Archive for October 2017

Governing Part I

October 29, 2017

There has been much written about the inability of the 115th Congress, one with Republican majorities in both Houses, to pass meaningful legislation. In the 113th Congress, Elements within the Republican Party orchestrated a Government shut down squabbling over an ideological but relatively pointless issue. The question is why are current day Republicans so inept when at the Ship of State’s helm?

Could it be there internal inconstancy among policies Republicans claim they hold dear such as:

  • Federal Debt – “Massive, out of control, and an unfair burden for our grandchildren”. In fact, US Federal Debt is about average for all the countries in the world. US Debt is higher than Switzerland, about the same as Germany, and lower than Japan. The real underlying problem with US Federal Debt is that it results from the Congress’ inability to make rational decisions on spending and taxation.
  • Tax Reform – When Republicans mention “Tax Reform”, the are really voicing a free lunch message around “tax cuts”. Republicans claim tax reform will lower (big time) Middle Class tax burden when in fact the tax cuts are premised on lowering the tax for the wealthiest of Americans. Oh, and what about the Federal Debt? This is a shameful policy and consequently Republicans must use all sorts of misdirection and misinformation to keep the voting public from seeing through their scheme before tax cuts are enacted.
  • Healthcare – In the past, Republicans were mainly agnostic about healthcare. Since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Republicans have been like a dog chasing after a meat wagon. Not surprisingly the Republican mantra overlooks the fact that some 20 million more Americans have healthcare access with Obamacare than before, or that the US pays twice as much for healthcare than other modern countries. It would appear that the national Republican Party goal is to reduce Medicaid involvement and to eliminate taxes which the wealthy pay, and in return Republicans are willing to see millions less Americans receiving coverage. Hmmm.
  • Medicaid – Even if there was not a broader fight over healthcare, Republicans support only a much smaller application of Medicaid. Many Republicans see Medicaid as “an entitlement” (something Americans do not earn) and a naturally growing government handout.
  • Social Programs – Republicans use this broad terminology to imply that Government aid for specific social programs is a wasteful and wrong headed idea. Surprisingly, the tone was different this past week when President Trump declared an emergency around the growing (predominantly white population deaths due to overdosing with opioids. Hmmm.
  • Environment – when it comes to government policy towards issues such as smoking, industrial discharge into rivers, land, and the air, and most recently global warming, most Republicans have been unusually skeptical on the “science” demanding controls. Could campaign contributions drive Republicans to favor businesses and overlook the welfare of its citizens?
  • Immigration – One of the most convoluted arguments Republicans have made is the danger posed by Mexican undocumented workers. The approximate 11 million illegal workers has been labeled as the cause of most violence, a huge drain on social programs, and “line breakers” who are trying to gain citizenship by not following the rules. Mexicans are mostly church goers, family centered, and extremely hard workers who make model Americans if given the chance. Could it be that Mexicans, if given the vote, might vote Democrat?
  • Faith Based Issues – Probably the most shameful and hypocritical position Republicans candidates have taken lie around the issue of god and religion. Republicans stand firmly by the Constitution when they pander to gun owners but are willing to twist the Constitution and accept discrimination based upon ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation (if the discriminator is motivated by deeply held religious beliefs). This is akin to one Bill of Rights phrase, overriding all other rights if it is favored by a large number of bible totting voters.

The reality of this boils down to who elects Congress members and which issues are the most important. Distorting the otherwise democratic process is the unparalleled amounts of campaign donations coupled with the “legal” and huge amounts of “issues” money.   Mostly all of this money has emanated from the wealthy, and has driven the political conversation to elect a majority of RINOs (Republican in name only). This group, depending upon where in the country they represent, bring a range of intensity to the issue mentioned above.

If instead of keeping the single name “Republican”, each member chose a more applicable name like Christian Republican, No-tax Republican, Big Business Republican, etc, then the current Republican Party would not hold the majority and power would shift to others. So, banding together, even with vastly different depth of feelings around specific issues, makes the Republican brand the majority.

Republicans, however, are showing that being the majority and providing effective governance are two different matters. This year’s Republicans are hopelessly compromised owing so much to so many (tax cuts to the wealthy contributors, discrimination rights to bible thumpers, anti-immigration action to the xenophobes, anti-science policies to short sighted business leaders, and second class and hugely expensive healthcare policies to ignorant (uninformed) Americans.

Republican Congress members are complex and thinking people. Most, if not all, know the real nature of this Post’s issues. Unfortunately too many are willing to “go along”, thereby making unbalanced choices which are setting in motion collisions between common sense and prejudices or flatly unsupportable policies. In such an environment, facts are not important, and democracy suffers while governance becomes problematic.

 

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Everyone’s Dream

October 24, 2017

One of the most popular questions posed to most young elementary students is some form of “what do you want to do when you grow up”?

