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Cal researchers map political info via social media

Cal Berkeley researchers have launched a new website to explore how political knowledge can be spread rapidly across big populations using social media – and their test subject is one of this election season’s hottest issues.

The project, from UC’s CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative, aims to develop a general-purpose system that can be used for a wide variety of issues, but for now it’s being tested on just one: Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hike ballot measure.

Ken Goldberg, an engineering professor, said that “although the outcome of this vote has an enormous potential impact on students, alumni, teachers, parents and employers, many are not aware of Proposition 30. The California Proposition 30 Awareness Project aims to change that.”

Visitors to the website can learn about the ballot measure – a four-year, quarter-cent sales tax hike and a seven-year income tax hike for those making more than $250,000 per year – and receive a custom web link to share with whomever they please using email, Facebook or Twitter. They can return to the site later to see a unique graphic representation of their influence, and track their “influence score;” after the election, the website will list the 50 most influential people.

Influence is computed using a variant of the Kleinberg and Raghavan algorithm, where each visitor’s influence increases by one point for each person he or she recruits, by half a point for every person those people recruit, and so on. This model has been applied in many contexts with financial incentives, but researchers believe this is the first time it’s being tested with intangible rewards.

The researchers say the project and website emphasize awareness and are unbiased; the site includes links to the California Voters Guide and to campaigns on both sides of the issue. Visitors can also indicate their position for or against the proposition, and join an online discussion afterward.

Posted on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
Under: ballot measures, Jerry Brown, Media, taxes | 2 Comments »

Where does Mitt Romney’s 47 percent live?

The nation continues to mull Mother Jones’ scoop of Mitt Romney’s unguarded comments to a private fundraising event this past May in Florida:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”
[snip]
“[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

So where are those 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax?

The Atlantic has the answer, with data from the Tax Foundation. In California, 37 percent of residents pay no income tax, but that only ranks us 16th among the states:


(click to enlarge)

As the Atlantic notes:

This measures only those Americans who filed for taxes with no liability. Millions more didn’t even file; it’s those millions, added to the estimated 52 million here, who combine to make that 47 percent.

It’s important to remember that just because people aren’t paying income tax doesn’t mean they’re not paying taxes — they pay federal payroll taxes and state and local sales taxes, for example. Once those taxes are factored in, the tax regime is basically flat. And the reason that most income tax nonpayers don’t pay is they simply don’t make enough income to qualify to pay. As one might expect, the map of states with the highest poverty levels resembles this map fairly closely.

Posted on Tuesday, September 18th, 2012
Under: 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney, taxes | 18 Comments »

Dems and allies step up attacks on Dan Lungren

Democrats and their allies are stepping up their attacks on Rep. Dan Lungren, who they see as one of the most vulnerable Republican House incumbents ripe for a turnover.

Dan LungrenLungren, R-Gold River, is being challenged by Democrat Ami Bera, an Elk Grove physician. Lungren beat back a challenge from Bera in 2010, 50 percent to 43 percent, in what was then the 3rd Congressional District, where Republicans held a 3.5-percentage-point registration edge.

And Lungren finished on top in this June’s primary election with 52.7 percent of the vote to Bera’s 41 percent; independent candidate Curt Taras got 3.2 percent and Libertarian Douglas Tuma had 3.1 percent. But Democrats believe a much higher turnout in November, with a ticket led by President Obama, could buoy Bera to victory in the newly drawn 7th Congressional District, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a new online ad Monday targeting Lungren and three other Republican House incumbents (Jeff Denham, Mary Bono Mack and Brian Bilbray) for supporting GOP tax policies:

Today, the League of Conservation Voters named Lungren to its new “Flat Earth Five” program, which aims to defeat five climate change deniers in the House of Representatives this election cycle; the LCV will commit what it calls “significant resources” – at least $1.5 million for television ads, direct mail and phone banking – to these five districts.

At a town hall meeting in 2009, Lungren claimed “ideological bias” is driving efforts to combat climate change. “The science on climate change is as solid as any public policy question will ever get, but Rep. Lungren just won’t acknowledge the facts,” LCV president Gene Karpinski said in a news release.

Although he acknowledged it’s “prudent” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions “without waiting for proof or disproof of global warming,” he has opposed climate change legislation and later in 2009 called the Environmental Protection Agency’s move to regulate carbon a “vicious blow” to Americans’ freedom.

