Friday, June 30, 2017

Why are they so cruel?

The gratuitous cruelty of the modern Republican Party leaves one asking: Why? Where did this come from? In an essay written more than a decade ago, when "compassionate conservatism" was the phrase that marked (for Bush II) a coverup of this cruelty, George Manbiot wrote in The Guardian an interesting essay tracing this ideology back to the Puritans of the 17th century.

You can find his article HERE.

As my daughter, an historian, points out, puritan thought was also wedded with neo-conservative ideology to produce the modern American Republican Party. Chicago School economists and other apologists for Big Money had maintained academically that the accumulation of wealth was the only measure of success in a capitalist society, and, in fact, gave the only meaning to virtue and value and worth therein. Thus, so-called economic "computations" proved that "greed is good" (in the immortal words of Gordon Gekko, and endorsed by Ronald Reagan).  So, "cold calculation" and economic theory were combined with puritan theology to give us the RMP ( = "Rich Man's Party", formerly the GOP). In summary, wealth was the only analytic measure of value and success, and this was ratified by the Will of God. Neat package, and so far quite politically successful here and abroad.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More on "An Important Story in Kansas"

Well, you heard it first here (see June 11) blog: the Kansas legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of their tax increase. Since my blog, several other papers and magazines have picked up the story, most recently The American Prospect.

Of course, we're not hearing anything about it from the Democrats, who are applauding themselves for slowing the Republican replacement of Obamacare by TrumpCare. This is, indeed, an important development, but it is wise to remember that the Republicans are the least self-reflective group on earth, and that most of the small but significant subgroup of them who oppose TrumpCare are doing so for the worst reason: TrumpCare is not mean enough. Any normal human would realize that TrumpCare is, in the words of Chuck Schumer, "rotten to the core", reflecting contempt the health and intelligence of fellow humans. I'm glad that Susan Collins is worried about the effects of TrumpCare on her constituents, but come on Sen. Collins, that's a very mild response to a bill that takes away health care from people across the country (not just in Maine) so that rich people can have a tax break.

One final thing: I keep seeing letters in papers urging a greater "comity" in political discussions, especially of health care. The writers of these letters bemoan the references to TrumpCare as "an attack" and "an attempted murder." Well look, if Republicans make it impossible for low-income people to get the affordable healthcare they can now obtain, and some of these people get very sick but can't afford treatment, and then they die, how else would you describe Republican culpability? If a person were to be blindfolded and set down in the middle of a busy highway at night, wouldn't you describe that as "attempted murder"?

(I know the specious argument: You can always go to the emergency room. Yes, you can, if you are already spitting up blood -- when it's probably too late. That's why it's called an "emergency" room, not a "preventative medicine" room. In any case, large groups of doctors have already publicly stated that elimination of affordable health care will lead to deaths, so we can go with that expert opinion.)

In a related situation: suppose a pharmaceutical company lies about the habit-forming properties of its drugs; then users get hooked, then they die of overdoses when they try to feed their habits. Do the pharmaceutical companies have liability/culpability? Courts have already ruled yes on that.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

An important story in Kansas

While the papers have been filled with ex-FBI director Comey's testimony, there was a very interesting development that didn't get much play. The Kansas legislature overrode governor Sam Brownback's veto of a tax increase it had recently passed. You can read the story here: NY Times and here: Kansas City Star  (and other places as well).

There are several points that are important. First of all, Brownback is a pure and unapologetic exponent of the Republican gospel that tax cuts are always good and that, in fact, they actually pay for themselves by stimulating employment and business expansion. Among actual economists this is generally considered nonsense and is termed Voodoo Economics (along with its "trickle-down" twin). Whenever they can, Republicans try to install tax cuts and, in Trumpian fashion, proclaim that they are "vindicated" by the results. The fact is, there is no actual example showing their claim for tax cuts to be true. The last few Republican presidents (the Bushes) tried cutting taxes and in both cases they either had to backtrack (Bush Sr. and Reagan BTW) or their effort produced disaster (Bush Jr.)  