Policeman, fireman, and President usually top the list of replies. (It is also true that around the time of baseball’s World Series, or football’s Super Bowl, or hockey’s Stanley Cup, or basketball’s Final Four, becoming a sport’s star is also heard often. These young responders see something noble and worthwhile about these career visions and feel proud to lay future claim to one of these professions.

Later in life, say in high school or university, the same question normally gets a more nuanced answer. The would be fireman may see an electrician or carpenter as more attractive. The policeman may consider accounting or law a wiser choice. And any one thinking about University or professional sports as a career target, even if a gifted athlete, can do the math and calculate their own probability of success.

For those hoping to become President, most were in awe of past President’s resumes and now turn to legal, financial, or corporate top positions seeing them as more attractive and attainable.  Wanting to be President might be still a dream albeit not a strong desire.

President Trump is changing all this. Unlike George Washington, whom we are told never told a lie, or Bill Clinton, who claimed never to have had sex with that woman, or Richard Nixon, who famously said “your President is not a crook”, President Trump may protest when the press insinuates his wanton regard for truthfulness, his history of predatory behavior towards women, or his excursions outside the boundaries of established law, but young, idealistic minds will see truth from fiction.

As Commander in Chief, all Americans have reason to be concerned about their President Donald Trump. His temperament is ill-suited for most any leadership role let alone the role of someone in charge of nuclear weapons. (Fortunately, the current military chain of command appears rock solid and potentially offers resistance to pre-emptive strikes ordered by the President. But do we want a coupe to resolve this situation?)

Never the less, what type of image does this worry about the need to counter balance the President with military obfuscation?

Even more worrisome, however, is President Trump’s behaviors on domestic issues. The President is well on his way to being seen as the “Divider in Chief” or the “Denier in Chief” as the President seeks to delight his narrow base of supporters or undo past Government promises aimed at protecting the environment, work place, education, or healthcare.

We should not jump to the conclusion that the President is “dumb”. He may have made some poor choices but dumb or strong headed, if assumed, would be a mistake.  On the other hand,  bully, mean spirited, and boorish are descriptors which more appropriately summarize President Trump’s behavior. Is that a place where tomorrow’s leaders would aspire?

Like most bullies, President Trump is prone to randomly pick on someone.  In a few cases, to the President’s surprise, the target will strike back and attack the President verbally, morally, or possibly legally.

Senator Bob Corker is one such person. After supporting the President when others were silent, the President repaid this kindness with belittling “tweets”. Unlike Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell who received the same type of unnecessary and unkind words and kept silent, Senator Corker has struck back “words for words”.

Most bullies, when they are called out, turn their attention elsewhere. This may happen with respect to Senator Corker.

What won’t disappear, however, is the disgraceful public image our President is making, and the disillusionment young Americans may feel.

A Name From The Past

October 23, 2017

This past week has seen a name from the past, former President George W Bush, step forward and call out the dangerous white nationalist elements who cheer the loudest when President Trump promises to “make America great again”. The former President said America is not defined by color, religion, or ethnicity. Rather Americans, or at least the ones Bush knows, share a common set of values that set the country apart from the rest of the world. Isolationism and trade wars only bring destructions and conflicts, Bush said.

Steve Bannon, President Trump’s “Karl Rove”, said President Bush was a disgrace. I wonder where he got that insight?

Only a few years ago, the political world was quite different. In the 2000s, Congressional Republicans offered a fiscally conservative agenda, were content with traditional precedents, and contained their exuberances within the boundaries of national values and America’s place in the world community. Regretfully, the “neoconservative” Republican Party wing, a splinter group, coaxed former President Bush, thanks to already having won over Vice President Dick Cheney, into invading and occupying Iraq. This misstep has turned out to be a disaster for foreign policy and one more proof to most Americans that the President and the Government could not be trusted.

Is this what Bannon is speaking about?

In another eery parallel with present day Republicans, President Bush also sought and obtained two tax cuts (no effort was made to disguised these cuts as tax reform). These cuts were premised upon stimulating the economy and words to the effect “these cuts will pay for themselves”. Hmmm.

The cuts did not pay for themselves and the costs went right to the charge account, the National Debt. Oh, and the greatest benefit went to the super rich. Hmmm.

Is this what Bannon was talking about?

While this linear reflection on history may be accurate, it is not sufficient to explain why former President Bush was motivated to give his speech this week, or why Steve Bannon was willing to denigrate a former President.

This week Congress passed a proposed $4 trillion budget which contains room for a $1.5 trillion tax cut (reform). Once again Americans were told that the tax cuts “will pay for themselves”. And once again Americans were told the cuts will benefit middle class Americans. And, once again the real winners were the very wealthy like the Kochs and a whole host of special interests.

Does history repeat?

