Russia and Democracy

Russian interference is associated with using anti-Islam propaganda and other divisive wedges to promote Trump.

The US and several countries are now ruled openly or behind the scenes by an elite of billionaire / corporate / princeling / oligarchical / kleptocrats sometimes in alliance and other times in conflict…

I’d love to see our country restore (or maybe you could say just get to in the first place) our ideal of representative constitutional democracy under rule of law, in which we all get to vote (on paper ballots), and where have reason to vote for candidates who have good, honest proposals that tell us how they would make our lives better, and who we can trust to do that and not make corrupt deals that involve enriching themselves in office or later.

I don’t know how we get there from here.

Trump Destruction, For The Record

No help for Puerto Rico? No science at the EPA? The State Department dismantled?

The destruction is the POINT.

Trump sent the following email this week:

Friend,

TIME Magazine thinks this is an ATTACK against me?

“How Trump’s cabinet is dismantling government as we know it.”

Good! The federal government is a broken, lobbyist-infested cesspool of corruption that abuses its power, cooks deals for crooked politicians, and despises hardworking Americans.

America didn’t vote for the same old thing. You voted for a wrecking ball to obliterate the status quo and rebuild a new government OF, FOR, and BY the PEOPLE!
But the swamp is revolting! That’s why it is so important now more than ever for you to accept your 2017 Sustaining Membership BEFORE MIDNIGHT TONIGHT.

The Fake News Media will do anything to try to rip apart the strong bonds of our movement. But they will never succeed — because we are fighting to save our country, and that’s a fight we will NEVER surrender.

I hope to see your name on our next list of 2017 Sustaining Members before midnight.

Please contribute $1 to accept your Sustaining Membership.

Thank you,

President Trump Signature Headshot
Donald J. Trump
President of The United States

He brags that he is a “wrecking ball.”

For Those Wondering Why I Haven’t Been Writing

I haven’t been writing.

I’m having a terrible time grappling with with the national situation. For one thing, I don’t want to write anything that might help normalize what is happening here. That includes using the word “President” for Trump.

Another, I wrote for years saying, “Wake up or the worst could happen.” And by that I meant what HAS now happened. So I’m not sure what I have to offer to help right now. The worst has happened, I don’t know that a lot of us realize how bad it really is…

So I am doing a lot of thinking. And some tweeting, at least, because I just can’t help myself.

I’ll be back.

For some Reason The Public Thinks Politicians Side With Corporations

For some reason, the public thinks politicians side with corporations. Imagine that. and they’re looking for politicians who do not.

The LA Timesreports on focus groups with voters, seeing what they think today, in These voters in Arizona are fed up with Democrats, Republicans and, most of all, Trump,

More than two dozen voters gathered in Phoenix this week delivered a bipartisan broadside against President Trump, Republicans and Democrats, dismissing the political class as serving its wealthy benefactors and abandoning everyday Americans.

… The questions largely revolved around views of Trump and Republican efforts to pass healthcare and tax reform measures. Yet in the process, participants voiced strikingly little support for Democrats nor any enthusiasm about using their vote to cast out Republicans next year.

“Democrats are doing something badly wrong,” said one Democratic-leaning voter, saying the party “should have done a better job” last year. “Democrats are flailing.”

“I think the government is totally corrupt,” said an independent voter who leaned toward Democrats in elections but disparaged both sides.

Republicans see Trump and Republicans siding with corporations. Imagine that.

Asked whether Trump sided with regular people or big corporations, nine of 10 in the Republican group said he sided with corporations. All 10 said Republicans in Congress sided with corporations. Two said Democrats sided with ordinary people. Sentiments were not dramatically different in other groups.

“They’re all the same; they’re all puppets,” said one Trump voter.

People saw government bailing out Wall Street and corporations instead of We the People, and aren’t happy,

“People in Arizona and Ohio, all these other groups in other places in the country, thought after the crash that Wall Street and big corporations were made whole again, and they were left behind,” said Patrick McHugh, the executive director of Priorities, who observed the focus groups.

“Trump made a lot of promises to address those issues. He’s now president…. He’s now responsible for fulfilling those promises.”

So people somehow sense that government sides with corporations. People might be uninformed and misinformed, but they by and large aren’t stupid. They can see what’s going on and want something done about it.

Apart from the obvious racism, Trump campaigned on an economic message. There were people who will tell you they “took a chance” and supported Trump because he promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in government. He said he was already wealthy so he wouldn’t take bribes. He got a lot of votes from people who were fed up.

If there was a consistent criticism of Hillary Clinton it was that she was beholden to corporations, especially Wall Street, and that her paid speeches and supposed support for TPP proved it.

