent of GDP for the next decade. The only way to do all of this is to radically cut tax expenditures too. But Ryan doesn't name a single expenditure he wants to cut. Instead, he bridges the gap with a magic tax reform asterisk.
This isn't a new magic trick for Ryan. It's just a bigger one. His tax plan hasn't changed from its previous iteration, but his revenue goal has. Ryan wants to keep the higher revenue level from Obamacare and the fiscal cliff deal without keeping those tax rates. That means his magic asterisk needs to be even more magic.
How much more magic? About a trillion dollars more.
Ryan's tax cuts would reduce revenue to a very low 15.5 percent of GDP over the next decade, according to the Tax Policy Center. But his revenue target for last year was 18.3 percent of GDP. Ryan said he would make up the difference by killing $5.6 trillion or so in tax breaks that he couldn't name. That was magical enough. But now he says he wants the same tax cuts and an extra 0.5 percent of GDP in revenue. That's about a $6.7 trillion hole. And remember, Ryan says his total budget -- tax reform and spending cuts -- will save $4.6 trillion the next 10 years. In other words, Ryan's magical savings are 146 percent of his overall savings.
This isn't a good trick. As Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress points out, there are only about $2 trillion worth of itemized deductions over the next decade. Ryan would also have to cut the big exclusions and preferences that litter the tax code to make his numbers add up.
[Glossary interlude: Itemized deductions for certain expenses, like home mortgage interest, reduce your taxable income according to your tax bracket; exclusions, like employer health care, exempt certain income from any tax at all; and preferences, like the like capital-gains rate, lower taxes for certain kinds of income.]
This is mathematically possible. But that doesn't make it politically possible.
The chart below from the Congressional Budget Office looks at the biggest loopholes, as a percent of GDP, over the next 10 years. Not surprisingly, the biggest ones are also the most popular. Ryan has to come up with $6.7 trillion in savings -- equal to 3.3 percent of GDP -- to make this work. And he's already ruled out ending the preference for capital gains (and probably, though not certainly, their exclusion at death).
This game of choose-your-own-tax-reform-adventure is quite difficult, impossible even, unless you get rid of the biggest loophole out there: the exclusion for employer-provided health care. But even if Ryan tax people's health care benefits, he isn't exactly left with easy choices. Would Ryan end the home mortgage interest deduction (just when the housing market is, barely, rebounding)? Or would he start taxing pension contributions -- think 401(k)s? Or maybe he'd eliminate the charitable deduction? Just about the only certainty here is he'd ditch the state and local tax deduction, since Republicans view that as a subsidy for high-tax, high-service blue states. But no matter what choices Ryan makes, he will almost certainly have to increase taxes on some middle-class households. It's just math.
You're not alone if you think magic is more fun than math. Paul Ryan certainly agrees.
The man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wires of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
According to Franklin, what mattered in business was humility, restraint, and discipline. But today’s Type-A MBAs would find him qualified for little more than a career in middle management.
When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated aristocratic pretension. A “Man of Leisure” was typically a member of the landed elite, someone who spent his days fox hunting and affecting boredom. He didn’t have to work for a living, and, frankly, he wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, he said, was “time for doing something useful.” Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of “The First American” in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most “useful” was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure.
First, he was tweeting about peas and guacamole. Then he was making playlists on Spotify. Now, he’s commenting on Facebook posts.
President Obama left a message on the above post by Humans of New York, a popular photo blog run by Brandon Stanton, whose content oscillates between heartwarming and heartbreaking. Here’s the post, with the signature “-bo” signoff the president uses on social media to tell users it’s the real deal.
The post comes a day after the Obama administration secured enough Senate support to guarantee Congress cannot block the nuclear deal brokered with Iran in June. And if you choose to read into its meaning, the post is the latest move by Obama to interact with Iran in ways that other recent U.S. presidents have not. In 2013, Obama spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by phone, marking the first conversation between U.S. and Iranian heads of state in 30 years.
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
Climate change means the end of our world, but the beginning of another—one with a new set of species and ecosystems.
A few years ago in a lab in Panama, Klaus Winter tried to conjure the future. A plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 degrees and a peak of 102 degrees. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been.
It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.
When Kenneth Jarecke photographed an Iraqi man burned alive, he thought it would change the way Americans saw the Gulf War. But the media wouldn’t run the picture.
The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.
On February 28, 1991, Kenneth Jarecke stood in front of the charred man, parked amid the carbonized bodies of his fellow soldiers, and photographed him. At one point, before he died this dramatic mid-retreat death, the soldier had had a name. He’d fought in Saddam Hussein’s army and had a rank and an assignment and a unit. He might have been devoted to the dictator who sent him to occupy Kuwait and fight the Americans. Or he might have been an unlucky young man with no prospects, recruited off the streets of Baghdad.
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.