Archive for the ‘congress’ category

Governance Gone

December 3, 2017

With the Senate passage of the GOP tax reform bill Saturday evening/Sunday morning, any semblance of a political party worthy to hold the reins of government vanished. The current Republican crowd in control of both houses of Congress resembles more a mob than a deliberative body. What is even worse is that the Republican majority clearly do not care what others think or who may be severely disadvantaged by tax reform.

Was this rough shod action new to the Senate?

Not long ago, Republicans were closing in on “repeal and replace” legislation which would impact 1/3rd of our national economy and could take away coverage for our most at risk Americans.

  • Were there any hearings?
  • Were their any requests for public comments?
  • Were there any efforts made by Congress to educate the public ahead of time on what changes were actually in the bill?

The answer to all these questions was no.

The tax reform bill’s passage was even worse.

  • Bill preparation is private,
  • Sloganeering replacing printed copies of the proposed legislation,
  • Horse trading (often just promises and not changes in the law) to get 50 vote Republican majority,
  • The final copy of the 500 page bill issued two hours prior to the actually Senate vote

These reckless behaviors demonstrated absolute “zero” Republican interest in governance and 100% recognition of what they owed the moneyed interests who bankrolled their individual campaigns.

When Americans go to the polls, most think they are exercising their Constitutional right (and duty) to select those who will run the Government in a way that recognizes (and balances) all Americans’ best interest. On December 2, 2017, Americans learned that

  • the Republican majority in Congress has no interest in all Americans,
  • no interest in a transparent and interactive process,
  • and a thorough willingness to do what ever is necessary to meet the needs of their wealthy campaign donors.
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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.

Want To Be A Sucker?

November 7, 2017

How can any sensible person turn away from lower taxes? Freedom Partners Action Fund, an organ of the Koch Brothers network, is spending real money on television ads which appeal directly to “middle class” families and implore them to contact their Congress Member and demand Congress pass the pending tax cut bill. Is this Democracy in action or a side show “shill operation”?

Would you believe these ads are both?

The Koch Brothers have the money (political spending is an exercise of free speech the Supreme Court has said) so it would seem this is democracy in action. On the other hand, Freedom Partners Action Fund does not reveal how much the Kochs or other wealthy Americans will receive in tax cuts. Current estimates indicate, as expect, the sun will really shine on the very rich.

It would appear that tax cuts will offer “crumbs” to some Americans and a full course, top shelf repast to the top 1%. So, in addition to fairness, the “shill” is betting that many Americans will be “suckers” and not recognize this tax cut bill does not pay for itself.  Remember the consequences of those who think there are “free lunches”. Hmmm.

The US already has an unbalanced budget and a Federal Debt approaching $20 trillion. This tax plan is minimally estimated to add another $1-2 trillion. Republicans, however, are undaunted and promise to cut other government spending, for example entitlements. Hmmm.

Cutting entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security won’t impact the Kochs or for that matter other top 1% earners. Entitlement benefits impact the other end of the wealth spectrum including the “average American”.

It would appear that Freedom Partners Action Fund, Congress, and the Trump Administration are playing the average American as a sucker. Hmmm.

The Other Side Of The Coin

November 3, 2017

House Republicans have just released their proposed tax code rewrite. Experts are rushing to digest the proposal and perform the difficult task of assessing how this Republican bill will impact Americans. Wait, wait… if you are wealthy, you do not need to worry. This Republican plan will treat you well and provide opportunities for clever tax advisors to find new ways to save you tax payments.

The bill provides most (but not all) the gifts the rich have been expecting. The top bracket of 39.5% remains although the income threshold has been raised to $1,000,000 allegedly in deference to the “gift to the wealthy” optics.  Carried interest, estate tax elimination, and reduction of corporate taxes (35% to 20%) for private owner businesses will provide the wealthy with plenty of tax relief opportunities while the tax burden is shifted to lower income Americans.  And, for those unfortunate Americans earning $500,000 to $999,999, you will just have to pay in a lower bracket.

The deal is not set yet. Republicans from high tax States will argue for sweeteners in the restoration of State and local tax deductions and full credit for mortgage interest. Lobbyists representing all sorts of industries will go into full court press to preserve other deductions and credits. It is entirely possible that this attempt at tax code changes will stall or fail outright.

But it is entirely possible that this proposal or something substantially the same will pass. What then?

For sure it is maddening that very wealthy people like the Koch Brothers and Robert Mercer will pay less taxes.  It is maddening that as a consequence, the tax burden will shift to less wealthy people (like the Middle Class), or the cost of this tax cut will flow to the national debt, or both.

But that is not the real damage that this tax code change will bring.

A coin has two sides. On one side, heads, is the smiling faces of Americans paying less in taxes. The other side, tails, however, means there will be less government revenue to cover already approved government spending. Let there be no mistake, with lower tax revenues there must be less government spending sooner or later.

Republicans will be quick to assert that there are all sorts of waste and corruption in government spending. Why, Republicans will point out that there are able bodied Americans drawing social security disability benefits who could be working. And look at Medicaid excesses associated with the Affordable Care Act. And, with their faces now reddened, Republicans will bluster about spending in all sorts of other areas. Surely, cutting wasted money can be made.

Maybe. The problem usually boils down to which programs are viewed as wasted spending and what justification makes those expenditures “wasted”.

For example, Republicans have attacked the Affordable Care Act (train wreck, a jobs disaster) even though there were some 20 million more Americans insured with Obamacare than before. And, what have Republicans offered? Their best proposals offer less coverage and insure 10-15 million fewer Americans.

So, when it comes time to submit “post tax cut” Federal Budgets, what makes anyone think Republicans won’t feel that reducing programs which benefit all but the rich will be perfect targets?

The theme which comes up time and again is that there are no free lunches. Republicans are breathlessly trying to sell this tax code change as great for the middle class and the key to unlocking our economy, and best of all, there will be no cost to average Americans.

Really?

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.

 

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.