Lots of people supported Bernie Sanders because he obviously was not in the pocket of corporations.

Many Green voters are Greens instead of Democrats because they believe the party has sold out to corporate interests.

I wonder if there is a lesson from this?

Progressives Should Focus On Russia

Too many on the “left” say progressives should not be focusing on the Russian interference in our democracy. They say it is just an excuse to allow the failure of Clinton and Democratic leadership to offer the public good policies that help people instead of just helping corporations and the rich slide. Some even say it is just old 1950s-style “red-baiting.”

Criticism of Russia is not related to previous pre-1990s criticisms of communism or socialism. Russia is not that. Today it is a kletocracy run by one guy and a bunch of oligarchs, sort of the perfect Koch/Thiel/Trump/corporate state that Republicans are trying to bring about here.

They Did It

The Trump campaign did do this and the Republican Party is running cover for it, just so they can continue to loot us with tax cuts for the rich and taking away the things our government does to make our lives better.

Its better for progressives if the spectrum of power goes from the left to centrist Dems, instead of from centrist Dems to the far right as it does now. Using Russia to get lots of Rs out of power and move that spectrum left only helps us obtain an environment in which Medicare-for-All, free college and university, allowing everyone to vote, restoring taxation and regulation on corporations, breaking up monopolies, bringing racial and gender justice, ending privatization, finally fighting climate change and all the other things needed to heal the country and planet are possible to achieve.

We need the public to understand that conservative/Republican/corporate rule is anti-democracy and not legitimate. Focusing on Russia helps us get there.

The Russia Story Isn’t Going Away

It’s not like the Russia story is going to drop from the news, allowing other things to be discussed. So ride the wave instead of fighting the tide.

The Russia story actually gives us an opportunity to talk about good policies instead of policies that hurt the country, by tying that discussion to Russian efforts to hurt us. All the talk about Russia gives us the opportunity to tie Republican anti-government policies to the ways Russia hoped to benefit from their interference in our democracy. Russia helped put them there in an effort to hurt the country and Republican policies hurt the country.

The Russia story delegitimizes Republicans by exposing their lack of legitimacy. (Along with voter suppression, gerrymandering and other ways they are not legitimately in power.) The more they and their policies are delegitimized the more progressive policies fill the vacuum.

Note how Medicare-for-All is being widely discussed, even while the Russia story dominates.

All the talk about Russian interference in democracy offers us a chance to remind people of what democracy means. erference in our democracy.

Tax Cuts Defund The Very Things That Boost The Economy

After 8 years of complaining about “Obama deficits,” Republicans are proposing huge, dramatic, unprecedented tax cuts, especially for corporations. President Trump wants the rate cut from 35% down to 15%, denying the government $2 trillion of revenue over the next decade. He is also proposing dramatic income tax cuts for billionaires like him.

Republicans call corporate tax cuts “pro-growth,” saying they will give the economy a boost. Trump’s Treasury Secretary says the plan will “pay for itself with economic growth.”

So now they’re for “stimulus”?

But here’s the real question: do tax cuts actually boost economic growth?

What Tax Cuts Actually Do

In 2012 the Congressional Research Service looked at the data from past tax cuts and the effect they had on the economy, and issued a report titled, Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945. The summary explained,

This report attempts to clarify whether or not there is an association between the tax rates of the highest income taxpayers and economic growth. Data is analyzed to illustrate the association between the tax rates of the highest income taxpayers and measures of economic growth.

And what did the study find?

There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.

In fewer words: There is no evidence that tax cuts bring economic growth, but they do cause income to concentrate at the top.

But wait, it’s worse than that. Tax revenues build roads (and bridges and airports and rail systems and and water systems…), educate the population, conduct scientific research, run the courts, enforce regulations, standardize (and enforce) weights and measures, and about a million other things that make businesses prosper.

If you cut taxes, over time the business environment necessarily gets worse because those roads deteriorate, people are not as well educated, scientific research declines, courts clog up, regulation enforcement declines, along with about a million other things that businesses rely on. If you can’t get educated employees, can’t move goods on crowded and deteriorated roads and your competitors can get away with cheating, your business just isn’t going to do as well as it could.

Tax cuts defund all of those things that boost the economy and make our lives better. Over time the economy necessarily gets worse.

Are Taxes Theft?

Republicans say “taxes are theft.” They say “taxes take money out of the economy.” They say it “takes from those who work and earn and giving to those who don’t.” They say taxation “extracts wealth.” The idea behind this is that government is illegitimate and “uses force’ to “take people’s money” so “they” can have it instead. They argue there are “producers” and “moochers” and the moochers outnumber the producers and take from them.

