Archive for the ‘Koch Brothers’ category

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.

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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.

 

Choice And Chance

June 1, 2016

The 2016 Presidential race will probably boil down to voters’ making a choice and taking a chance. Trump supporters are sure their candidate will make a difference and can apply his business moxie to the tough problems of government. Trump supporters choice is clear but it seems they lack any comprehension of what a chance they are taking.

Hillary Clinton supporters also will make a choice and will do so for some clear reasons, like Supreme Court nominations, executive protection for women and gay rights and sensible immigration reform. Clinton fans do not also realize how much of a chance they are taking with the Clinton approach to neutralizing the far right attack dogs and what that might do to exaggerate the partisan divide already at hand.

One would think that the pro-Hillary message will eventually penetrate the Sanders supporters’ heads. Regardless of how much Sanders people love Bernie, sitting out the 2016 election will likely lead to a GOP victory and the loss of the Supreme Court, repeal of Obamacare, encouragement of anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-immigrant legislation, all points Sanders’ supporters would support.

While there is less reason to believe Hillary will break up the big banks, unlike Sanders stump speeches, breaking up the big banks is not a risk-free proposition. And with a GOP controlled House, there is no chance for campaign financing reform.

Donald Trump is for sure crazy as a fox. He demonstrates manifestations which are unsuited for the Presidency… but one can not be sure what the “real” Donald really is. The odds that the Donald will suddenly change once he were elected President would seem diminishingly low. The chance lays beyond Trump’s rhetoric which is suitable (designed?) for capturing news media headlines.  Where is the substance?  Would he do the same when events do not go well as President?

Clinton is not crazy (like Trump) but is for sure calculating. With a team of advisors and strategists, Hillary will not represent chance on Supreme Court nominees, support for women, gay rights, and comprehensive immigration reform.

On other matters, however, Hillary could be prone to see which way the weathervane is pointing before taking action.

What is clear is that Clinton will deliver a better set of Supreme Court nominees than Trump if one considers Citizens United and Hobby Lobby wrong headed decisions.

So it would appear the 2016 Presidential election will be between two flawed candidates, both intelligent but a bit opaque about how they will govern. The election is clearly about “make your choice and take your chance”.

Looking For The Silver Lining

May 26, 2016

The 2016 Presidential race has developed a dark picture of American life for the next several decades. Donald Trump’s, Hillary Clinton’s, and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns each have shined a dim light on the size and shape of this elephant but have neither defined the real dimensions of the problem nor proposed comprehensive remedies. Many voters are reacting in ways which aggravate rather than contribute to a positive path forward.

Donald Trump is the most disingenuous of these candidates, but in many regards is the most appealing. His campaign dialog is carefully constructed to raise fear and anger without specifics or genuine solutions. Everyone but “us” (presumably the crowd he is speaking to) is either the “problem” or sympathetic to the forces causing the “problem”. And foreign countries and foreigners in general are the central forces creating the “problem”.

Bernie Sanders has described the “problem” broadly as income inequality and targeted banks, Wall Street, and large corporations as the villains. One might reasonably question whether income inequality is the problems or the symptom. Campaign rhetoric, however, is not the best place to explore this difference. Sanders speeches are as divisive as Trump’s but split the “us” between the wealthy and the middle class.

Hillary Clinton has campaigned in a more classical partisan way. Her message is that the GOP is the wrong direction especially if you are middle class, gay, Hispanic, or a woman. She expands her message to a broader range of domestic issues and a more rational set of foreign policies. Clinton is the personification of a traditional Presidential candidate which Americans have seen for years.

So why the dark clouds?

There is income inequality and no candidate has proposed any rational steps which would lead to wages distributions similar to the good old days of the 60-80’s.

The Republican party, which is paralyzed from its coalition nature, lumps together deeply held but demographically losing ideas, has added xenophobic, hate baiting standard bearer in Donald Trump. Tax cuts for the wealthy represent a mighty leap of faith for one to connect them with a boom in “good paying” jobs creation. Globalization combined with the current American skill base does not suggest tax cuts will suddenly change the jobs picture.

Sanders’ vision of breaking up banks, restricting corporate campaign donations, and taxing the wealthy even more, while seeming fair if one is middle class or lower in income, does not suggest any reason that “good paying” jobs will suddenly reappear.

Cooler heads must step back and consider whether corporate America’s decision to outsource jobs and pay their senior executives many more multiples than the average worker is leading to a better place. It is hard to see how globalization can suddenly be made to look like it doesn’t exist, the world is a global market.