Yet, in spite of repeated failures, the tax cut dogma remains very much alive since it has the backing of the wealthy classes who think they don't need the government services that the taxes cut pay for. They are happy not to have to pay for roads (they have private jets, and go first-class everywhere) or job-training or health insurance subsidies etc. All the Republicans have to do is make sure that the actual failures of the "theory" stay hidden.

That's where the developments in Kansas are important. Brownback, along with a conservative Republican legislature pushed through tax cuts that led to draconian cutbacks in services at all levels in the state. Health and education and infrastructure programs were gutten for years. The people in Kansas found themselves living in a feudal-like economy, and made their displeasure known to their (conservative) representatives. But Brownback was firm in his embrace of Republican orthodoxy. However, there is one thing that Republicans like less than giving up their economic religion and that is being voted out of office. When they passed a budget authorizing a billion or so in tax increases to keep essentials of civilization working in Kansas, and governor Brownback vetoed them, they finally rebelled and recognized that Brownback was simply wrong and was destroying the state: they overrode his veto.

What about Democrats? Good question. They had a lot to say locally in Kansas, but very little in other states and in the national media. They were too busy not preparing for the 2018 elections, by attacking Trump and not fielding viable local candidates. They could have made a great video showing yet another proof that Republicans are living in a bubble, and that even conservative voters in Kansas were refuting  Republican myths. The override in red Kansas was not by elite liberals as Republicans would like to claim.

So far, nothing from the Democrats. What will happen, of course, is that Republicans will bury the story and claim, later, that their tax cut romance has been "vindicated" once again  (the way Trump declared that Comey's testimory vindicated him). Later references to the Kansas override by responsible media and Democrats will be referred to as fake news or partisan slant. Thus, once again, Democrats will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

DEMOCRATS: Wake up!  You need a skillful and agressive "ministry of propaganda" which will exploit Republican mistakes in a timely way to set the agenda and frame the issues.  We don't need amateurs whose hearts are in the right place, but the kind public relations experts who can generate contempt for Republicans and faith in Democrats.

Forget about Trump for a while and figure out how to win elections.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Do Tax Cuts Work?" and "The Parasite Tax"

During the 2012 presidential campaign, the NY Times ran a column by David Leonhardt analyzing whether tax cuts did, in fact, "grow the economy": Here is that discussion.

Peter deFazio is running for congress in Oregon. Part of his progressive platform is the institution of a tax on Wall Street speculation -- also called a "Tobin" Tax. I discussed this at some length in a blog from November 2010; read it here at The Parasite Tax. Basically, this is a (very tiny) sales tax on stock transactions. For most investors -- even most professional investors -- this is insignificant (maybe 1/4% on sales and purchases of securities. However, for computerized speculators who often trades thousands of shares a second, it amounts to real money. These people are not promoting capitalism by investing in companies based on sound business principles; rather, they speculate on second-to-second virtually statistical fluctuations of a stock's price.  They serve no social or economic purpose, and do what they do solely to make money for themselves. They are social and economic parasites -- hence the name of the tax. When you or I buy a washing machine we pay, in many states, a sales tax -- often 5% or more; these parasites pay nothing on the purchase or sale of stocks. How is that fair?

It isn't, so it's not a bad idea to sign Peter deFazio's petition and maybe even send him some money (let's keep the left-coast blue); here's the URL: Make Wall Street Pay

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

We have a special counsel

In a very pleasant development, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein  named Robert Mueller, former director of the FBI (under Bush II) as special counsel to investigate, basically, the various actions of the current President. I believe that Mueller is a man of integrity and will not engage in a coverup. 

As I understand it, Rosenstein appointed Mueller, then waited enough time before telling the President so that Trump could do nothing (where "nothing", of course, would be the firing of Rosenstein). Very cute. By this time I would assume that Trump is very unhappy.

Each day brings more bad news for Trump, and I'd have to say that it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. And, by the way, my prediction, reiterated yesterday that the Republicans in Congress would do nothing to cross Trump has, so far, been upheld. Even John McCain, while comparing the situation of "Watergate", did not move for a special counsel or special prosecutor.