Former President Bush’s words were not in opposition to tax reform.  His words were instead very much to the point of President Trump’s un-American rhetoric and apparent disdain for traditional institutions.    Bush’s comments represent a much needed push back from mainstream Republicans.

American voters, on the other hand, have much to be disenchanted with. The smell emanating from Congress members’ partisan behavior is only exceeded by their focus upon the needs of their financial supporters. What should a frustrated voter do, turn to men like Steve Bannon?

There has been a revival of the show “Caberet” recently. This musical drama about pre-World War II Berlin is a chilling reminder about dogmatic regimes that attempt to restrict personal freedoms and freedom of the press (expression).  “Fake News”, “Muslim bans, and “building walls” are dog whistles for those with fascists views.

If nothing more, former President Bush’s words provide weight to those who object to “bully-ism” or any related form of racism, homophobia, or gender discrimination.

President Bush may have made mistakes, and Republicans at that time may have been lax on fiscal and regulatory diligence, but no one can claim Republicans were intent on subverting traditional democratic ways to gain personal or political advantage.

Since 2008, things have been different.

“Caberet” and former President Bush’s words should serve as a wake up call for a sleeping Americans.  While we have all slept, “nationalist forces” have made large inroads into America’s governing process.   Like many Germans in 1939, some Americans are becoming aghast at what NAZI government control could do.

Taxes Make The World Go Round

October 18, 2017

Congress and in particular, the Republican majority are in a whirl. With majorities in both houses and a Republican President, the GOP has nothing to show for its hold on the reigns of power. I should be quick to say, nothing yet.

The two signature pieces of legislation Republican leaders boast about have been the “repeal and replace” for Obamacare and the “tax reform” for individual and corporate taxes. For a host of reasons the GOP has not been able to agree upon legislation which would accomplish these goals and have looked impotent in their efforts.

The most obvious reason for the GOP inability has been the absence of a sound logical rationale for either healthcare or tax reform even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the current tax code are badly in need of modifications. One wonders why?

Would you believe that Republicans do not really care about either healthcare or about tax reform? True. Despite all the rhetoric and chest thumping, at the end of the day Republicans do not care about healthcare as a right of all Americans nor do they care about a tax code which generates sufficient revenue to cover government expenses. Hmmm.

One wonders how Republicans can justify a reduction in both benefits and the number of Americans covered with healthcare insurance while at the same time, and with a straight face, push for ending the individual mandate and the taxes higher income Americans pay under Obamacare. Republicans promise more healthcare options and lower costs for coverage without telling many Americans that they better hope they never get really sick (need coverage) or have pre-existing conditions.

But make no mistake Republicans do care about reducing taxes, especially on those Americans who are the major funders of their political campaigns. Hmmm.

The current individual tax code offers another insight.

Marginal Tax rate

On Earnings Per Year

10%

$0 – 9325

15%

$9325 – 37950

25%

$37950 – 91900

28%

$91900 – 191650

33%

$191650 – 416700

35%

$416700 – 418400

39.6%

$418400+

While the specifics of the Republican tax reform bill are not fixed, think about the impact of the rumored new rates and brackets. Gone will be the 10% bracket so one would assume that 15% would apply to all income from $0 to $37950. Sounds like a tax increase to me. (In truth, increased standard deductions could make the increase much smaller or even disappear.)

But let’s look at the other end where the top bracket of 39.6% is said to disappear. Someone earning, say $500,000 per year would see an immediate tax reduction $23,000 (4.6% x $500,000). For the average Fortune 500 corporate CEO earning $15,000,000 the savings looks more like $690,000. And you do the math for the billionaire earners.

For 2018 mid-term elections, it should not take a genius to inform American voters what the GOP has done (or tried to do) for the last two years and what lies in store for them in the future.. Most Americans have employer provided (group plan) health insurance or are on Medicare. They are not affected… now.

If the GOP is content to do dirty with some Americans, what makes anyone think that other Americans will soon be at risk?

The prognosis on taxes is just as dangerous. It is possible that the reformed tax code will only slightly hurt the average American (new deductions could offset those eliminated (like State and local taxes or mortgage interest). The baked in tax break for the very wealthy will reduce overall tax revenues which in turn will limit government spending on a variety of programs, and possibly leading to cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

And, if Republicans do not try to cut enough spending to offset the tax revenue loss, the difference will go on the “credit card”, our Federal Debt.

Hmmm.

Go Figure

October 16, 2017

President Trump along with Republican Congressional leaders are getting hot over the prospects of tax reform. The President, in his usual manner, is questioning the manliness of key Republican Senators and asking rhetorically, can Congress finally pass key legislation.

Apparently, President Trump has something in mind and thinks it is Congress’ job to figure out what will satisfy the President, pass the Senate, and meet the smell test of a “huge middle class tax cut”.

Senator Ted Cruz is panting that unless this tax reform passes, the 2018 elections will not go well for incumbents. Other Senators like Lindsey Graham are saying more or less the same message. I wonder why?

Could it be that Republican incumbents are carrying two “bull’s eyes” on their backs?

The first bull’s eye comes from the conservative right who now view anyone who hesitates on proposed legislation as “too” moderate. Without clear and definitive action, moderate Republicans should expect an extremely well financed primary challenge. Hmmm.

The second bull’s eye is probably not as obvious to Republicans. Simply stated, what will happen if these greedy Republicans do pass tax reform?

Will anyone, other than the wealthy and big corporations be better off?

The answer is assuredly the middle class will see nothing despite the President’s promises. And, when nothing appears in middle class pockets, Republicans will urge patience, the roaring economy is coming. And, so is Christmas.

The Republican Party boasts about 30-35% of the electorate. This groups is home to wealthy “dyed in the wool” Republicans who will vote GOP almost every time. It is just a question of how conservative one of this 35% will vote.

Democrats sport a similar 30-35% who will find it difficult to vote Republican ever. Simplifying the tax code and offering a “huge” middle class tax cut will get more than a snap rejection for these Democrats. If Democrats pay attention and do not get lulled into believing the President and thinking Congress has their interest in mind, a tax bill which primarily helps the wealthy and big corporate interests to the exclusion of the middle class, will become obvious.  Consequently the recognition should come back to haunt Republicans.

The middle group (30-40%) who like to call themselves independents will see this issue as well as healthcare more similar to Democrats. Should Republicans pass tax reform, aka tax cuts for the rich and corporations, and leave the middle class out in the cold, independents will help make 2018 and 2020 bleak for the GOP.

The irony is that there is real need for tax reform and the corporate tax codes put US corporations at a disadvantage on a global basis. The current corporate tax code also allows corporations to shield billions of foreign earnings from the the US tax man.  There is a genuine need for tax reform, not tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Regretfully, we are living in a world where “what I mean is not what I say”. Shame, shame, on the GOP.

Ah-Merry-Ka

October 13, 2017

Last evening the Philadelphia Orchestra performed the stage version of West Side Story. It is a magnificent piece and summons upbeat memories from a time when overcoming obstacles seemed part of America’s DNA.

West Side Story features newly arrived Americans from Puerto Rico, the Sharks, entering the turf of first or second generation European immigrants, the Jets.   At the time, the migration of Puerto Ricans into previously all white neighborhoods was the source of both hatred and grave concern.  Could the parties, represented by the Jets and the Sharks, find a way to live together?

West Side Story is based loosely upon Romeo and Juliet and consequently has a sad ending. But, before the ending West Side Story shouts out “life” with brilliant music, lyrics, and dance.  Would a new “whole” be better than the former separated parts?

With all the negativity currently occupying the White House and the halls of Congress, the Philadelphia Orchestra showered hope and happiness, at least for a couple of hours.

Take for example the song, “America”.    One verse presents these words…

I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev’rything free in America
For a small fee in America!

A little later, the ensemble sings…

Immigrant goes to America,
Many hellos in America;
Nobody knows in America
Puerto Rico’s in America!

I wonder whether Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim foresaw that 50 years later America would have a President who seeks to divide and acts as if Puerto Rico is a foreign land?

Weinstein – Fake News?

October 11, 2017

President Trump got a breather this week with the news media focused on a new subject.

The New York Time and subsequently most other tabloids began reporting what sexual abuse or harassment Harvey Weinstein heaped upon young actress. The revelations have been characterized as “well everyone knew that” to “we are shocked, had no idea such things were happening”. Liar, Liar.

Revelations that a wannabe starlet was willing to trade sexual favors for an acting job is not new or unexpected information. After all that first assignment is often called “a big break”.

What seems to have captured readers attention is the serial nature of Weinstein’s offers of stardom to so many young actresses. What is being portrayed as real big news is the public admissions of A-list talent and their current willingness to speak out and be quoted.

Weinstein is a fairly large, imposing man. He has been remarkably successful with films he produced. One would think most people would like to be on Weinstein’s list of talent.

Weinstein, however, displays many characteristics of a bully, picking on actresses who want/need the role badly and, of course, are not yet established as A-list talent. Weinstein was in a position to help, if, if , if.

Sound like a fair or adult relationship?

President Trump has boasted that while he owned the Miss America pageant, he would walk in on the contestant while they were dressing. Why, just because he could. And who can forget the Access Hollywood open mic video where Trump bragged about his roving hands. Why, just because he could.

Bullies have similar traits and always attempt to take advantages of those in a weaker or in compromised position. It looks like Weinstein’s days of having it his way are over.

I wonder when a similar outcome will visit President Trump?

What say Mr Tillerson, Mr Corker, or Mr Sessions?