Archive for November 2017

The Art Of Distraction

November 30, 2017

Today could be the day that Republicans pass their “massive” tax reform. A reform, that by any other name, would be just an old fashion tax cut and give away. A give away, not to all but to the Republican friends who have bank rolled so many of the elected officials. Why isn’t this done deal since Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the Presidency as well?

There are ideological reasons. For example, the fiscal hawks are really between a rock and hard place since this “tax reform” will send probably $1.5 trillion or more to the already $20 trillion Federal Debt. Archival TV footage will show these same Senators and Representatives who vote for this tax bill, full throatily denouncing government spending because (sob, sob), “we are leaving our mess for future generations to deal with”. Never the less, ideology only goes so far, especially when there are millions involved in campaign donations.

Other ideologues want to ensure the right type of corporations get the right amount of tax cuts. Large, globally competing corporations have a different sense of what a globally competitive tax code might look like than a group of doctors, lawyers, or small town manufacturers would. Of course there is nothing in the “tax reform” legislation that requires corporations to reinvest these windfall profits, or to hire more workers, or to increase the pay of anyone. If you believe the free market will produce these wondrous results I have a bridge you might be interested in too.

The overall process the GOP has employed could be described as obfuscate and distract.

The creation of the specific House and Senate versions has been done in secret, without public hearings, and with no solicitation of public ideas. In addition the bill drafting process has been done hastily to minimize any time to discover the full ramifications and even less time to inform Americans of who gets what and who loses what.

For example, today it was reported that the House bill would classify student grants such as that received in scholarships for graduate work, as income and fully taxable at the total estimated value of a graduate program. The result would be that students might become responsible for paying taxes as if they were earning $80,000 a year when in fact they earn far, far less if anything. It would appear that Republicans do not think anyone other than the already wealthy should have access to higher education. Hmmm.

The more clever and sinister part of the obfuscation and distraction strategy goes to the hands of the President. President Trump may be the modern master of distraction, either by intent or by sheer incompetence. The President has opened one issue after another (such as defense of Judge Roy Moore, attacks on the New York Times and Washington Post, and retweets of racist and hateful British tweets dignifying what others have refuted with the Presidential stamp. The impact is when the news media chooses to cover this outrageous behavior, by default the media dilutes the time/space for fuller coverage of the tax reform debate.

Pundits predict that the Senate vote is still too close to call and the votes may not be there. On the other hand, any Republicans not voting for this tax bill can expect a far right challenge in their next election.

It might take a lot of courage for some GOP members to vote no on this bill. but Ironically, I wonder whether Republicans realize the tidal wave of anger which will come next year, should the bill be passed, and Republicans are forced to reduce farm subsidies, Medicare and Medicaid, and Social Security to stop the Federal Debt hemorrhaging?

Political “No Win” ?

November 27, 2017

Republicans are in the home stretch. This month they could pass the largest tax reform (actually tax cuts) in at least 30 years. And paying less in taxes is what most everyone wants. Right?

Yes but but chances are high that the Republican tax cuts represent a “political no win”

Republicans in Congress are poised to begin thumping their chests once the bill passes. Republicans sense a double victory coming their way.

  • First,  the tax cuts themselves will represent a victory. The Koch brothers, the Mercers, and dozens of other really rich supporters will be pleased with Congressional GOP (read more money in the future). Everyday Americans will gladly accept the scraps that fall off the tax cut table too. Does it get much better?
  • Yes it does. The second reason for GOP’s glee is that Congress will have to cut government spending in order to keep the deficit from exploding. And cutting the deficit means paring back massively entitlements.

You can see it now. Statesmanly Republican leaders worriedly calling for spending reduction action or otherwise out grandchildren’s children will inherit massive debt and an America bankrupted by Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Can you imagine those wrinkled foreheads?

One must wonder, however, whether Republicans see the trap hidden amongst the tax cut changes?

The proposed Republican tax cuts can only be described as an unforced error. The American economy is strong and expanding. There is need for a government stimulus program and a good deal to worry about if the economy overheats.

On top of that, the promise of a huge boost in GDP growth is nothing short of a pipe dream. Only members of the flat earth society could seriously accept the notion that America’s economy could consistently outstrip the two dozen or so modern industrial nations.

The US economy, of course, can be stimulated to grow faster but what makes anyone think that faster growing economy would not contract after a short period of high growth? Add to that the risk of igniting inflation and higher interest rates (read a slowing force on the economy) amplifying a decrease in demand because most Americans have not seen real increases in the income.

Passage of a tax cut bill is not assured but should it happen, and should Republicans press forward with an assault on entitlements, “open season” at the polls will almost certainly follow.

Most Americans, strangely, do not pay federal income taxes anyways. They make to little. So they do not need any of the GOP tax cuts but are far more likely to feel the impact of cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

The proverbial “middle class” will soon realize they too have not received anything when they get an opportunity to pay higher federal income taxes since deductions for State and local taxes as well as mortgage interest will be pared back.

And the probability of higher wages being the fruit falling from the tax cut tree is de minimis.

In 2018 and again in 2020, Republican candidates should have no shortage of campaign donations. In a relatively evenly divided electorate given 2016 election, it won’t take much to tip the Republican to Democrat Congressional ratio and put Democrats back in control of one or both houses. Such an outcome would be poetic justice for Democrats and could signal an end to Trump’s agenda (whatever that is).

How Long Will It Last – #MeToo

November 25, 2017

Each day seems to bring another revelation about inappropriate behavior or outright sexual harassment. And with each disclosure, another prominent name, and another call for an apology (and suitable banishment from public appearances). Too little too late, or the correct action at the correct time?

There are few, if any, rationales that justify the reported behaviors . Certainly, some women have been fully complicate in trading sex for something, money, love, or career advantages for example. And in other cases, women have been promised something only to later learn that similar promises were made to others or that there never had been any real intent to fulfill the promise. A jilted woman can show no mercy.

In most cases, however, the man was the aggressor and women were the victim, full stop.

Bordering on the “I can’t believe this happened”, in at least three reported cases, the accused invited a work associate to an hotel room or private home, ostensibly to cover work related matters, and within a short period of time, the accused was parading butt naked in front of the associate. What was the abuser thinking and how could he assume it would be ok to walk around butt naked?

What was the associate’s thinking, how long did it take to notice this unusual behavior, and how long did it take that person to leave?

These incidents raise so many questions about what might be normal, everyday life for some people.

Who knows?

What is clear is that the recently reported behavior, for the most part, were not single isolated events. Summoning assistants to hotel rooms or private homes in order to discuss “business” must be a routine happening. These events are part of a “system”, where aspiring individuals go the extra mile to demonstrate their commitment. Under these conditions sexual behavior seems a reasonable, even if unwanted, expectation.

The point of this post is that what is currently being reported, while unacceptable behavior, can be much more complicated and potentially involve some complicity with the accuser.

The greater message is that “taking advantage of anyone” is undesirable behavior. Taking advantage with force or use of power is very wrong and totally undesirable.

The public is facing a problem too. There has been so much news and sensationalization that some of the public are experiencing “mind” overload. Each additional disclosure could risks numbing public outcry and replacing it with a quiet acquiescence that this is just the way life is.



What Is Reform?

November 20, 2017

Candidate Donald Trump and the GOP in general campaigned on the pledge to overhaul the Federal Tax Code and “reform it”. Hmmm.

Both the House and the Senate have unveiled their visions of tax reform and for the clear eyed, one should not be surprised with the comment, “what tax reform”? Tax cut, maybe, but reform, hardly.

What’s the problem?

  1. Republicans were never concerned with “reform”, rather it was tax cuts that drove this campaign pledge.

  2. Republicans had already mortgaged their collective souls to the super rich (like Charles and David Koch, and Robert Mercer), so cuts favorable to the super wealthy were a done deal.

  3. Small business owners who have predominantly voted Republican were next in line. These “pass through” tax payers needed a lower corporate tax rate so they would not have to pay the appropriate individual income tax rate.

  4. Big corporations were interested in more government welfare but were more concerned about not losing their current “effective” tax rate (18%).

  5. The Middle Class were asking “what’s in it for me” and both Congressional Houses presented plans which were murky to say the least. Against Trump boasts, “biggest Middle Class tax cut ever”, the Middle Class has been hard pressed to see anything in it for them.

  6. The Senate, not content with a weak tax cut offering, included a provision to repeal the “individual mandate” of Obamacare which has only served to make voters more suspicious of the tax reform bill’s real intent.

OK, what’s the real problems?

  1. Tax code reform has never been the real intent of Republicans. GOP focus has been on rewarding their supporters.

  2. Tax code reform is extremely complicated and impacts all aspects of our $13 trillion economy.

  3. The underlying threat to the US economy lies in income inequality, per capita healthcare costs, and funding for so-called entitlement programs. Republicans do not care about income inequality, are agnostic about healthcare costs, and want to sharply reduce if not eliminate entitlements (read – Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security).

  4. Rather than debate tax reform in the open and attempt to reach a bi-partisan compromise, the GOP has chosen to implement rules which would allow the GOP to pass “tax reform” with the current Republican majorities. What policy changes within the compromised GOP could carry the day?

  5. The path Republicans have selected makes a joke of their past chest pounding anxious cries over the Federal Debt. The Senate and House proposals will add $1-1.5 trillion (at a minimum) to the Federal Debt and could add much more.

  6. The notion that corporations will take tax savings and use that money to invest and add jobs is totally laughable. Even more laughable is that corporations will use the extra savings to increase workers wages and benefits. This dog won’t hunt.

  7. The GOP plans come from “supply side” economic theory which in the two recent previous times the US has tried it (Ronald Reagan and George W Bush) has not performed as advertised. If the GOP really was looking to spend $1.5 trillion to stimulate the economy, a coordinated infrastructure government spending program would have far greater chances of increasing GDP, raising employment, and increasing wages.

  8. At the very base of the GOP house of lies (bad assumptions or beliefs), is that on a world basis, the US economy is doing quite well. Thinking that somehow the rest of the world could grow GDP at an average 2% and the US, magically, could grow at 4-6% is worse than drawing to an inside straight. These are different times than the post WWII period and long term growth must by the nature of things grow more modestly if it is to grow at all. The US needs to focus on how, as a nation, the country can grow productivity, make products and services others want, and share these earnings more fairly with other Americans.

Americans, especially voters must come to see that the current GOP leadership views tax reforms as tax cuts, and tax cuts mean “free lunches” and “free lunches don’t exist.

Did It Start With Bill?

November 17, 2017

Sexual abuse and the country’s awakening to it prevalence, seems center stage in American’s minds.   With each revelation, there are cries of “how could this have happened” and the call for immediate “resignation” from what ever occupation the abuser might now occupy.

Harvey Weinstein has become the abuser poster child, characterizing the male who forces sexual demands upon women, while Kevin Spacey has become the avatar for abusers of other men and boys.

Whether it was “cat calls” at construction sites, or wandering hands at office parties, most everyone with a heartbeat must admit that men have been trying to seduce women forever. (This, however, does not make sexual harassment or similar behaviors ok.) The hidden truth has been some men are just better at it than others and have continually been excused.

The age old defense has been denial on the basis of “he said, she said”, or if that excuse did not work, then claim “it was a consensual”.

Lost in this rhetoric has been calling out “abuse of power” and the “absence of respect” for the other person. And now the public discussion dam has broken and victims feel a new freedom to out their past abuser. Probably, this is a constructive happening, but we must remember that social norms are always changing and it is often not constructive to judge past behaviors with today’s standards.

Case in point. In 2016, America elected a past abuser as President. The Access Hollywood video said it all and yet the phrase “that was locker room talk” seemed to carry the day. Americans in sufficient numbers elected Donald Trump. Curiously, evangelicals decided Trump’s abortion position gave him a pass for past crude and abusive behavior towards women. Hmmm.

Whenever Candidate Trump was confronted with questions about women or any other immoral behavior, Trump was quick to point his finger at former President Bill Clinton. Trump alleged Clinton was the worst woman abuser in White House history, if not in American general history. Hmmm.

Calls for Clinton to withdraw his Presidential candidacy over Jennifer Flowers were ignored with claims Flowers was somehow a morally defective person. Ultimately the House of Representatives’ impeached William Jefferson Clinton (with a vote along party lines) during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Clinton supporters argued that impeachment was unjustified because the affair was consensual and did not rise to Constitutional impeachment standards.

Subsequently, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, lost his leadership role when it was revealed Gingrich was involved in an extra-marital affair at the same time he was lambasting President Clinton’s morality. Hmmm.

There is no doubt, however, that President Clinton and the Democrat Party lost a chance to take the high road had the President resigned. While it could be argued that impeachment was unjustified, abuse of power and setting an unacceptable personal standard was clear. Strangely, history records that President Clinton did not resign, nor was he convicted of impeachment, and finished his Presidential term with relatively high public opinion poll numbers.

So fast forward to Judge Roy Moore and Senator Al Franken. Moore has been accused by over 8 separate women of attempted sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior when these women were in their teens and twenties and Moore was in his thirties. One would think that “today”, Moore would recognize the compromised position these revelations put him in and he would withdraw from the upcoming election. One might think that but that person does not know Judge Roy Moore. Judge Moore is set on remaining a candidate.

Senator Franklen, on the other hand, has so far only one accuser and no suggestion that sexual relations was his intent. The Senator voluntarily posed for an inappropriate, to be sure, picture, but poor taste is probably the best terminology for an incident which took place over 10 years ago.

The question that ought to be asked is “fitness for office”. Do these harassment examples make the case that the individual is “unfit” for office? Critics have alleged that former President Clinton who denied all the allegations was a pathological lair and that alone should have disqualified him. President Trump many would say follows in these same footprints.  Judge Moore, however, has a record of ignoring the Constitution and disrespecting the Supreme Court, and the dubious honor of twice being removed from public office. These alone should be sufficient for State officials to have disqualified his candidacy.

Senator Franken represents a quite different challenge. Franken was in an earlier life an entertainer who was frequently seeing satire in everyday life. The transition from the life of a comic to that of a US Senator is not the norm. By all accounts, Senator Franken has been a perfectly above boards Senator and has conducted himself appropriately.
In a narrowly split US Senate, there undoubtably will be calls for him to resign.

But against what standard of conduct should Franken be measured? As former President Jimmy Carter once said, “I’m a sinner because I had lust in my heart”. And President Clinton said, “I never had sex with that woman”. Most political observers would rate Clinton’s Presidency higher than Jimmy Carters based upon domestic and foreign policy results.

So, go figure.

Wrong Side Of History

November 15, 2017

It is difficult to imagine an Administration which has gotten so many obvious situations incorrectly. President Trump and those he has appointed to various Cabinet posts appear set on choosing the positions both factually wrong and on the wrong side of history. But for a “showman”, there is only the showman’s position that counts.

The President has spent the past week in Asia presumably charting a new trade path (remember that the US has walked away from the Trans Pacific Pact). The President has announced his demand for bilateral negotiations, in other words, US-Japan, South Korea-US, Vietnam-US, etc, and with the pre-condition that any trade must be fair and reciprocal. Sounds good but is it wise?

With 2.5-3 billion consumers between India and China, the Southeast Asian area has many more customers than what 300 million Americans would represent. And China is just as happy filling these consumers’ needs.  Who cares about the US anyway?

So, let’s look at South Korea. US-South Korea trade is unbalanced in favor of South Korea. Doesn’t the President have a point that South Korea should be importing more US TVs and automobiles, say in line with what the US imports from South Korea?

One would think reciprocal trade is a worthy goal.  But we can’t expect another country to buy goods and services which are more expensive than what that country can offer.  Trade policies, however, must contemplate other ramifications.  US recognized long ago that stable allies represented an important part of our defenses against communist and non-democratic opponents. Stable nations at the very minimum are marked by full or rising employment and a growing GDP. Accordingly, in trade discussions in the past, the US has insisted upon “market access” and respect of “intellectual property”, not just parity of trade.  US policy reasoned that if goods and services were cost competitive, than they would have a chance to compete.

