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.

 

 

 

 

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?

Surprise! Over the Weekend, Graham-Cassidy Went from Bad to Worse!!

It’s hard to believe this Zombie bill could get any worse. But it did.

Last night Politico received a leaked copy of a revised Graham-Cassidy bill.  I presume the “leak” was by someone who recognizes this effort as so ill-conceived and harmful that the country should know about it ASAP.  In good time, at the eleventh hour, before this terrible legislation is put to a vote.

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/24/obamacare-graham-cassidy-repeal-243079

Thank you, dear leaker, whoever you are.  You have exposed this last-ditch Republican effort to undo Obamacare.  Instead of getting better, Graham-Cassidy has gone from bad to absurd, which might be laughable if it were not so cravenly cruel.

This latest effort amounts “bribery” of the “swing senators” from Arizona, Alaska and Kentucky, with more block grant monies promised to each of their states.  However, as the Politico article points out, this masks the overall slash-and-burn assault on Medicaid.

So, promising more money to the “swing states,” is less like a bribe and more like a mugger telling you to be grateful to be mugged because you can keep your watch.

Another retrograde revision tries to win over Senators Cruz and Lee by effectively removing federal regulation of health insurers in favor of the states.

Among other things, this would lift existing caps on out of pocket costs and lead to the unwinding of protections for individuals (like my hard-working diabetic daughter) who have “pre-existing conditions.”

On this point, Politico quotes Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation:

“This revised bill is tantamount to federal deregulation of the insurance market.  If there were any doubt that people with pre-existing [conditions] are at risk of being priced out of individual insurance, this bill removes them.”

It’s high time to put aside political differences and mend the problems of the Affordable Care Act.  While Congress continues to battle over health care, with perennial waste of time and money, people are dying.

Americans should demand congressional collaboration and cooperation and an end to this hyper-partisan nonsense.

[Check out my March 15, 2017 blog post:  https://jerrysturgill.blog/2017/03/15/fix-obamacare-stop-wasting-time-and-money-tearing-it-down]

Meanwhile, you have probably seen news of our own Idaho Senators’ willingness to vote for Graham-Cassidy.  (Which makes me wonder why they didn’t try to be hold out votes too, to attract more hush-up, block-grant money to Idaho and make the proposed Medicaid mugging less bad.  Oh well.)

Whether or not Graham-Cassidy passes, Messrs. Risch and Crapo should be held accountable–now and at future ballot boxes–for their cowardly toeing of the far-right party line and their abject failure to help make health care available and affordable for more Idahoans.

 

Graham-Cassidy-oppose

 

Another Zombie Health Care Bill

We hoped it was dead!  But it still isn’t.  Repeal and replace has risen again.  A Senate vote is expected next week.

Senators Graham (R-SC) and Cassidy (R-LA) have proposed a last ditch budget amendment.  Apparently, they think the news cycle is so saturated with natural disasters we will not be paying attention to a man-made one.

cemetery hand

However, we MUST pay attention, especially here in Idaho.  We should pummel our Idaho U.S. Senators with demands to vote against this terrible, zombie bill, before next week’s vote.

There is so much wrong with this process, even before you get to the relative badness of the bill.  Like prior attempts at repeal and replace, Senators Graham and Cassidy, with alarming Senate and White House support, are trying to avoid the deliberative process of the Senate (remember, that failure of “regular order,” about which Senator McCain so passionately spoke in the last round).

The political subterfuge of this “rush job” is obvious and represents hyper-partisanship at its absolute worst.

The proposed process for Graham-Cassidy is even more compressed than before, and is intended to avoid exposure to political and public scrutiny.

It will squash the budding potential for bipartisan collaboration and cooperation and is a violation of democratic process.  As a result, we will careen from one half-supported half-baked result to another.

Because of the short deadline, no scoring will be done by the Congressional Budget Office before a vote.  Even so, the Republicans appear ready to hurry ahead, no doubt because the CBO fueled criticism of their last repeal and replace efforts.

This is like prescribing medicine before the test results are back and a proper diagnosis can be made.

As for the badness of the bill, the Graham-Cassidy amendment is clearly worse than previous repeal and replace efforts.  Suffice it to say that, if passed, it would have a massive negative impact on Idaho and the rest of the country.

The insurance markets, now relatively stable, would be turned upside down.  Even more people (32 million) would lose health insurance.  Federal protection for people with pre-existing conditions would disappear.  Planned Parenthood would be defunded.  Medicaid would be crippled and ultimately disappear.

The whole idea is to kick-the-can-down-the-road to the states with block grants, shifting the burden of fixing health care to disparate state legislative and executive bodies.

The result will be an uneven system of health care “haves” and “have-nots,” with hugely damaging economic and social consequences, especially for thinly-populated, heavily-rural states like ours.

Given the poor performance of the Idaho state legislature on health care generally, Idahoans especially should be screaming “foul.”

Call our Senators, today, and every day, until next week’s vote.  Senator Crapo’s number in D.C. is (202) 224-6142, and Senator Risch’s is (202) 224-2752.  Call Senators McCain (202) 224-2235, Murkowski (202) 224-6665 and Collins (202) 224-2523) too, if you have time.