The globalization consequence reveal there are a lot of Americans who are now unskilled to take on higher paying jobs. Corporate America needs to wake up that at the current pace of average wage stagnation, there will be a shortage of consumers soon who can afford to buy what corporate America makes (or sells).

Which candidate do you think can engage in such a conversation with corporate America?

The dark clouds are not the repeal of Roe v Wade or Obamacare even though both would be serious social disruptors. The American people are not going to return to a no abortion world nor are the health insured going to give up coverage willingly.

The dark clouds are not tilting the Supreme Court back to a conservative outlook nor turning loose the neoconservatives to conjure up another WMD country to invade. America’s social momentum is not going to turned back by some religion pandering decisions, and even if there would be another foreign invasion, the all volunteer Army, where few Americans have skin in the game (like enlistment or tax money), will fare no better than “W’s” venture.

The dark clouds are only dark in comparison to other country’s dark clouds. If American leaders keep in mind that a country can’t grow its economy if all it depends upon are citizens who have no (or too little discretionary) money themselves.

Embargoes and tariffs will not cure the problem because for each dollar received with tariffs, the trading partners will reduce their US purchases equally or greater. Job training and government spending can work temporarily but to have a lasting impact, far more workers have to acquire new skills which in and of themselves demand “good pay”. Which candidate carries that message?

Americans who now support Donald Trump are not bad people and they are not that unusual. Globalization is complicated and there is little reason why these Americans should believe the greedy heads of corporations understand or care.

Trump-type supporters can be found around the world, particularly when a country’s key industries and their associated jobs have become redundant. Trump-type leaders, however, have been time after time seen as ineffective.

It is only May and the general election does not take place until November. The silver lining, if there is one, is that there is still time for even the most emotional American to realize of the three candidates, only Clinton has a chance at improving their lot in like.

This race may end up picking the lesser tarnished of the two evils but so doing may be the smartest choice.

Bernie Watch Out

May 7, 2016

The Republican Party is currently in a full blown melt down phase. Their traditional platform planks, which are designed to appeal to a dog’s breakfast of varied so called conservative values, have been cut to the root by Donald Trumps far more bread and butter oriented campaign. What is the Party to do?

Traditional GOP leaders are lining up, some holding their noses and backing Trump, while others are ready to deny Trump the nomination if they can. This a prescription for a poor showing in November. So are Democrats smiling?

Hillary Clinton’s team is probably high five-ing and back slapping in private but have been disciplined enough in public to hide their delight in the prospects of facing Donald Trump in the general election. This is a very wise position since the Donald’s so unorthodox tactics might introduce some unsavory claims over the Clintons which some voters may believe and increase Hillary’s negatives even more. Better to take Trump seriously and plan for an effective campaign, than to appear celebrating too soon.

But Trump is not Hillary’s only worry. Bernie Sanders is still in the fray. While pundits predict Bernie cannot win the nomination, he has piled up a lot of primary votes and wants the right to insert his favorite planks into the Democrat platform. Bernie said yesterday that if he is denied enough seats on Democrat Convention committees, he will force floor fights on all sorts of issues and get his favorite planks on the official Democrat Platform. Hmmm.

Bernie’s favorites involve income inequality, breaking up large banks, and getting big money out of politics. Its hard to see Hillary wanting to increase or even ignore income inequality, so this one should not be a problem. But breaking up big banks and getting big money out of politics are something different.

Breaking up big banks (or reinstitution the Glass-Stiegel Act) seems a wise move giving the near catastrophic results seen in 2008 when “too big to fail” institutions got drunk on sophisticated and incomprehensible financial instruments. Banks, Investment Houses, and Insurance Companies all played with depositors money and made some risky bets.

Government bailouts became necessary because it was unclear whether letting some fail would not lead to a domino effect and all the others might come tumbling down. The infamous $85 billion AIG (insurance company) bailout was in fact a bailout of investment houses like Goldman Sachs who held insurance written by AIG.   If AIG failed, Goldman would have been seriously wounded too.

So why not move on this apparent “no-brainer”? World finance is very complicated and tying specific reforms to campaign promises is ready made for becoming “just another promise not fulfilled).

“Getting big money out of politics” is worthwhile, especially when the views “big money” express are not yours. But making all political contributions public at the same time as the donation is made may be more powerful. Public disclosures means a direct line to the actual donor, not the bundler or bundlers in the process leading to the donation.