In practice trade around the world (including the US) always has a political component. Farmers, steel and auto workers, and general manufacturers are voters too. If a government is callous to which imports these groups believe are taking their jobs, that government will fall. So, trade policy can never be an exact science but must reflect more complex thinking around all the issues influencing a country’s national interest. Hmmm.

It would be short sighted to jump to the conclusion that President Trump and his advisors are simply incompetent. Rather, one should consider that the President is attempting to serve the needs of a different and narrower constituency, namely the wealthy and owners of businesses which could benefit from Trump’s thumb on the scales of fairness.

Just as in most other countries, the promise of jobs is the strongest vote getter. Now add to that jobs rhetoric, other words to distract from science and logic, and suddenly the way is clear for special interests to be preferentially served.

What is even more astonishing is that rank and file Republicans who have been traditionally hard core “free traders” and “pragmatic (laissez-faire) marketeers” are standing on the sidelines. When the President spouts off about putting coal miners back to work in the mines, no one from his party stands up and says, “Mr President, you are making a mistake, you are leading in the wrong direction”.

Consequently, the entire Republican Party is complicit in President Trump’s foreign or domestic policies. Regardless of whether it is healthcare, tax reform, immigration, or trade, President Trump is marching on the wrong side of history and the rest of the Republican Party is waddling right after him.

Give Me More, Just Not Roy Moore

November 12, 2017

Louis C K, he is not. Judge Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for the US Senate, underscores the depths that parts of the GOP have sunk and the extremes, Republicans are willing to go to solidify their Titanic position. In a few weeks, Alabama voters will choose their next US Senator in a special election to replace Jeff Sessions. Odds are that Alabama voters would prefer more of a Jeff Sessions-type if they had a choice, not Roy Moore.

Judge Roy Moore has forged a career based upon warped views of Christianity and the US Constitution. Moore was Donald Trump-ish before Donald Trump became a public bigot and then President. Moore gained notoriety displaying the 10 Commandments on his Court House grounds and then up his game by refusing to marry same sex couples despite orders from the Supreme Court.  Consequently, he was removed from office twice.

Does this life record sound like material a US Senator is made of?

Wait, there’s more.

Judge Moore has been accused by four women, much younger than him, of inappropriate sexual behavior which occurred 40 years ago. With a few weeks to go before the election, Moore joins other celebrities in being ensnared in sexual harassment claims.  Moore, most notably joins President Trump (remember the Access Hollywood video), being outed in the homestretch of an election campaign. How does someone get this far in the election process?

Moore supporters are rushing forward screaming “accusations do not mean guilt”. One supporter likened Moore’s alleged association involving a fourteen year old girl as analogous to the christian biblical story of Joseph and Mary who were of similar age difference.

Imagine, this is not a denial but a statement of mitigation, if not glorification.

Louis C K has been accused of outrageous behavior, socially unacceptable in normal company, sexually predatory at the other extreme. What separates Louis C K, is he has not sugar coated his accusers’ claims. He confirmed the accusations and apologized for this behavior.

Owning up and apologizing seem to be qualities public personalities are lacking these days. This absence of candor, belies a Jekyll and Hyde personality that access to power will dangerously expose.

The citizens of Alabama have the right to elect whomever they wish. All the rest of us can hope that Alabamians have all the information they should have, and decide “Give me more, just not Judge Roy Moore.

Education and Ethics

November 10, 2017

Recently there was another “hack”, this time on a Bermudan law office, Appleby. The trove of newly released information carry the title, “Paradise Papers”. In addition to Wilbur Ross, the Queen of England, and Bono, the papers also contained some surprising information on Texas Christian University and Indiana University. The New York Times reports that the two universities joined together and set up an investment vehicle (an off shore corporation) whose purpose was to invest and grow these universities’ endowments. So what’s the concern?

Most US university endowment earnings are tax advantaged (501 (3) c) already. Investing off shore would offer no additional tax advantage. Hmmm.