Let me say again that my main beef with Trump is not that he loves Russian dictators and oligarchs, or that he routinely lies. Presidents have embraced dictators before and, of course, have lied through their teeth continually. No, the problem is that Trump has embraced and advanced policies that are heartless and cruel. He (like the Republicans) have targeted the most vulnerable people here and abroad. He is happy to break up families for no compelling reason, and to cut lifelines that supply vital food, shelter and medicine. The Trump-Republican axis exists for one purpose only: to transfer wealth from the non-wealthy to the rich. They will do or say anything, no matter how illogical or outrageous, in order to obtain and retain power to effect this transference. 

I don't know what Mueller and his investigation will come up with, but I deeply hope that Trump will be disgraced and made to pay for his self-centeredness and cruelty.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Oh no: another load for the Republicans to swallow from their leader

As I pointed out in the last blog, Trump and the Republican party have a symbiotic relationship which allows Trump to do outrageous things and still have Republican support.  Is this support unlimited. Here's a test.

The Washington Post reports that, at the recent meeting between Trump and  Russian Ambassador Kislyak  and  Foreign Minister Lavrov, Trump disclosed highly classified information (on the Islamic State, it seems) supplied by the intelligence service of a close ally. You can read the WaPo report HERE (strongly recommended). I'm pretty sure that this report will make John McCain go ballistic. But: will the general Republican party, especially its leadership, just let it go? It's a toughie for a party that has no principles other than throwing money at rich people. Once they commit to saying Trump is unsuitable to be president, they open the door to all sorts of second-guessing and retribution at the polls. If Trump is a traitor, where does that leave those who kiss up to him?

Stay tuned while this story hits the fan, tonight and tomorrow. My prediction is that Mitch McConnell will adapt just fine to this latest Trump outrage.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Another view on impeaching Trump

The conservative writer Erick Erickson has what I believe is a realistic take on liberal dreams of a Trump impeachment: It isn't very likely, and explicit talk and predictions of it happening will probably lead to disappointment for the liberals. You can read his column in the New York Times HERE.

It should be noted that Erickson has opposed Donald Trump since the Republican primaries -- on the grounds that Trump is such a terrible person (which everyone who's paying attention must surely know by now) that his presidency would do severe damage to both the Republican Party and to the conservative movement (not at all identical with "conservativsm" as has become quite clear to everyone who's paying attention). You can read Erickson's opinions HERE.

While Trump's lack of any principles or knowledge or any intelligence beyond a bullying animal cunning makes it likely that he has committed impeachable actions, the Republicans' lack of any principles, except the need to transfer money from the non-rich to the rich, makes it likely that they will stick by Trump to the bitter end. So, unless the Democrats win both houses of Congress by comfortable margins, and/or investigations produce undeniable "High Crimes and Misdemeanors", Trump is here to stay at least until the next presidential election. This is, sadly, the reality of the situation.

On the other hand, unlike Erickson, I don't think it is all that unlikely that investigations will show strong evidence of money laundering by Trump and his businesses, as well as collusion with Russians to influence the last election. Even the Wall Street Journal writers are taking this possibility quite seriously. That's what movement conservatives such as Erickson are nervous about.

Looking just a little ahead, I also don't think it's unlikely that the Democrats will regain control of the House, and thereby the ability to stop the anti-people program of the Republicans in its tracks. The Dems have an invigorated liberal base, lots of folks from centrists leftward eager to send them money, and lots of decent folks who simply want to stop the indecencies that have characterized the Trump/Republican regime. Of course, to be fair, Democrats have the kind of tin ear and ineptitude and over-confidence that enable them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in any given election. 

As I read tweets from Trump, and quotes from the Republican leadership and Chuck Schumer, and as I let the confident analyses of Rachel Maddow and MSNBC wash over me, I can't help but feel that this is a storm whose outcome is beyond my or any outsider's abilities to predict or powers to affect. We don't know what the FBI knows or will know, nor who will be hired or fired (or worse). Next week will be more ... stuff.

Who cursed us to live in these "interesting times"?