These are all actually arguments against democracy. Substitute the words “We the People” for the word “government” in their arguments and you’ll see how this works. The “they” in their arguments isn’t some “other” that grabs the money, it is We the People. The idea of democracy is that We the People have a government and we decide how to allocate the resources of our economy to make our lives better. That means taxing and spending.

Democracy is taxing and spending. And by definition government sending is on things that make our lives better.

Are tax cuts theft? Or are they really about theft of democracy from We the People?

From Tax Cuts Are Theft,

The American Social Contract: We, the People built our democracy and the empowerment and protections it bestows. We built the infrastructure, schools and all of the public structures, laws, courts, monetary system, etc. that enable enterprise to prosper. That prosperity is the bounty of our democracy and by contract it is supposed to be shared and reinvested. That is the contract. Our system enables some people to become wealthy but all of us are supposed to benefit from this system. Why else would We, the People have set up this system, if not for the benefit of We, the People?

… The American Social Contract is supposed to work like this:

… But the “Reagan Revolution” broke the contract. Since Reagan the system is working like this:

Tax cuts eat the seed corn of our prosperity. We shouldn’t fall for yet another Republican con, this time from the con-man Trump.

Did Trump Attack Syria for Personal Profit?

At any other time, this (fill in the blank) would be the scandal of the decade. Now, with Donald Trump as president, we call it Monday.

Thursday evening, Trump attacked Syria, a sovereign country, with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. This act of war was done without Congressional authorization, even after Trump’s August, 2013, tweet that “Obama needs Congressional approval” before attacking Syria in nearly-identical circumstances.

The following morning, headlines like this one appeared in the business press: Raytheon, maker of Tomahawk missiles, leads premarket rally in defense stocks:

Defense and energy stocks dominated the list of premarket gainers on the S&P 500 Friday, led by Tomahawk missile-maker Raytheon Corp., after U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian air base overnight.

Donald Trump apparently owns Raytheon stock. In May, 2016, Trump reported to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) that he owned Raytheon stock. Interestingly, this FEC report does not appear to include the extensive web of offshore anonymous shell corporations Trump uses to mask assets.

Since that filing Trump’s assets have not been sold with the proceeds placed into a “blind trust,” and there is no public record of his having otherwise sold the stock. Not only that, but Trump is able to draw cash from his “trust” at any time. He could literally have pocketed cash from his gains from attacking Syria.

Conflict Of Interest

Trump has a clear conflict of interest here. He ordered an attack using missiles from a company he owns stock in, the company stock went up as a result, Trump made a profit. He didn’t order the military to drop bombs, though he likely owns stock in companies that make bombs, or interrupt a Mar-a-Lago dinner to order a Seal team to raid the offices of the officials who ordered the gas attack. There is every reason for people to ask if personal profit was a factor in ordering the Tomahawk missile attack.

We don’t know, but there is the appearance of Trump potentially having done this for financial gain. This is why conflicts of interest matter.

The pubic has a right to be concerned about this.

Past Scandals

Compare the appearance of potential conflict-of-interest in Trump’s Syria attack to a past scandal that was considered major, received extensive news coverage and resulted in years of investigations.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton dismissed seven employees from the White House Travel Office after investigations discovered financial improprieties. Among other reported improprieties, it appeared that companies that contracted to provide lucrative travel services were issuing “refunds” that the Travel Office director was putting into his own bank account.

Republicans accused Clinton of firing the employees so that “friends,” including a third cousin, could get the jobs, and so that companies from Arkansas could get contracts.

This became a major scandal that resulted in literally years of investigations. The national news media did front-page reporting on the “scandal” for years. Republicans forced investigations by the FBI, the General Accounting Office, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee (1996 report), the Senate Special Whitewater Committee and finally an independent prosecutor. In 2000, a Special Prosecutor declined to prosecute the Clintons for the firings, but the mainstream news media were still at it. Fourteen years later, the right-wing media were still at it.

Compare everything in that seven years of major scandal and investigations, resulting from firing seven travel office employees for appearing to be taking kickbacks, to any given day of the Trump administration. For example, where the Clintons were investigated because a third cousin ended up with a White House job, Trump has hired his daughter and son-in-law.

A Lot More Than Just Raytheon

Trump’s direct and potential conflicts go vastly beyond just his Raytheon stock. The Atlantic looks at just his own company’s holdings, page after page,, in Donald Trump’s Conflicts of Interest: A Crib Sheet.

This is, needless to say, unprecedented. It shows how far “down the rabbit hole” Trump and the Congressional Republicans who refuse to old him accountable have taken the country. Things that would be major scandals in the past are barely even mentioned today.

There is a national Tax March on April 15 to demand that Trump release his tax returns, so we can at least begin to get a handle on his multiple conflicts of interest. There is a large march in Washington, DC along with marches in cities around the country. Go to TaxMarch.org to locate an event near you.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Whoppers Big and Small in Trump’s Speech

This is classic dumb guy wedding speech writing: “The chorus of their dating became an earthquake of their love.” – Samantha Bee on Trump’s speech

Donald Trump just gave a fact-free, and detail-free, speech to a joint session of Congress. Early on in the evening, the president – who has loaded his cabinet with billionaires and his administration with former Goldman Sachs executives – earned audible guffaws from the assembled lawmakers when he declared, in all seriousness, “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption…”

With illegal border crossings at the lowest level since 1972, Trump devoted a good portion of his speech to spreading fear of undocumented immigrants. But only those from the south. There are twice as many immigrant visa “overstays” by Canadians as Mexicans. Meanwhile back in the real world, net migration from Mexico  is below zero – more are leaving than coming

Trump claimed our borders are “wide open… for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.” But not only are our borders more secure than ever, our country’s much-publicized opioid addiction problem is the result of pharmaceutical company marketing, not Mexican drug gangs. American physicians have legally prescribed enough painkillers – largely in Trump-voting states – to stupefy people enough to, well, elect Trump.

Trump also spoke of immigrants committing crimes, asking what would those in Congress say to an American family when immigrants take “a loved one” from them. However, the New York Times reports that “Contrary to Trump’s Claims, Immigrants Are Less Likely to Commit Crimes.” Oh well.

But rather than run the risk that facts might distract the public from his agenda of fear, Trump showcased family members of people who had been killed by immigrants, then announced that he is setting up an official Ministry of Fear, saying,

I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American Victims. The office is called VOICE — Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.

Trump stressed that immigrants take jobs and income from American families. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) took a 2014 look at this claim, “there is broad agreement among academic economists that in the long run, immigration has a small but positive impact on the labor market outcomes of native-born workers, on average.”

Then Trump went after Muslims, saying, we can’t allow “allow uncontrolled entry” to our country because – “the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” Pushing the fear further, he said,

“We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America — we cannot allow our Nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.”

Trump conveniently neglected to mention the severe vetting process refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries already face, or the fact over half of the people the Department of Homeland Security has determined were inspired by a foreign  group to attempt terrorist attacks in the U.S. were born in the U.S. And he certainly wasn’t about to bring up native-born white, Christian terrorists.

Trump promised to “work to bring down the artificially high price of drugs and bring them down immediately.” This promise comes less than a month after this headline, “After meeting with pharma lobbyists, Trump drops promise to negotiate drug prices“.

On the very day that headlines read, “Trump signs executive order to roll back clean water rule“, he said, “My administration wants to work with members in both parties to… promote clean air and clear water…”.

Trump also presented environmental destruction as a jobs program, saying for example,

We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines — thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs — and I’ve issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel.

In fact, as DeSmogBlog points out, Like Keystone XL, Much of Dakota Access Pipeline Steel Made by Russian Company Tied to Putin. And the jobs? A few thousand construction jobs, for a few months while the pipelines are constructed, in an economy adding more than 200,000 jobs a month, and then “Operation of the proposed Project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs.

These are just a few examples of what we are dealing with when we hear Trump speak. Big whoppers, little whoppers, bamboozlements, empty promises, detail-free policy mumblings, flat-out intentional lies, trickery, and always the fear and the fear and the fear and the fear and the fear.

But this time his “tone” was supposedly easier to stomach. Did anyone fall for it?

The ‘Lower The Tax Rate To Attract Businesses’ Competitiveness Scam

Now that Republicans are running Congress and the executive branch, they’re planning to “reform” (cut) corporate taxes (again). This time they using the subterfuge of “this will make companies more competitive.” What does that mean? Of course, under Republicans, it really means one and only one thing: cutting taxes on the rich — rich people.

The top corporate tax rate used to be 52 percent. Under President Ronald Reagan it was 46 percent. Then Congress “reformed” corporate taxes and dropped the rate to just 35 percent. (Except for giant, multinational corporations. They were handed a “deferral” break that cut their taxes to zero.)

Corporations used to shoulder 32 percent of the total tax burden. Now they shoulder only 10 percent of the burden — a drop of two-thirds. The difference has been made up from cuts to infrastructure, schools, health care, scientific research and all the things our government does to make our lives better — and to help our economy prosper over the long term.

That’s the trade-off when taxes are cut. It means our government has to cut the things it does to make all of our lives better.

Who Gets That Money?

As corporate taxes were cut (thereby making it harder for the government to do things that make our lives better), where did that money go instead? It obviously didn’t go toward higher wages or shorter working hours or other things that might have made the tradeoff somewhat worth it for regular people, at least in the short term. No, time has shown us here it went: straight to a few at the top.

Politifact said it was true when Bernie Sanders, in Madison, claims top 0.1% of Americans have almost as much wealth as bottom 90%. Joshua Holland explains how it happened, writing at The Nation in 2015 in 20 People Now Own As Much Wealth as Half of All Americans,

The concentration of wealth at the top isn’t the result of some sort of organic process. The top one-10th of 1 percent of American households controlled about 7 percent of the nation’s wealth in the mid-1970s. By 2000, their share had grown to about 15 percent, and today it’s well over 20 percent. Those at the very top didn’t become three times as smart or lucky or good-looking in the intervening years. They’ve benefited from changes in things like trade policy, the tax code, and collective-bargaining rules — all policy changes they’ve used their wealth to champion.

That is where the money goes when corporate taxes (and rules and regulations and the bargaining power of regular people) are cut. It goes to a few actual, living people instead of toward the betterment of all of us and our economy.

Corporations Don’t “Do” Things. They Don’t “Make Decisions” or “Talk”

Over the last few decades a constant barrage of corporate/conservative propaganda has misinformed public understand of what corporations are, and why we have them. People have come to think of corporations as sentient beings that “do things,” like make decisions and speak. But corporations are things, like chairs and hammers. (Actually, they are more like wills or sales contracts.)

Corporations are things — legal contracts — that people use to get certain things done, for themselves.

These days corporations have also become things that are used to obscure or mask what certain people do. A corporation doesn’t “decide” to pollute a river or cheat a customer or hide profits in the Cayman Islands. And Bob in accounting or Alicia in marketing don’t decide to do that, either. But “the corporations” get the blame while really a few people who manage the corporation do things, and they do those things for their own, personal gain.

This is the important thing to understand. People make decisions and personally benefit; corporations do not.

When we cut taxes on corporations we are actually cutting taxes on a few people. And not just people, but very, very rich people.

The “Competitive” Argument

This time around the Republicans are trying to bamboozle everyone by claiming that we “need” to cut taxes on corporations so they will be more “competitive.” (As if our corporations are not already making the highest profits in history.)

Gayle Trotter captures the company line at the Washington Examiner, in Trump’s corporate tax plan will make America competitive again,

Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent will help, not only to keep businesses here, but also bring jobs and innovation back home by reducing wacky incentives for United States companies to migrate offshore in tax-driven “inversion” deals.

This is legislation-by-extortion. This argument has giant corporations threatening to renounce their U.S. citizenship, and harm our country by killing American jobs, etc., unless we give them (the executives who make the decisions — and the threats) more money. This argument also threatens American entrepreneurs who want to start companies here, with its appeal to giant foreign companies to move here and serve those markets instead.

The argument also ignores what really makes a country “competitive.” That is the infrastructure, education, scientific research, court system and other things well-funded governments do to fertilize the soil from which companies can grow and prosper. Cutting corporate taxes cuts a government’s ability to nurture that soil — for the sake of a short term gain for a few executives who are making these extortion threats.

Switzerland Got Wise to the Con

A week ago Switzerland had a vote on lowering their corporate tax rate, “to attract businesses,” but the voters got wise to the con, with 60 percent of them voting to reject the extortion argument, as AFP reports,

The proposal would have leveled the tax rate for domestic and foreign firms while creating new deductions for innovation as well as research and development, tailored to attract global companies…

The left-wing Socialist Party (PS) called the government’s plan a “scam” that would have forced ordinary taxpayers to fill inevitable revenue shortfalls.

The referendum had “shown the red card to arrogance,” the party said in a statement, claiming the days of giving sweetheart deals to powerful corporations were “no longer tolerated.”

“Dollars Go to Support the Communities That Help to Make Their Businesses Thrive”

In April, 2015, the Main Street Alliance pushed back against these extortion threats, issuing a statement that SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS JOIN OTHERS ACROSS THE COUNTRY, PLEDGE TO REMAIN AMERICAN BUSINESSES,

With Tax Season in full swing, business owners and working families across the country are standing together, proud to live, work, and support the United States and their local communities. Small business owners across the country know that their tax dollars go to support the communities that help to make their businesses thrive. Investments in our schools, public infrastructure, safety, and much more depend on everyone paying their fair share of taxes.

Good for them. And good for people like the voters in Switzerland who did not fall for this “competitiveness” bamboozlement.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.