The “Paradise Papers”, however, revealed that TCU and IU’s new corporation invested in higher yielding shares of fossil energy concerns.  This type of investment has been the target of global warming activists.  Perfectly legal but perceived as similar to investing in tobacco companies. Hmmm.

Sounds like a way to avoid the spotlight on campus while still growing their endowments.

Off shore corporations, in certain countries, like Bermuda, can enjoy anonymity and become opaque to home country tax authorities. Those intent on avoiding home country taxes can find these opaque locations very helpful in avoiding taxes otherwise due.  There is no indication that these universities has that intent.

So what’s the message these Universities should hear?

How about, “universities are in the education business first and foremost, and teaching ethics by how the university lives every day is a key part of the curriculum”.

When major universities “hide” information, the lesson they are teaching is everything is ok if there is not a law forbidding it.

No wonder so many public officials believe they can seek personal wealth accumulation while simultaneously pretending to serve the public’s interest. No wonder so many business executives can act as if there is but one stakeholder that they must listen to, and that employees, communities, and customers are the predicate. No wonder so many big name universities find it proper to advertise one set of beliefs on campus and choose a different set for managing their endowments.

Education and Ethics, there can be no education without clear and strong ethics.

Politically Correct And Stupid

November 9, 2017

Danica Roem became the first transgender person to win a Virginia State House seat. Congratulations, of course, but what are the headlines in most news reports all about?

Is the conventional wisdom that transgender persons are in some way incapable of holding an elected office? Or is the subtext, that the Virginians are too opposed to transgender persons that elections to higher offices are near impossible?

Headlines such as “first woman”, “first black”, first black female”, etc are well known and have proven unremarkable in predicting the future. There have been, for example, African Americans elected to office who were very successful, as well as a few who were removed for criminal activity pretty much in the same proportions as non-African Americans.

IMO, these “first” headlines reflect a weakness in the news organizations’ intellectual level.   The “first” word is praise in “politically correct circles” but could be motivated by a naked attempt to attract more readers. Would news organizations do that?

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been criticized for its emphasis on important but non-core issue.  When election day arrived, Clinton was perceived as having not connected with many voters. We know the outcome of that missed opportunity.

Many Americans do not understand homosexuality and transgender choices are even less understood. Danica Room will be successful in office by what she brings and what she does, not because she is transgender.

Outside of office, Danica certainly can provide advice and support for others experiencing this transition. I wonder whether these news organizations will write about that?

Reading Election Tea Leaves

November 8, 2017

Today is the morning after. Yesterday an off year election was held which featured two high profile governorships at stake. Democrats won both (Virginia and New Jersey) and surprisingly across the country, Democrats picked up previously Republican held offices. What was behind this Democrat resurgence?

Money was not a factor even though there was plenty of money spent. Performance in office did not seem to be a factor either, both governor’s races were open since the incumbents were term limited and could not run. So what provided the spark for Democrats?

Some pundits are saying yesterday’s races represented a repudiation of President Trump and his policies. Interestingly, Republican spokespersons disagreed and claimed instead that voters were dissatisfied with the lack of legislative action on the President’s campaign promises.

In other words, had Congress passed the Affordable Care Act “repeal and replace”, and pushed through a huge Middle Class tax reform, then voters would have rewarded the Party with victories. Hmmm.

Reality, however, is more likely different. According to news reports, women played a big role in Republican candidates’ defeat. Women came out to vote and did so in what might be record numbers. Overall voter turn out was unusually high for an off year election across the country.

Rather than conclude Republicans lost key elections because the White House and the Republican controlled Congress did not accomplish what they promised in 2016, it might be wiser to think Republicans lost because of the mean spirited, wrong headed ways the President and Republican controlled Congress conducted themselves.

Trying to cheapen healthcare many women depend upon, backing away from the Paris Climate agreement potential leaving a more severely damaged world for our children, and attempting to pass a tax cut which blatantly passes out billions to the very wealthy and puts the tab on our children and their children charge account (the Federal Debt) has not been missed by a growing number of voters.

Voters, especially women voters, see what’s going on, and are beginning to recognize that  the outlook is not promising in the Trump/GOP teapot.