Also, ending the current Congressional practice of appointing sub-committee status to the Congress member who raises designated amounts could be even more powerful. What ever rules or reforms that might be adopted must, however, be enforced across all parties or they will produce unintended consequences.

Full, timely transparency is more achievable than signaling certain donors and their money are unacceptable.  There is always risk eliminating certain donors could hurt one party more than the other.  A well intended democratic reform could become simply a partisan tactic.

There is no question that Bernie Sanders’ demands are popular with his followers. Sanders’ supporters should take a breath and think about who the real opposition is. If achieving a Democrat platform which divides the party or makes campaign hay for the Republicans, what would be the purpose?

Sanders has fought an amazing battle. He has eloquently put forward compelling arguments but he must recognize that the gulf between him and Hillary is a puddle compare to that between him and Donald Trump or the ocean separating him and Republican orthodoxy.

What Makes Republicans Conservative?

March 20, 2016

The unprecedented move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to withhold “advise and consent” Senate actions on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee raises a rather simple question. What has possessed Republicans to simply deny past practices and declare “no way, no how”?  Is this action the mark of a conservative?

Clearly Merritt Garland’s nomination is not in and of itself confrontational. By all accounts, Judge Garland is considered a centrist and a student of law, not an ideolog. Never the less, McConnell dismissed out of hand any consideration of the nomination during President Obama’s term. Why?

The surface reasons are obvious. Even a centrist Justice will break the conservative hold on the current Supreme Court. If one holds conservative views, then nothing but another conservative will do. Even though these same Republican leaders cry about the need to follow the Constitution in Court decisions, apparently following the Constitution and past practice does not apply in this case.

Why?

Former Justice Antonin Scalia weighed the hands of justice so far to the right that replacing him with a centrist, will by default shift the Court’s direction to the left. It is all about ideology, the Wall Street Journal says.

The Journal allows that Garland is not as progressive as the Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer, and has had a distinguished career on the Court… but, in essence the Republicans could do better. Of course, “better” is in the eyes of the speaker.

Why is this so difficult to comprehend?

It may be that seeing politics as the left (progressive) versus the right (conservative) is no longer sufficient. Left versus right was convenient just as in the old wild west movies the good guys wore white hats and the bad ones wore black hats. As others have suggested, one might better see political disputes by imagining two axes, one with left at one end, right at the other end. Perpendicular to that axis would be one with libertarian at one end and authoritarian at the other end. Hmmm.

Republicans who seek to block consideration of Judge Garland have a large dose of authoritarianism. This group “knows” they are correct in their thinking and just as strongly sees Democrats, or progressive thinking, as an imminent danger to good order.

Being conservative (right) is not necessarily a bad virtue. In difficult times, moving cautiously (like in a mind field) can be quite beneficial. Balancing progressive ideas with touches of common sense can turn a well meaning but inadequately conceived idea into policy which can work and last.

The dysfunctional Washington GOP behavior is not that type of conservative thinking. Rather denying Judge Garland a fair hearing is about “we know best”, and by the way, we can pervert the Constitution to get our way.

At the extremes of the libertarian-authoritarian axis lies anarchy and dictatorship, both of which are important to recognize as end games if common opinion drifts to far in “free thinking” direction or follows obediently what “father proclaims”. Universities tend to lie along the libertarian axis while religious institutions lie at various points on the authoritarian axis.

Now, imagine a third axis which runs at a 45 degree angle from the libertarian-progressive quadrant down through the center to the conservative-authoritarian quadrant. The end points this axis would likely be today’s Republican and Democrat Parties, I would suggest.

So back to the original question, what are Republicans conservative?

I would submit conservatives are simply cautious by nature. Relative to progressives, most conservatives are skeptical that government policy can remedy what ails the country. Republicans share this caution.  Republicans, however, are also composed of some libertarians (small government, less taxes) and some authoritarians (Republican managed policy and agencies are ok, but not Democrat ones).

What we are seeing in the Garland situation is the ugly, short sighted authoritarian (we know best) face of the GOP. Their misuse of Constitutional prerogatives can, however, be perceived by a more centrist public as a party not playing fair and probably unfit to govern.

The GOP is composed of many who are less authoritarian and grasp fairness (less authoritarian) as an important element of governance. This internal GOP conflict may lead to a fracturing of party unity and potentially a loss of control of Congress.  GOP leaders are playing with fire.

Hmmm.