“At this point it’s clear that Lungren’s ideology is failing his constituents – he’s voted against incentives for conservation and renewable energy, and for big polluters and for more oil drilling,” California League of Conservation Voters CEO Sarah Rose said in the release. “Californians in this district deserve better. They deserve a leader that will put them first.”

Lungren joins Reps. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., and Dan Benishek, R-Mich., in the “Flat Earth Five” program; two more names will be announced in the next two weeks.

Posted on Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Dan Lungren, Environment, Global warming, taxes, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Joe Biden: ‘Most Americans got nailed’

Vice President Joe Biden came out swinging today in advance of tomorrow’s U.S. Senate vote on President Obama’s tax proposal.

“It’s a simple proposition – we’re proposing to extend the middle-class tax cut for 98 percent of the American people” – those making up to $250,000 per year, Biden told reporters on a conference call.

If the tax cuts aren’t extended, 114 million people will see their taxes increase by thousands of dollars, he said. Biden was citing figures from a new report from the National Economic Council.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said. “But the Republicans have fixed on extending all the cuts… They’re holding the middle-class tax cut hostage.”

Republicans propose continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, regardless of income. Biden said extending the cuts for those making more than $250,000 per year would cost $1 trillion over next decade, almost 80 percent of which would go to those making more than $1 million a year (who would continue enjoying an average tax cut of $160,000 per year). “What’s happening here is the very wealthy are getting the vast bulk of all of what the Republicans want to extend,” he said.

“The other side claims this is the best way to grow the economy,” Biden said – a continuation of “trickle down” economic policies. “The problem is, we’ve seen that movie before, and we know how it ends. It didn’t work before. In the beginning of the decade, congress passed trillions of dollars in tax cuts that benefited the wealthiest Americans more than anybody else.”

“What happened? The rich got richer… but most Americans got nailed. We had the slowest job growth in half a century after 2000, the typical family actually saw their income fall.”

In fact, Biden said, the Republicans’ tax proposal actually would hit millions of poor and middle-class Americans with higher taxes while protecting the wealthy.

He said that under the GOP plan, 11 million people will take a $1,100 tax hike because the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college expenses won’t be extended; 12 million will take an $800 tax hike due to elimination of recent child tax credit improvements; and 6 million will take a $500 tax hike due to elimination of marriage and large-family provisions under the Earned Income Tax Credit program.

Posted on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012
Under: Joe Biden, Obama presidency, taxes | 10 Comments »

Obama campaign launches ‘Betting on California’

The Obama campaign on Monday launched a “Betting on California” press tour to underscore the president’s support of workers and middle-class families while calling Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s record into doubt.

But Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, wouldn’t offer their own opinions on extending the Bush-era tax cuts for middle-class families. President Obama today called for extending the cuts for families making less than $250,000 but letting the cuts expire for those making more; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, in May had said that threshold won’t make it through Congress, and instead urged pursuing a $1 million cutoff.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz“There is not a rift or a difference of opinion in the Democratic party about extending tax cuts for the middle class,” Wasserman Schultz insisted to reporters on a teleconference call Monday. “We have consistently fought for middle-class tax breaks.”

“I’d like nothing better than to be debating whether it should be $250,000 or $1 million,” she added. “But I can’t imagine they (Republicans) will even bring the proposal to the floor.”

Lee said Pelosi’s opinions on “the political realities of what she believed could or could not get through Congress” doesn’t indicate a policy disagreement. “As the process evolves, we’ll come up with a number that makes sense for everyone. I don’t see this as a rift.”

Romney wants to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for all, including the nation’s wealthiest. “Americans are struggling in a ‘zombie economy’ and President Obama’s only answer is to pass one of the largest tax hikes in history,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement issued Monday. “President Obama’s tax increases on families and job creators will create more economic uncertainty and fewer opportunities for struggling middle-class families. From day one, Mitt Romney will take action to lower marginal rates, help middle-class Americans save and invest, and jumpstart economic growth and job creation.”

The “Betting on California” theme – which will include events across the state, including ones Tuesday in Oakland and Thursday in San Francisco – is modeled on the “Betting on America” bus tour that President Obama took through Ohio and Pennsylvania last week to engage workers and middle-class families.

“Whether it’s longshore workers or teachers or the entertainment industry … this is a make-or-break time, and the president has a strong record of standing by the middle class,” Maria Elena Durazo, a national Obama Campaign co-chair and executive secretary–treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, told reporters on Monday’s call. “We want a hand up for working men and women, not a hand-out.”

