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: 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.

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.

“You’re Fired!”

The last few days have revealed the true character of the President and his inability to lead.

Why have prominent CEOs abandoned our President, Donald Trump, a fellow business person?

As is his wont, President Trump blames them, not himself, for their departures.

Successful leaders recognize Donald Trump is neither a leader nor a businessman.  His speech and behavior defy both labels.

kellyGeneral John Kelly, a proven leaders, seems to telegraph this assessment in his facial expression and body language at President Trump’s unhinged press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday.

Real leaders do not act like Trump.

Leadership in business, the military and politics is meant to provide clarity, to inspire and to unite.  The true test of this capacity occurs at times of crisis.  At such moments, the first utterances prove the measure of the person in charge.

For this reason, the past two weeks were President Trump’s “moments”:  last week, with the threat of World War III and this week, the threat of Civil War II.

For both, especially over the weekend of crisis in Charlottesville, he failed. Miserably.  The failure cannot be explained away as “missed opportunity,” which is like arguing you could have passed the two-day bar exam if you had had another few days.

By casting blame on “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, and then circling-back to defend this indefensible utterance, he displayed his incompetence—his moral rootlessness, his megalomania and his constitutional inability to inspire.

Truly successful business people do not act like Trump.

Sitting on one of his advisory panels must have been painful.  Leaders of industry surely do not see in the new President someone they would emulate.

For leadership, the prominent business book, Good to Great by Stanford Business School professor Jim Collins, provides metaphoric examples of great leadership:  great leaders look out the window when things go well and in the mirror when things go poorly.  Bad leaders– non-leaders–do the reverse.

A great leader is someone who does not thrust personal interests ahead of the needs of the company or organization.  Instead, she inspires great collective effort and loses herself in service of the larger organizational mission.

By this definition, it is hard to see how President Trump could have been a successful businessman.  For anyone who has been a business leader, judging Mr. Trump’s business acumen by the measure of “The Apprentice” (even with its “great ratings”) sounds like comparing a bucket of water to the ocean.

Trump according to Trump has built a “beautiful multi-billion-dollar company.”  By now, of course, we can adjust for the effects of self-promotion and marketing hyperbole.  We can also take into account the several bankruptcies left, like the Jersey shore after hurricane Sandy, in the aftermath of the beautiful Trump businesses.

Given the paucity of his financial disclosure, perhaps we will never know.

I do not mean to suggest that pre-President, Mr. Trump did not amass a fortune.  Self-promoters often do (look at the Kardashians).

Nor do I mean to suggest an absence of business models that can become wildly profitable through bluster, fear, intimidation and the extortion of loyalty (look at the Mafia).

Bad “leaders” must go, and quickly.

As chairman of a corporate board of directors, I once had to fire our company’s CEO. Among other things, the CEO had been caught lying to the board, lying to our shareholders and damaging our brand with customers.

The CEO tried to dodge the facts with bombast and bluster.

Because I supported the CEO’s hiring in the first place, it was not easy to admit error.   However, as “you’re fired” left my lips, I knew the welfare of all of our company’s employees and the quality of our brand depended upon this person’s immediate departure.

I would have been satisfied with a resignation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Blog or Not to Blog? That is the Question.

Looking for a more constant outlet to strenuously defend fundamental values and to persistently expose falsehoods and fallacies.

2-1I love this high school picture of my Mom.  Among all the things she accomplished in her life, she was a writer of plays, novels and inspiring letters.  She was also an avid reader, who surrounded herself (and her kids) with books.  She was consistently thoughtful, passionate and principled.  I strive to follow her example.

My own reading and writing has most often been connected to my work.   As a lawyer, I read the law and wrote mind-numbing contracts and prospectuses.  As an investment banker and businessman, I have studied financial reports and industrial analysis, and written book-length descriptions of companies and projects.

Then I ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016.  This was a drink-from-a-firehose education, like doing a post-graduate program in months instead of years.

With this experience came deeper understanding of the issues we confront as Idahoans and Americans.  It also motivated me to a passionate purpose: to promote factual clarity and reason in what appears to be an officially-sanctioned atmosphere of “fake news” and fallacy.

In the clearest and simplest terms I can muster, I seek to correct factual misrepresentation and logical absurdity–and to beat back the impending threats to our most fundamental values.

For these reasons, I have written about honesty, trust, acceptance, compassion, respect and decency.  I have given priority to exposing the factual errors and illogic behind travel bans, “extreme vetting,” “repeal and replace,” and the “Con-Con” movement that threatens to muck up our Constitution.

The Idaho Statesman and the Post-Register have been exceedingly gracious in publishing my work (and I will continue to submit articles to those and other papers).  However, I am looking for a more constant outlet to strenuously defend our values and to persistently expose falsehoods and fallacies, including those emanating from our state and federal governments.

To blog or not to blog?  I will blog, and I hope you will join me.