Tax Reform: The Senatorial Sellout

Less than a third of the total US population was represented in the rushed approval of the Senate tax bill last week.

“No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.”  James Madison, Federalist No. 62.

This essay is about democratic principles, or lack thereof, in the current United States Senate’s passage of a hurried and horrible tax bill.

After the Senate vote last week approving the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” I tallied the votes and compared them to the populations of the states represented on each side of the vote.

This broke into three categories:  (1) states where both senators voted “yes,” (2) those where both voted “no” and (3) those where senators were split and the state’s two votes offset, or cancelled, each other.

Based on this analysis, only 31% of the total US population was represented by “yes” votes for a bill that will have wide-ranging impact on the economy and culture of the whole US population for years to come.  By contrast, 45% of US population was represented in clear “no” votes against the bill.

Of course the Senate was meant to be representative of the States, not the people; but this seems a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution.

The framers intended the Senate to be a careful, deliberative body, to counter the transitory inexperience and “passions” of the House of Representatives, where membership can annually shift in large numbers.  Accordingly, Senators have longer terms than any other officer in the legislative and executive branches and Senate elections are staggered every two years in thirds.

James Madison, in Federalist No. 62, described this expectation for the Senate:

“The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions. . . .  All that need be remarked is, that a body which is to correct this infirmity ought itself to be free from it, and consequently ought to be less numerous. It ought, moreover, to possess great firmness, and consequently ought to hold its authority by a tenure of considerable duration.”

Equal Senate votes for each of the states was rationalized as an offset to the proportional representation in the House, but this was also an important compromise to obtain the smaller states’ approval of the Constitution.

Today, the effects of this compromise are exploited by a Republican-controlled Congress, and its effects are heightened by demographic shifts that now have the largest state (California) with a population nearly 7,000% larger than the smallest state (Wyoming), while both have equal voting power in the Senate.

California voted “no” and Wyoming voted “yes” for the tax bill.  California will suffer the greater impact, yet California’s Senators were effectively ignored in a partisan process that was controlled by the Senators from Republican-dominated, smaller states, including Idaho.

Interim solutions to this problem would require a recognition of this unfairness; respect and collegiality among Senators from both large and small states; willingness to seek solutions that serve the whole country and not just individual states; and, taming of the hyper-partisanship that has members of one party refusing collaboration and thoughtful input from others.  In short, it requires thoughtful return to the original purpose of the Senate described by Hamilton: order, stability and “great firmness.”

Otherwise, the Senate is an alarming, oxymoronic majority of the minority moving in partisan lockstep with a Republican-controlled House–as demonstrated by its passing a bill in such a short time, under pressure for a “victory,” with a series of rationalizations that have neither factual nor economic basis.

There have been no extensive hearings or debates and an unprecedented rejection of bi-partisan economic analysis that pegs the resulting budget deficit at $1.0 trillion or more.

For these reasons, our Senators should shed the shackles of party affiliation, shoulder their leadership role and slow down the tax reform process.

With so much at stake–including loss of healthcare for millions, deterioration of the separation of church and state, threatened environmental destruction and ballooning of the national debt–all Americans should insist on this and take to the streets, if necessary, to make ourselves heard.

“Back off sinners! God wants tax reform.”

I have been studying the liturgy and saints of the Prosperity Gospel. I now see the light!

My interest in learning more about the prosperity gospel began as I wondered why the President and other Republicans–including our own Idaho Congressmen and Senators–are so hell bent on legislating a tax package that will benefit the rich and hurt the poor.

The prosperity gospel explains everything, almost.

With the apparent support of the evangelical-Christian right, our government is now populated with prosperity gospel believers and motivated by its doctrines.  These doctrines inform the tax legislation passed by the House and now before the Senate; they explain the purposeful dismantling of the Affordable Care Act; and, they shed light on so much more.

Prosperity pospel doctrine is consistent with the open architecture of capitalism and free markets.  Simply stated, wealth accumulated by capitalists through free-market competition is a sign of God’s approval of winners.

Poverty, by contrast, is a sign of lack of motivation and participation, the wages of “sin” and bad choices, evidence of God’s punishment.

This Manichean rich-poor, winner-loser dualism also informs Prosperity Gospel morality.  Rich people must be better and more deserving.  Poor people, not so much:  stereotypical grifters, sponging off an enabling welfare system that has been erected by an unholy, big-government “Establishment.”

This moral framework presupposes (and requires) unregulated “freedom of choice,” which allows aspirants for wealth to reach their divinely appointed destiny.  This freedom is also available to the poor, but they, obviously, cannot be depended upon to use it well.

The Executive Branch is now filled with super-rich advisors and cabinet secretaries.  In the prosperity gospel light, this has nothing to do with their experience or competence. They, like Trump, were already proven and chosen by God.

god and donald trumpIf you doubt this, see Stephen Strang’s book God and Donald Trump, with its forward by father of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, ex-governor Mike Huckabee.  The book explains the miraculous and prophesied incarnation of Donald Trump as President.  (Seriously!)

You can see how super-rich believers in the prosperity gospel rationalize their actions and inactions toward the poor, executed directly or indirectly through generous sharing of “God’s abundance” with decision makers in Congress: to promote, for example, tax cuts for the rich, removal of health coverage for the poor, scaling back of safety nets, busting of unions, dismantling of consumer protections (including, most recently, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau), beating back of the minimum wage and avoidance every other thing that could interfere with their freedom to pursue their divinely-appointed, prosperity-gospel destiny.

The getting and keeping of wealth is their doctrinal and moral imperative and privilege. Sharing wealth with those demonstrably less worthy does not fit the paradigm.

If that is gospel, it is certainly not “good news.”

[This post is the first in a series.  Up next: “The Roots of the Prosperity Gospel and the Gates of Hell”]

Tax Reform: “Let Them Eat Cake”

Hey you Trump fans! Do you really think these people care about you?

The problem with fraud is you usually can’t tell its happening until its too late and the damage is done.

Early in my career, I invested in a small technology company that was hiding returned inventory.  When the lies of its senior management were discovered, and the company was slammed into bankruptcy, trading was suspended.  It was impossible to sell my shares, and I lost my whole investment.

Often in this kind of situation, the perpetrators of the fraud end up doing just fine.  They have already squirreled away millions, often in off-shore accounts, and have high-powered lawyers to help keep themselves and their fortunes beyond the reach of the law.

In similar fashion, we are being defrauded by our current government.  Those who see it happening are fearful and angry.  Those who are unaware–because they have so effectively been kept in the dark by the President and his minions–must be warned.

Sadly, those shouting warnings, even if they are experts, are dismissed as anti-Trump liberals.

One expert is Robert Reich, former Secretary of the Department of Labor.  In his blog post yesterday entitled “Fools or Knaves,” he describes the lies supporting the Republican tax plan—among others, the lie that people earning more than $1 million per year will bear a greater tax burden than the rest of us, and the companion lie that the tax cuts and resulting deficits will be more than offset with the effects of “trickle down” economic activity.

The Joint Committee on Taxation, the Tax Policy Center, the Tax Foundation and virtually every qualified economist disagrees.  The legislation will mainly benefit the already rich; the upper-middle-class will actually see a tax increase; the tax savings for everyone else will be modest; and the deficit will skyrocket.

President Trump will be on the Hill this week to twist arms and help the legislation hurtle ahead.

Reich wonders why Mnuchin, who surely knows better, is aiding and abetting this alarming process with his own repetition of the blatant, supporting lies. History will not be kind to those who have participated in such a fraud and failure of duty, Reich concludes.

One explanation of Mnuchin’s unseemly behavior, according to Reich:

“Apparently Mnuchin will say anything to retain his power and influence in the Trump administration.  He knows he’ll never have anything close to this power again.”

This explanation inspires another:  Mnuchin, like the President and every other member of the super-rich Trump cabinet, already has plenty of money. He and the rest are using their offices to get more of it and to otherwise obtain maximum financial advantage for themselves and major donors.

By the time the poor and middle-class members of the Trump base fully understand the effects of the fraud–as their tax bills and healthcare costs rise and the economy stalls out–Trumpian robbers like Mnuchin will be long gone, living in their security-gated mansions or bobbing, far from view, on their super yachts.

Why, then, should they care how history treats them?

Tax Reform: Rage Against the Machine

The current tax legislation before the Senate, and the bill passed by the House, are evidence capitalism is being allowed to gut our democracy.