Durazo cited the recent Vanity Fair article highlighting Romney’s foreign bank accounts and business interests, which may be protecting him from paying some U.S. taxes. “We need a leader that bets on us and not one that bets against us.”

“Mitt Romney is not standing by the middle class, he’s still standing by his belief that rebuilding our economy is a top-down policy … but it never seems to reach any of us,” Durazo said.

Wasserman Schultz said Romney finished his tenure as Massachusetts’ governor, his state ranked first in debt per capita and 47th in job creation. “Mitt Romney knows that’s not a record to run on, that’s a record to run from,” she said.

Sources say President Obama is returning to the Bay Area on July 23 for more fundraising, his fifth such visit in the past year. Attendance at many of his fundraisers cost $35,800 per person.

Asked Monday whether the president should concentrate less on raising money from millionaires and more on engaging grassroots voters, Lee replied the bulk of the campaign’s money actually comes from small donors but Obama can’t ignore big donors if he’s to be competitive with Romney. “We’re in an era of ‘super PAC’ money and Citizens United where there’s so much corporate influence and undisclosed money in the Republican campaign.”

Romney’s fundraising in June far outstripped Obama’s, $106.1 million to $71 million, Reuters reported today.

UPDATE @ 4:03 P.M.: Tomorrow’s 2 p.m. event in Oakland will have Mayor Jean Quan and Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, touring the Fat Cat Café on Telegraph Avenue. (go ahead and prepare your “fat cat” jokes now). And at 10 a.m. Thursday, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; San Francisco Labor Council executive director Tim Paulson; and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu will gather on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to talk about middle-class families’ needs.

UPDATE @ 12:36 P.M. TUESDAY: I just got a call from the Obama campaign informing me that the Oakland event has been postponed until next week, details to come later.

Posted on Monday, July 9th, 2012
Under: 2012 presidential election, Barbara Lee, campaign finance, Mitt Romney, Obama presidency, taxes, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Who bankrolled campaigns for, against Prop. 29?

Those wonderful folks at Berkeley-based MapLight.org have crunched numbers on who bankrolled the campaigns for and against Proposition 29, the measure on tomorrow’s ballot that would impose a $1-per-pack tobacco tax to fund cancer research. The data is as of this afternoon:

SUPPORT: $12.3 million raised in total
1. American Cancer Society – $8,467,937
2. Lance Armstrong Foundation – $1,500,000
3. American Heart Association – $563,594
4. Michael R. Bloomberg – $500,000
5. American Lung Association – $421,986
6. Voters Organized for Community Empowerment (VOICE) – $152,188
7. ACS Cancer Action Network – $80,000
8. Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund – $65,000
9. University of California, San Francisco Foundation – $50,000
10. Irwin Mark Jacobs – $30,000

OPPOSITION: $46.8 million raised in total
1. Philip Morris (Altria) – $27,531,416
2. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (Reynolds American Inc.) – $11,168,698
3. U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (Altria) – $3,039,818
4. American Snuff Co. (Reynolds American Inc.) – $1,750,000
5. Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. (Reynolds American Inc.) – $1,148,000
6. California Republican Party – $1,140,909
7. John Middleton Co. (Altria) – $737,201
8. Core-Mark – $75,032
9. McLane Company Inc. – $50,000
10. Californians Against Unaccountable Taxes – $47,744

Breakdown by State

For Prop. 29:

Against Prop. 29:

Posted on Monday, June 4th, 2012
Under: 2012 primary election, ballot measures, campaign finance, taxes | 10 Comments »

Poll: Support slipping for Brown’s tax measure

Grim news for Gov. Jerry Brown: Support for his proposed November ballot measure to hike California’s sales tax and income taxes on the wealthiest residents is slipping, even after news of a larger-than-expected budget deficit.

The latest University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, conducted May 17 through 21, shows 59 percent of voters support his ballot measure while 36 percent oppose it. That’s a five-point drop in support from March, when 64 percent supported it and 33 percent opposed it.

The margin narrows further when voters are given arguments for and against Brown’s proposal, along with information – first announced by Brown on May 14 – that California faces a budget deficit of $16 billion, much higher than the initial projection of $9 billion.

In the face of these new numbers, 51 percent of likely voters agreed it’s “more important than ever to support Governor Brown’s proposal to temporarily increase the income tax on high earners. No one wants higher taxes, but we need to make these tough choices to protect public schools, higher education and public safety.”