 

“And Here We Have Idaho, Winning Her Way to Fame . . .”

Idaho is a wonderful state, with many good people working together to overcome the anger and division of our time and to promote love, respect and compassion for others.

When I decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, I met with friends in New York City.

“What are you going to do about those Idaho Neo-Nazis?” my friend Jon asked.

He was thinking of the Aryan Nation that once held a hateful compound near Coeur d’Alene.

“They were driven from Idaho long ago,” I stammered, surprised by the stain on our state that lingers after almost two decades.

Unfortunately, deserved or not, Idaho’s reputation for hate was reinforced on Tuesday last week with news of a 24/7 Wall Street report ranking Idaho second in the country, after Montana, for hate.

http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/state/idaho/article167378712.html

The Idaho “Hate Index” is based on our low population (1.7 million), the number of “hate groups” active here (12), and the percentage of the Idaho population that self-identifies as “white” (91.7%).

Based on these statistics, there are 7.1 hate groups per million people in Idaho.  Number one, Montana, has 9.6 hate groups per million.  Just behind (or ahead?) at number 3, Mississippi has 6.0 per million.  Virginia is on the list at number 8 with 4.6.

This is damnable and damning calculus.  Damnable because, whether or not accurate, it has been advertised to the nation (and world) that Idaho is a frightening, hateful state.  This unjustified ranking has ramifications:  among other things, it brings more haters and hate groups to Idaho and turns companies, investors and tourists away.

Want jobs?  Stop hate.

Damning because even one hate group is too many and 7.1 per million suggests by comparison to Virginia that a Charlottesville is more likely to happen here.

The horrifying Charlottesville weekend should be a reminder of the urgency of constant and on-going vigilance.  We must stave off hate  learning, communication, empathy and increased advocacy for human rights.

Happily, among the many individuals and organizations engaged in such efforts in Idaho, two were especially active last week in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Tuesday last, as images of Charlottesville and stumbling political leaders filled the news, Idahoans gathered at the Anne Frank Memorial to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary and to break ground for the Marilyn Shuler Classroom for Human Rights to continue Marilyn’s inspiring legacy of teaching respect for others.

The Anne Frank Memorial is a peaceful and profound human-rights teaching park maintained by the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, appropriately named after Bill Wassmuth who, even after his home was bombed, did not shrink from the effort to peacefully drive the Aryans from our state.

“Idaho is too great for hate!” Dan Prinzing, the Executive Director of the Wassmuth Center, declared from the podium during the ceremony at the Memorial.

idahoblackhistorymuseumOn Thursday, the Black History Museum, led by its director Phillip Thompson, hosted a cathartic post-Charlottesville community forum to discuss issues of race and strategies to overcome prejudice and bias.

The museum hall was packed, with a standing room only crowd.  The image of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. hung prominently over our heads.  The crowded room warmed quickly and the air was heavy with post-Charlottesville anguish.  The discussion was highly-inclusive and animated.  When it was over and as we filed out of the building into the cool of the night, we felt comforted and inspired.

Organizations and events like these speak well of Idaho and the vast majority of Idahoans who love and respect others, regardless of color, race, gender, sexual orientation or economic status.  The majority who are willing to focus what makes us the same—our shared humanity, values and purpose–rather than on what makes us different.

Sadly, since November 2016 election, both the Black History Museum and the Anne Frank Memorial have been targets of racist and anti-Semitic vandalism.  Closer to home evidence of the need for vigilance.

We will fight these forces of darkness and exercise the muscles of our better nature by participating with and supporting the Wassmuth Center, the Black History Museum and the many other organizations and groups in Idaho, sectarian and non-sectarian, promoting love, respect and compassion for others.

Thank you, Dan.  Thank you, Phil.  With your help, for human rights, Idaho will win her way to fame.

Alt-transcript of Yesterday’s Alt-reality Press Conference at the Alt-White House, Trump Tower

President Trump has an uncanny ability to spot moral equivalence, as demonstrated in this alternative transcript of yesterday’s press conference.

. . . .

Reporter: Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.

Trump: Well, I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m sure Senator McCain must know what he’s talking about. But when you say the alt-right…uh, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: No, define it for me. Come on, let’s go.

Reporter: Senator McCain defined them as the same groups.

Trump: OK. What about the alt-left that came charging at-

[Indistinct.]

Trump:  You know what?  Listen.  Last night I decided to do my own historical research.  So, I watched the History Channel.  You may not know about this, fake news, but there was a war.  Not so very long ago.  The alt-right was occupying France.  There they were, the alt-right, minding their own business and you what?  You know what? The alt-left came charging at them across the English Channel and attacked them.  Surprise attack.  Very violent.  Very violent.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Wait a minute. I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.

Reporter: Is it the same level as the Nazis?

Trump: I will tell you something. I watch TV very closely, much more closely than you people watch it, and you have- You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, or visas, and they were very, very violent.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Reporter: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and alt-right on the same moral plane?

Trump: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane.

[Stunned silence.]

. . . .