In the United States, democracy and capitalism are bad bed fellows.

Democracy aspires to give equal voice to everyone. Capitalism does the opposite with its appeal to economic greed and its transactional, competitive division of the world between “winners” and “losers.”

Democracy aspires to inclusion and compromise. Capitalism promotes self interest and conflict.

Understanding the conflict between democracy and capitalism should make us feel rage about the tax reform legislation passed by the House and now before the Senate.

With the tax legislation before Congress, capitalism is being allowed to overtake and 2 - 1overwhelm our democracy.

While the legislation is promoted as benefitting the middle-class, it mainly benefits the rich and the companies they own. The working middle-class and poor come last, if at all, in the list of beneficiaries.

In violation of democratic institutions and principles, the legislation is being rushed through Congress, without hearings and with purposeful avoidance of bi-partisan support or input.

How can we trust our best interests to the advocates of this legislation–to the super rich Republicans and Wall Street capitalists who control the Executive Branch and their puppets in Congress?

Senator Crapo campaigned on a platform of reducing deficits and the crushing national debt.  Yet, post-election, he said this to Bloomberg:

“Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee, said Monday he wants a tax cut that’s ‘as big as we can get’ within the budget window, though he declined to put a number on it.'”

The tax cut he now supports is around $1.5 trillion and over the next 10 years, the national debt is expected to increase by at least this amount.

He is also supports the elimination of the Affordable Care Act mandate and subsidies, which will have the effect of putting affordable health insurance beyond the reach of many Idahoans.  From the Washington Post:

“‘Did we take away their money? No,’ says Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). ‘There’s not $1 taken away from them if they make that choice’ not to buy insurance.”

That is like telling homeless people, “You should be happy with all the money you’re saving because you can’t afford a home.”

Senator Risch expressed mealy-mouthed support from the Senate Floor:

“Tax reform will bring relief to American families and under the plan released by the Senate Finance Committee, middle-class Americans will see a benefit in the form of a lower tax bill, which means more money for households to bring home.”

OK?  But Senator Risch is one of the wealthiest members of Congress.  How will this legislation benefit his family?  And what about the offsetting negative impact on poor working Idahoans of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate?

We could only know the extent of his self-dealing and conflict of interest if he discloses the impact of the tax legislation on his and his family’s tax bill.

In summary, until the moment of the vote, we should scream at both Senators to oppose a tax bill that will add to the deficit and national debt and which contains provisions that will hurt Idahoans.

The rushed process by which this tax bill is being hurried through Congress is outrageous.

Equally outrageous:  the unnecessary, long-term negative economic impact the legislation will have on our country and state.  We will all end up worse off in the end.

As Corva Korax recently commented on my “Campaign for Idaho” Facebook page:

“Every tax cut for the rich is a new tax on the poor and middle class whether higher health care premiums or loss of access altogether, higher tuition, higher education costs and fewer opportunities, worse civic services.”

Amen.

Stop the Tax Reform Shell Game

Tax reform is a fraud that will make the rich richer and life worse for everyone else.

The House just passed “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” as a first step toward a $1.5 trillion tax cut.

Even the name of the House bill is a hoax.  Tax cuts will benefit mostly the rich and will not create jobs.

Of course our Congressmen, Simpson and Labrador, both voted the party line today.  I suspect Senators Crapo and Risch will do likewise with the Senate bill.

We can only hope there is enough courage and intelligence in the Senate to stop this train wreck.  There are many reasons to vote against tax cuts.  Here are at least two:

  • With the vast wealth now accumulated in the hands of a few Americans, why do rich people need a tax cut?
  • With the national debt at record levels, why a tax cut at all?

Huge tax cuts at this point in our history makes as much sense as the ancient medical practice of bleeding, instead of feeding, a sick patient.

Cutting Taxes Increases Wealth Inequality

Wealth inequality in the United States is now the highest in the world and, other than during the 1920s, the highest in our history.

The increasing rate of US wealth inequality is illustrated with this chart:

171103080726-wealth-gap-wider-than-ever-780x439

Cutting Taxes Increases the Deficit and the National Debt

United States deficit spending and national debt have reached levels unmatched since World War II.

You can see it in the following graph, which shows US national debt as a percentage of GDP since 1790:

debt_gdp-full copy

In summary, the tax cuts will create more wealth inequality, will increase the deficit and balloon the national debt.

The Middle-Class Will Suffer

The House and Senate forms of “tax reform” are being sold as tax breaks for the middle-class.  This is wildly misleading.

The legislation benefits the already rich more than anyone, hurts the poor and, for many in the middle-class, actually increases taxes.  This is particularly worrisome in light of the Senate bill’s sleight-of-hand elimination of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate and subsidies.

This backdoor repeal of the the essential mechanism of Affordable Care Act will lead to tens of millions losing health insurance and making health insurance premiums rise for everyone else.

Meanwhile, the rich, directly and indirectly, will receive billions in “tax relief,” with, among other things, repeal of estate taxes, elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax and slashing of the corporate tax rate.

Remember who ultimately owns corporations:  mainly rich people, who are always hungry for dividends.  Cash from corporate tax savings will first be used to satisfy shareholders.

The Trickle Never Trickles Down

Tax cuts are being rationalized with a re-hash of the economic myth of “trickle down” economics, which has been used to justify every tax cut since Reagan.  It has never worked.

Sure, the middle-class might be lucky enough to get a small tax break (even after losing the mortgage and other deductions).  Maybe some will end up with a few hundred dollars to help pay down credit cards–or ease the pain of increased healthcare costs.

The poor and the uninsured?  I am sure they will be calling their brokers and trying to get into the stock market.

 

 

 

 

Senator Risch Does CNN

If you did not see it, you should watch the recent CNN interview of Senator Jim Risch in which he abdicates his duty as a U.S. Senator.

He said it is not his role to contest lies by the President or anyone else.  Today, the Idaho Falls Post-Register kindly published my commentary on the interview:  Commentary 11-08-17-Post-Register

Here is the full text:

A Profile in Un-Courage

In the rapid-fire news cycles now dominated by scandal, arrests, international intrigue and terrorism, you may have missed this: In late October, our own Sen. Jim Risch was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

In the interview, Mr. Risch said it was not his role to point out lies, by the president or anyone else. No time for that.

He came across as lacking courage when it comes to standing up to President Trump. As a member of the legislative branch in our constitutional system of “checks and balances,” he expressly abandons the responsibility of being a check or a balance.

Here is the relevant portion of the interview:

Blitzer: But when he lies about something and you know it’s a lie, shouldn’t you speak up?

Risch: That’s your job.

Blitzer: But that’s your job. You’re a United States senator. You’re a co-equal branch of the United States government.

Risch: Wolf, if I went around criticizing a statement that was made by the president or any one of my fellow senators or any one of the congressmen up here or people in Idaho who hold public office and I stood up and talked every time they talked and said I don’t like this, I don’t like that, I’m criticizing — I’d be busy all day long.

Yes! He really said this!  See http://tinyurl.com/RischCNN

He was responding to questions about the diametrically opposite, courageous behavior of his fellow Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., dismissing them for being critical of the president’s disassociation from truth and reality.

In fact, he referred to the exchanges between Corker, Flake and the president as “bickering.”

Bickering? Bickering is when you disagree about where the toothpaste tube should be squeezed or who should take out the garbage.

Mr. Risch’s responses are so far off the mark, it is almost comical. Sens. Corker and Flake have stood on principle — like parents teaching their children to respect others, tell the truth and pay their bills. Truth and principle are not the subject of bickering, argument or even disagreement.

Senator Flake has been clear about his purpose. Read his book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle. The title itself describes what is at stake and why he is speaking out.

Surely Sen. Risch knows this, but instead he telegraphs fear for his political position in the invertebrate-filled Trump ecosystem, equivocation about his duties as a senator, a poor attitude for discernment and defense of truth, or all of the foregoing.

He doesn’t have time for criticism or disagreement? That is what public service is all about — to distill good decisions from the exchange of facts and ideas, and, when necessary, to correct factual errors and misguided opinions based upon them. If he is not willing to engage energetically in this process, he should not be in Washington. He sounds like a political eunuch.

CNN commentator Chris Cillizza, in stunned response to the Blitzer-Risch interview, wrote this: “The idea forwarded by Risch that he is simply too busy to possibly fact check the President of the United States is … ridiculous. Imagine if, as a parent, you said something like: ‘If I spent all of my time making sure my kid didn’t cross the street in traffic or swallow some bleach, I’d get nothing done all day!’ …

“The whole damn point of public service is to serve the public. You do a disservice to the public when you abrogate your responsibility to tell the truth and ensure that those around you do the same. Case closed.”

Yes, case closed.

Things Not Learned from Vietnam

In this particularly strange and dangerous time, we should revisit the history of the Vietnam War. It is surprising how much we have not yet learned.

I finished watching all 18 hours of Ken Burn’s and Lynn Novick’s film on the Vietnam War.   If you have not seen it, you can still stream it from or buy it at the PBS website. http://www.pbs.org/show/vietnam-war/

It is truly impressive, informative and alarming.

Born on the heels of the Korean conflict, I was too young to have been exposed to the full horror of that war.

The Cold War, however, was in full chill, and U.S. engagement to combat the threat of Communism in Vietnam was escalating.

As a young child, before JFK waded into Vietnam, I remember wondering at people digging bomb shelters in their backyards.  By age six, I knew about nuclear annihilation.

When Kennedy was assassinated, our kickball game against the wall of Harrison Elementary halted and we stood in stunned silence, trembling and weeping for fear of unknown threats happening beyond the boundaries of our playground.

As Vietnam unfolded under LBJ and then Nixon, the black and white basement TV screen nightly carried grainy images and horrifying reports of escalating violence, showing dead bodies, body counts, constant bombing.

One seventh grade football practice, a teammate, Charlie, was summoned away by news of his older brother, who, while serving in Vietnam, had been maimed and blinded by a land mine.

After high school, as anti-war sentiment raged, we registered for the draft and submitted to the last lottery before American withdrawal.

These memories have been resurrected and now placed in the historical narrative of the Burns/Novick documentary.   Certain lessons are now clear.

Arrogance.  American leadership at the time arrogantly believed the war in Vietnam could be won with overwhelming air power and young men and women with superior weaponry.  This hubris led to a horrific waste of lives and materiel.

Ignorance.  Blinded by this arrogance, U.S. leadership (and voters) failed to understand Vietnamese history and culture; supported authoritarian and unpopular South Vietnamese regimes; and, chronically underestimated North Vietnamese motivation and capability.

The late Sam Wilson–a former Army counter-intelligence expert and President Emeritus of Hampden-Sydney College–one of the many veteran voices included in the documentary, summarized this fateful intersection of arrogance and ignorance:

“It is very, very difficult to dispel ignorance if you retain arrogance.”

Making Enemies.  Because of arrogance and ignorance, the Vietnam strategy had the effect to firming the North’s anti-American resolve, losing support in the rural areas of the South and enabling Viet Cong recruitment.  America thus strengthened its enemies and alienated its allies.

Divisiveness.  At the same time, Vietnam drove deepening division in our own country, giving rise to consequent hatred and extremism.  The country was so divided and angry Americans even shot fellow-Americans (as at, for example, at Kent State).

Corrupt Leadership.  Add to all the above stunning examples of corruption, especially of Richard Nixon, who lied about the contraction and expansion of the war and propagandized a “silent majority” (his “base”) who blindly accepted his lip service to freedom, American exceptionalism and Communist threat.

Illegal Campaign Activity; Illegitimate Presidency.  Before Nixon’s first election, and to improve his prospects of winning, he made illegal contact with North Vietnamese peace negotiators and told them to back away from the peace table — this, to advantage his presidential campaign and secure his election victory.  In sum, the U.S. elected a President based on misinformation and illegal political activity, someone willing to perpetuate war and sacrifice American lives for his own political gain.

I wish we could say such arrogance, ignorance, falsehood, propagandizing, hate-mongering and division could never happen again in America.  That we have learned the lessons of history.  Sadly, we cannot.

Our current and ongoing dysfunction arises from a noisome combination of historical ignorance, national wounds still unhealed, politicians willing to exploit division and fear, failure of educational processes and the rising gullibility of a fearsome conservative “base” unwilling to accept factual evidence or engage in critical thinking.

We can and must resist this downward national spiral, by educating ourselves and others, speaking up, getting involved, maintaining resistance and voting for change.

 

For historical learning, the Burns and Novick documentary is a must watch.  Reading of books also helps.  Would someone please tell the President?