But in contrast, 41 percent of likely voters agreed “the increased budget deficit shows clearly that state government does not know how to balance a budget or spend taxpayer dollars. It’s more important than ever to oppose Governor Brown’s proposal to temporarily increase the state sales tax because the money will just be wasted again.”

“Governor Brown and his advisors have argued that the prospect of difficult spending cuts would lead to increased support for additional revenues, but the ongoing news coverage of the state’s budget problems may be creating an obstacle for his ballot initiative as well,” said Dan Schnur, who directs the poll as well as USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics. “Voters have indicated a willingness to pay more for public schools and public safety. But they are also getting skeptical about whether their elected representatives can be trusted to spend their money wisely.”

Here’s a video of Schnur and Times reporter Anthony York discussing the poll results:

Brown’s proposed measure for November’s ballot would raise the state’s sales tax by a quarter cent – from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent – for the next four years. It also would, for the next seven years, create three new high-income tax brackets for those making more than $250,000 per year, the top 3 percent of California taxpayers. Of these new revenues, which Brown estimates at $9 billion but the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s office pegs at $6.8 million, 89 percent would go to K-12 education and the rest to community colleges.

Brown’s job approval rating stands at 49 percent, virtually unchanged from the March poll, but his disapproval rating rose from 35 percent to 39 percent.

Brown’s May budget revision includes spending cuts such as reducing state employees’ workweek by 5 percent, from 40 hours a week to 38. The new poll shows voters support this by a two-to-one margin – 60 percent to 30 percent – so long as public safety workers aren’t affected, in order to save an estimated $400 million. Latino voters were much less likely than voters overall to support the state workweek cut: Only 44 percent favored this, with 45 percent opposed.

But when told this cut would mean state offices are open four days a week, overall support for reduced work hours for public employees declined to only 54 percent, with 39 percent opposed.

The poll’s full sample of 1,002 registered voters had a 3.5-percentage-point margin of error.

Posted on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012
Under: ballot measures, Jerry Brown, state budget, taxes | 9 Comments »

Bay Area lawmakers react to Brown’s budget

The rhetoric is flying hot and heavy in the hours since Gov. Jerry Brown issued his May budget revision. We’ve got an overall look at the situation in our main story, but here’s what some of your Bay Area lawmakers are saying…

From Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont:

“As we work through this shortfall, we should do all we can to protect education and access to our colleges and universities. I appreciate the Governor’s continuing commitment to demand more accountability from for-profit higher education institutions who are saddling our students with large amounts of loan debts. We can no longer accept such high levels of student loan defaults. By making more of these colleges ineligible for Cal grant funds, our students will be more likely to attend better institutions where their chances of success will be higher.”

From Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park:

“The Governor’s May Revise reveals the tough decisions that lie ahead. I agree with the Governor that it has taken years to create the fiscal calamity that we face, and it will take years to make the structural reforms to get out of it. However, with a now $16 billion budget deficit for this year, it is near impossible to balance the budget without cuts to services we value.

“This new budget prompts the question of how much government Californians’ truly want. We cannot provide services without adequate funding. At the moment, we are severely underfunded.

“As we continue to enter budget negotiations and talks, I hope the Governor and both parties will have honest conversations of how to balance the budget without compromising our safety net, public safety, or public education system.

“It is essential that we refrain from gimmicks and tactics of kicking the can down the road. This is a problem that we face now, and in turn, we must solve this immediate deficit now. As a member of the Assembly Budget Committee, I look forward to delving into the details of this revise in order to produce a balanced, on-time budget.”

From Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco:

“The challenging cuts that Governor Brown announced today in his revised budget proposal are temporary solutions until we are able to pass responsible tax measures this November. No one is happy about $8 billion in cuts but I applaud the Governor for understanding that cuts alone will not solve our budget crisis and that California will not be able to recover economically unless we have a balanced approach to the budget deficit.

“I strongly support the proposed November tax measures and I am committed to other common sense revenue ideas like closing the corporate loopholes in Proposition 13, taxing and legalizing marijuana and enacting an oil severance tax, all of which combined would bring in more than $2 billion in new revenue annually to the state. Only by creating new revenue will we restore California’s economic health and put people back to work.”

From Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda:

“Today’s May Revise makes it clear that it is more important than ever that we move forward with Governor Brown’s tax initiative proposal. California must honestly address our structural budget deficit and thoughtfully cultivate new revenue sources. We need more revenue to responsibly fund education and protect the safety net for our most vulnerable populations. The moral and social cost of more unproductive cuts and no new revenue will be felt well past the life of this budget.”

Posted on Monday, May 14th, 2012
Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, Jerry Brown, Rich Gordon, Sandre Swanson, state budget, taxes, Tom Ammiano | 9 Comments »

Poll: More back Brown’s tax plan than Munger’s

Almost two-thirds of California’s likely voters favor raising income taxes for the state’s wealthiest residents to pay for public schools, but most oppose increasing the state sales tax for the same purpose, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll.

Both are elements of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot measure for this November.

The PPIC poll found 65 percent of likely voters favor raising the top rate of state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians, while 34 percent oppose it. But only 46 percent support raising the state sales tax while 52 percent oppose that.

When read the ballot title and a brief summary of Brown’s proposed measure, 54 percent of likely voters say they would vote for it while 39 percent would vote against it – about the same numbers as were found last month. Unsurprisingly, there’s a sharp partisan divide – 75 percent of Democrats support it, 65 percent of Republicans oppose it – but independents favor it 53 percent to 43 percent. Public school parents support it widely: 60 percent yes, 36 percent no.

Brown has said that if voters reject his measure, there’ll be automatic budget cuts for public schools; 78 percent of likely voters oppose such cuts.

Another proposed measure, bankrolled by Molly Munger, would raise income taxes on most Californians. The poll found 57 percent of likely voters oppose this, with 40 percent in support.

Brown’s own approval rating is holding steady, the poll shows: 47 percent of likely voters approve of his job performance, 40 percent disapprove and 12 percent don’t know, similar to one year ago (46 percent approval, 32 percent disapproval, 21 percent don’t know). And the Legislature remains unloved: Only 15 percent of likely voters approve of its job performance, while only 10 percent approve of its handling of K-12 education.

Lots more slicing and dicing, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
Under: ballot measures, education, Jerry Brown, polls, taxes | 11 Comments »

Reactions to Senate’s rejection of ‘Buffett Rule’

The U.S. Senate today rejected consideration of “the Buffett Rule,” which would impose a minimum tax rate on those making more than $1 million a year, on a 51-45 vote.

The rule is a key weapon in Democrats’ election-year arsenal, leveraging the income-disparity narrative that’s striking a chord with many Americans. It was bound to be a total non-starter in the Republican-dominated House, just as a Republican plan is sure to be doomed later this week in the Democrat-dominated Senate.

Sixty Senate votes were needed to invoke cloture, end debate and bring the measure to a simple majority vote. The vote was largely along party lines, although Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted with most Democrats for closure while Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted with most Republicans against it.

Though the outcome was no surprise, Bay Area Democrats dutifully voiced outrage.

“Republicans have once again shown that their No. 1 priority is protecting the wealthiest Americans from paying their fair share,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement. “Why else would they have voted against legislation to ensure that middle-class families don’t pay a higher effective tax rate than millionaires and billionaires?”

“Tonight, Senate Republicans voted against the so-called ‘Buffett rule’ which would restore fairness by fixing a stark tax inequity,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a statement. “Tomorrow, House Republicans will again pass their devastating budget that gives massive tax breaks to millionaires and ends the Medicare guarantee. Later this week, House Republicans will act to benefit their special interest friends by putting forward legislation that adds $46 billion to the deficit and does not require the creation of one single job. Once again, Republicans are giving away billions of dollars to millionaires at the expense of middle-class Americans.”

The White House issued a statement calling the rejected rule “common sense.”

“At a time when we have significant deficits to close and serious investments to make to strengthen our economy, we simply cannot afford to keep spending money on tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans don’t need and didn’t ask for,” the White House statement said. “But it’s also about basic fairness – it’s just plain wrong that millions of middle-class Americans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than some millionaires and billionaires. America prospers when we’re all in it together and everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”

On the other side, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro issued a statement saying the Senate “did the right thing today to put an end to an unnecessary distraction and a roadblock to real tax reform.

“Imposing job killing taxes is no way to encourage entrepreneurship in our state or our nation,” he said. “Today’s vote was a small victory for the American people, and for Californians who are woefully overtaxed on this ‘Tax Day’ eve.”

Posted on Monday, April 16th, 2012
Under: Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, taxes, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »