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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Signs Bill Containing Warning on Climate Change

The Daily Escape:

The Fuego Volcano in Guatemala erupts under the Milky Way, Antigua, Guatemala – photo by Albert Dros

While we were all focused on the Alabama senate election, on Tuesday, Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that sets spending limits for the US military in the coming fiscal year.

Buried in the bill is a discussion of climate change. The NDAA contains a provision making clear that “the sense of Congress” is that:

Climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.

The provision cites statements from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former defense secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

This creates an interesting moment for Trump, who signed the bill knowing this was in its language. He did not add a signing statement disavowing the provision, so he’s placing the climate change provisions of the NDAA directly opposite his stance on climate change, and his disavowal of the Paris Agreement.

By signing the bill, Trump also ordered a report on “vulnerabilities to military installations” that climate change could cause in the next 20 years. More from the bill:

As global temperatures rise, droughts and famines can lead to more failed states, which are breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations…In the Marshall Islands, an Air Force radar installation built on an atoll at a cost of $1 billion, is projected to be underwater within two decades. A three-foot rise in sea levels will threaten the operations of more than 128 United States military sites, and it is possible that many of these at-risk bases could be submerged in the coming years…

Lawfare reports that the bill’s climate change provision is as important for what it doesn’t require as for what it does. The bill doesn’t require that Gen. Mattis develop a policy to solve the problems that it acknowledges climate change poses. Instead, it merely requires that he provide an explanation of its “effects.”

This was Congress’s way of dealing with an earlier contentious debate about including the climate provision at all. The amendment to deny its inclusion failed by 185-234. Also, the military is not the agency responsible for regulating carbon emissions, so the impact of its requirements on policy may be small.

While the requirement that Mattis produce a report on the “mitigations” that will ensure “resiliency” could be construed as creating a policy response, the fact remains that there is no explicit direction that he implement any of the mitigations on which he’ll be reporting.

More from Lawfare: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

According to the Congressional Research Service, as of 2012, the Department of Defense was ‘the largest organizational user of petroleum in the world.’…And the thousands of [military] aircraft…accounted for 22% of all jet fuel used by the US as of 2008.

The bill includes money to buy 30 more planes than the military asked for (24 reliable old F/A-18s instead of 14, and 90 of the newer lemon, the F-35, instead of 70). The US Navy asked for one new Littoral Combat Ship. The NDAA budgets for three.

Translation: $Billions for the aerospace and ship-building government contractors. This year, the Defense expenditures tab will come to about $2,160 for every man, woman and child in the US.

Feel like you’re getting your money’s worth?

 

A quick note about Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Most haven’t heard of her, but she was an innovator on the electric guitar. She preferred to play a Gibson SG, and she was among the first to use heavy distortion. In 1947, Sister Rosetta put the then 14-year-old Little Richard on stage. Johnny Cash said that she was his favorite singer, and biggest inspiration. When she plays, you understand where Chuck Berry got his big guitar ideas. Here is Sister Rosetta Tharpe doing “That’s All” from 1964’s “Live in Paris “album:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Rising Interest Rates Will Add $233 to Monthly Household Expenses

The Daily Escape:

Snoqualmie Falls, WA

We are in the middle of the holiday shopping frenzy, so it may be a bad time for Wolf Richter to mention this:

Outstanding “revolving credit” owed by consumers – such as bank-issued and private-label credit cards – jumped 6.1% year-over-year to $977 billion in the third quarter, according to the Fed’s Board of Governors. When the holiday shopping season is over, it will exceed $1 trillion.

If that’s not bad enough, WalletHub points out that the Federal Reserve is planning on raising interest rates, and that will make credit card debt a lot more expensive, since credit card rates move with short-term interest rates:

The Fed’s four rate hikes since Dec. 2015 have cost credit card users an extra $6 billion in interest in 2017. That figure will swell by $1.46 billion in 2018 if the Fed raises its target rate again in December, as expected.

Everyone expects the Fed to raise rates today. This would bring the incremental costs of five rate hikes so far to $7.5 billion next year. So how do these rate hikes translate for households with credit card balances? Finance charges are concentrated in households that do not pay off their balances every month. Many of these households are among the least able to afford higher interest payments. More from Wolf: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

195.9 million consumers had a revolving credit balance at the end of Q3, with total account balances of $1.35 trillion. This equals $6,892 per person with revolving credit balances. If there are two people with balances in a household, this would amount to nearly $14,000 of this high-cost debt. If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-card interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures.

Economists are assuming that the Fed will hike interest rates three times in 2018. The Fed thinks that the “neutral” rate (the target at which the federal funds rate is neither stimulating, nor slowing the economy) is between 2.5% to 2.75%. Since today’s rate is 1.25% to 1.50%, that is a long way up from the current target range. Again, from Wolf:

Interest rates on credit cards would follow in lockstep. These rate hikes to “neutral” would extract another $8 billion or so a year, on top of the additional $7.5 billion from the prior rate hikes.

But there is a double whammy, because credit card balances will also continue to rise. Rising credit card balances combined with rising interest rates on those balances will produce sharply higher interest costs to people who already can’t pay off their monthly credit card balances.

For many card holders with poor credit, this will eventually lead to default. Credit card delinquencies have started to tick up, from 2.16% in Q1 2016 to 2.53% in Q3. That is a low overall level of delinquency, but we need to look at to losses in the subprime segment (those with the lowest credit scores) and at the lenders that specialize in subprime lending. And there, delinquency rates are jumping.

Debt is not always a choice. A catastrophic medical debt, the death of the primary breadwinner, or loss of employment with no new job for an extended period of time can destroy a lifetime of savings in as little as a few months to a few years.

Since the crash of 2007, a great many people have be unable to find employment that is enough to support a family. And they have taken multiple jobs to try to make ends meet. Or any job that they can find.

And this is in what economists and politicians say are the best of times, with the lowest unemployment rate since 2000.

Increased costs for consumer credit coupled with increased delinquencies could become a third point reason for populist economic anger. Tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and the coming GOP attack on Medicare and Medicaid are also justifiable reasons for economic anger.

Where will voters turn for a solution?

After all, governance has ceased to be a part of the job description of our political parties.

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You Say You Want a Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai Hawaii

Wrongo has suggested many times that America needs a revolution. He thinks that the US political process has been so captured by large corporations and the very rich that the average person no longer can have any impact on policy. In many states, the average person isn’t even totally confident that he/she will be permitted to vote the next time they go to their local precinct.

We are in the midst of a political crisis: The people have lost faith in systems which they feel don’t respond to real people and in representatives that won’t represent us, or the society at large. Rather than debate issues thoughtfully, we are whipsawed by the appeals to emotion launched daily into the ether by the tweeter-in-chief.

Two current issues demonstrate the danger. First, Jerusalem. It turns out that Tillerson and Mattis opposed the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, and move our embassy there. You know from the headlines that Trump wouldn’t listen to anyone who told him this would be a very bad idea. The State Department’s response was to issue a worldwide travel alert for those Americans who think they’re still welcome around the world. The WaPo reported that a Trump confidant said:

It’s insane. We’re all resistant…He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.

Second, North Korea. Maybe you read this headline: North Korea says war is inevitable as allies continue war games.

Martin Longman asks the pertinent question:

The so-called adults in the room utterly failed on the Jerusalem issue, so are we supposed to put our trust in them to steer a sane course on the Korean peninsula?

What are we talking about here? Can we wait out Trump, and just work like hell to replace him with a better president in 2020? Would nuclear war get him re-elected?

What about the GOP’s control of both houses of Congress? On Thursday, Speaker Ryan told us what we face next year: the GOP will tackle the budget deficit and national debt by cutting Medicare and possibly Social Security, now that the GOP’s donor class has their tax cuts.

Things have to change, and there are only two options, neither very good. First, we can try and excise the moneyed influence via the ballot box. That is the “democratic revolution” that Bernie championed in 2016. The definition of democratic revolution is:

A revolution in which a democracy is instituted, replacing a previous non-democratic government, or in which revolutionary change is brought about through democratic means, usually without violence.

Since we no longer have a functioning democracy, a “democratic revolution” to bring it back is what we require. Is it the only way to right the American ship of state?

The second option is a coup of some kind.

  • It could be via impeachment, assuming there were high crimes and misdemeanors that Trump had committed, and assuming a Republican House would impeach him, and a Republican Senate would convict him.
  • It could come via a 25th Amendment action, which might be marginally more acceptable to Republicans, but is as unlikely as impeachment.
  • Least desirable, and least likely would be a true coup, where the “adults in the room” (in the oval office, or the Pentagon) get leverage over the Commander-in-Chief. Could a real coup stay bloodless? That seems highly doubtful, and Wrongo would rather trust Trump than a junta.

Removing Trump won’t fix what’s wrong with the Republican Party. We need to prioritize and triage this situation, focusing first on taking back the House and Senate before 2020.

Who can we count on to right the ship?

Not today’s Democrats. They are led by Chuck Schumer who approves of Trump’s Jerusalem decision. The Democrats must fire Pelosi and Schumer, or die.

What about America’s largest voting bloc, Millennials? Can they step up to the challenge?

What about America’s women? In 2016, women supported Clinton over Trump by 54% to 42%, while Trump carried non-college educated white women 64% to 35%. The #metoo movement promises to become much more than the outing of bad guys: It could weaken both male privilege, and their power.

Firing a few slime balls isn’t revolutionary, but voting them out of office would be a paradigm shift.

The stock market is in the stratosphere, and consumers are happily clicking on Amazon’s “place order” tab.

Measly tax cuts will trickle down to rubes like us, while the plutocrats will die of laughter.

Can women and millennial voters look beyond the GOP’s messaging that the Muslims are always to blame, and Israelis suffer the most?

Will they care enough about whatever Mueller turns up on Trump to go out and vote?

Revolution is in the air. Why should the right have all the fun?

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What Will Dems Do When The GOP Says: “The Deficit Matters”?

The Daily Escape:

Big Ben being cleaned. In order to clean the four clock faces, every 5-7 years, skilled climbers hang down from the belfry on ropes, and they clean the front of each clock face. There is one removable panel of glass on each face, which is removed during the cleaning so that the clock maintenance staff can talk to the cleaners while they’re working. (“you missed a spot?”) Hat tip to Wrongo’s friends at the Goodspeed Opera House!

Yesterday we pointed out that there is a very large program that the country needs to fund if we are to maintain our position in the global superpower competition. The issue at hand is the stunning thought that we might lose up to 75 million jobs to automation in the next 13 years, and that we need to train the out-of-work unfortunates for new jobs in a different economy.

It’s highly unlikely that we would need to train that many, but it could be 25 million Americans. And we have no idea where the money would come from to accomplish that. After all, the Republicans now plan to reduce tax receipts bigly, thus adding to the deficit and thereby, to the total debt of the country.

We know that as soon as the new tax cuts begin accruing to their patrons, the GOP will start talking about reducing the budget deficit by cutting non-military expenses. Ron Brownstein conceives the Republican tax plan correctly:

Gaius Publius observes: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

As they did in the 1980s, Republicans are laying a “deficit trap” for Democrats. As they did before, they’re blowing up the budget, then using deficit [fear] to force Democrats to “be responsible” about cutting social programs — “because deficits matter.”

In the 1980s Republicans ran up the deficit, then insisted that Democrats work with them to raise taxes on the middle class to over-fund the Social Security (SS) Trust Fund. This converted SS from a pay-as-you-go system that increased revenues as needed via adjustments to the salary cap, to a pay-in-advance system. That allowed any excess SS money to be loaned back to the government, partially concealing the large deficits that Reagan was running up.

Today, Republicans are expanding the deficit again, and are already starting to talk about deficits to argue for cuts in what they call “entitlements” — Medicare, Medicaid, and eventually Social Security, even though Social Security can be self-funding.

Fear of deficits is the go-to Republican ploy to try to maim or kill the FDR and LBJ-created social safety net. To the extent that Democrats are willing to accept the GOP’s argument that both parties need to be responsible to decrease the deficits, they will support cuts in social services. Even Obama was willing to consider doing just that in the name of “bipartisanship”. More from Gaius:

The reality — Deficits aren’t dangerous at all until there’s a big spike in inflation, which is nowhere near happening and won’t be near happening for a generation…

Do we want the US government to shrink the money supply year after year after year, by running budget surpluses, or do we want to grow the amount of money in the private sector, making more available for use by the middle class?  The trillions spent on the current GOP giveaway to the already-rich could have been given to college students in debt, or people still underwater in their mortgages since the Wall Street-created crash of 2008. It could have been used to build better roads, airports, seaports or a national high speed internet backbone.

What would be the effect of that re-allocation of money?

Back to Gaius Publius for the final words. Which of these three options would you rather the government choose:

  • Spend money on the already-rich?
  • Spend money on you and the country’s needs, ignoring the pleas of the already-rich?
  • Hoard as much money as possible in a vault and spend the least possible?

The first is the GOP’s current tax plan. The second is a plan for the many, an FDR-style economic policy. The third is the GOP’s wet dream, one that they will ask Democrats to help them accomplish once the already-rich have banked their share of our tax money.

Wrongo’s fear is that at some point down the road, a compromise will be offered up: Cuts to social programs in exchange for a repeal of some of the more onerous tax cuts. The only issue will be the extent of the cuts to social programs.

It will be celebrated as bipartisan sanity returning to Washington.

Our system is revolting. Why aren’t we?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 3, 2017

The Senate’s tax bill was written by lobbyists, and was hardly read by lawmakers. About 2 pm Friday afternoon, Claire McCaskill (D-MO) tweeted a list of Manager’s Amendments she’d received from a lobbyist rather than from her Republican colleagues. From McCaskill:

None of us have seen this list, but lobbyists have it.

Republicans just took 200 years of Constitutional process and trashed it so they could tell their constituents corporate benefactors that they had passed something this year.

That doesn’t seem to be the right way to do things, but the GOP no longer trusts that its ideas will carry the day if they are put under scrutiny and debate. Presuming this dog’s breakfast gets through conference, six months from now, the Republican leadership will be standing at a podium, looking very concerned. They will say America needs immediate reforms to Social Security and Medicare (please don’t say “entitlements”) in order to reduce America’s out-of-control deficits. Rubio and a few other high-ranking Republicans have openly said that this is their plan.

Here is a handy chart from the CBO on how the tax cuts for individuals break down:

David Stockman notes that 97% of the $1.412 trillion revenue loss over the next decade, based on the Senate bill, is attributable to the $1.369 trillion cost of cutting the corporate rate from 35% to 20% (along with the repeal of the related AMT).

All the rest of the tax bill is a zero-sum stirring of the pot. Of note, $83 billion of the tax cuts go to the estates of 5,500 dead people per year, since the bill doubles the estate deduction to $20 million per couple.

But they did all of this to help the little guy, amirite? On to cartoons. More than the tax bill happened last week, so let’s review: Flynn and Manafort. House of cards?

Flynn has fans everywhere:

Trump Code-talks too:

Santa uncovers some nasty stuff:

Roy Moore says what he means, and means what he says:

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Saturday Soother – November 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Blue Mosque, Istanbul -2013 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo planned on taking the rest of the week off, but couldn’t resist this:

We live in a time when inequality of wealth, income and influence is thought to be greater than at any time in history. Inequality strengthens social injustice and with it the existence of The Privileged and The Disadvantaged. Of those who have influence and feel they are entitled to everything, and those who expect little, receive even less but need most. Government policies are fashioned by The Privileged for their own benefit. The Disadvantaged, having little or no voice, are ignored, allowing the Cycle of Containment to be maintained, change to be suppressed and social divisions to deepen.

This is from a post entitled What Price Humanity? at Dissident Voice, and it is a pretty accurate description of where we are in America. More:

Sitting at the center of this socio-economic tragedy is an economic ideology that is not simply unjust, it is inhumane. Compassion and human empathy are pushed into the shadows in the Neo-Liberal paradigm, selfishness, division and exploitation encouraged. The system promotes short-term materialistic values and works against mankind’s natural inclination towards unity, social responsibility and cooperation, inherent qualities that are consistently made manifest in times of crisis, individual hardship and collective need.

Graham Peebles is asking what are We the People entitled to in 2017 America? And his answer is grim.

Wrongo thinks nothing is more appropriate to this discussion than FDR’s Second Bill of Rights as stated January 11, 1944 in his message to the US Congress on the State of the Union:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

FDR could foresee the end of WWII when he gave this speech. He concluded that: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Sadly, on this 2017 Thanksgiving weekend, we remain very far from these goals.

The inequality and sense of entitlement we see today won’t be turned around without work. Financialization is a poisonous monster. It dictates government policy, and makes the rules about how our businesses and governments at all levels engage with our people and our environment.

People are little more than sources of revenue: Their capacity to spend, to invest and consume determines how they are valued. Driving virtually every decision within the suffocating confines of the ideal is an addiction to profit.

FDR’s ideas seem quaint in 2017. The US cannot even ensure basic civil rights such as racial equality, much less “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Most Americans have freely indentured themselves to the financial sector so that they can pretend to own a house in which to raise their kids, and a car to drive to work in order to earn income so they can make loan payments on the house and the pick-up.

Enough! Let’s forget about life for a while. Grab a cup of Climpson & Sons Signature Espresso that is 100% Adamo Sasaba from Ethiopia, and stay away from the turkey Tetrazzini at lunchtime.

Now, watch and listen to Narciso Yepes interpret Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto d’Aranjuez (Adagio) on his 10-string guitar. The 10-string was conceived in 1963 by Yepes, who ordered it from José Ramírez [III].

The conductor is Raphael Frübeck de Burgos with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt. It’s a lovely piece with a remarkable guitar:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – November 18, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

It’s Saturday, and the dominant issue should be the Republicans’ efforts to enact a tax cut, now that the House has passed its version of the legislation. The plan distills Republican economic philosophy perfectly: Take lots of money and give it to the people at the top, while pretending that doing so will help everyone else.

Speaker Paul Ryan said it’s a middle-class tax cut:

This plan is for the middle-class families in this country who deserve a break. It is for the families who are out there living paycheck to paycheck, who just keep getting squeezed… The Tax Cut and Jobs Act will deliver real relief for people in the middle, people who are also striving to get there.

David Leonhardt offered this view:

Amazingly, the bill…would increase taxes, on net, for families that have at least one child and make less than $100,000. That conclusion comes from a rigorous independent analysis of the bill, released yesterday afternoon by the Tax Policy Center.

The elevator version of the Republican plan is to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit in order to give permanent tax cuts to corporations. Since that sounds terrible, the GOP proposes holding down the bill’s total cost by raising taxes on middle-class and poor families. More from Leonhardt:

A big reason is that personal exemptions — the $4,000 in income, per person, that families can write off — would disappear. The bill would increase standard deductions that all taxpayers can take, but the increase isn’t large enough for many families to make up for the disappearance of per-person exemptions…

OTOH, households making at least $5 million would receive an ANNUAL tax cut of almost $300,000 once the bill is fully phased in.

The cynicism is spectacular: Congressional leaders want to raise taxes on most of the middle and lower classes, while claiming that the bill does just the opposite. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, said:

At the end of the day, nobody in the middle class is going to get a tax increase.

Worse, if the GOP tax bill becomes law, and we look a few moves ahead, we know that Republicans will once again pose as deficit hawks and look to gut Medicare and Medicaid.

On our backs. Happy Thanksgiving!

Our Republican friends plan to fund a permanent tax cut for their beloved constituents, American corporations. For decades Americans have been against increased taxes. We bought the idea that cutting taxes would give people an incentive to work harder and thus make the American economy flourish. The GOP tells us this as they try to roll back corporate taxes, as they plan to eliminate the estate tax, and as they continually work to prevent the government from taking action against offshore tax havens.

We endure potholes, we live in fear of collapsing highway bridges because our leaders want their special constituents to have more. Our kids sit in underfunded schools so that a handful of wealthy individuals can sit in gated communities or on their own private beaches.

Think of what we might do with the sums we will lose to this GOP “tax reform” over our lifetimes. Think about the crumbling infrastructure that could be fixed. Think of all the young people saddled with student-loan debt: We could make that unnecessary, rather than give more to corporations by denying students the deductibility of the interest on their loans. Think of the drug-addicted people all over America: With these tax cuts, we will never help them.

Until the words “discredited trickle down tax plan” come out of the mouth of every single Democratic politician, we won’t have a great chance of killing the Republican’s tax plan.

Enough! It’s Saturday, and time to let the mind wander. So grab a Vente cup of Union’s Hand-Roasted Coffee, Brewer’s El Topacio Microlot, El Salvador (just £8 for 200g). Now sit near a big window and watch the last days of fall, while listening to Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto in D major Op, 61” here performed in 1959 by violinist David Oistrakh with the French National Radio Orchestra, directed by Andre Cluytens.

Listen to the sound of a Stradivarius played by one of the giants on 20th Century violin:

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A Year Later…

The Daily Escape:

Chalk Pyramids, Oakley Kansas – photo by Marlon Flores

(Wrongo is writing this on Election Day, and will not know any national or local results before you read the column on Wednesday. Two years ago, Wrongo’s hometown turned out 20+ years of Republican control in a deeply Republican county. The subsequent efforts by local Republicans to block change mirrors exactly what we have seen on a national level. Despite that, much was accomplished. We’ll know on Wednesday if vision or blockage controls the town’s next two years.)

We are one year into the Trump administration. Many of us are still dealing with the reality that the country elected someone who is incapable of empathy, who has very little understanding of how the world works. Someone who treats women, minorities, and people who disagree with him so appallingly.

The worst thing is how bad behavior (by Trump and many in his administration) has become normalized in the eyes of the press and the people. It started immediately with the administration lying about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd. Martin Longman took a look back and sums it up perfectly:

Looking back a year later, it’s a struggle not to succumb to a well-earned cynicism. We don’t like to repeat our mistakes, which makes it tempting to over-correct for them.

There were…times when President Obama stood up and told the American people that we’re better than this, that we can do better and be better. It’s not a good feeling to know that the response [by voters in 2016] was, “No, we’re not, and no we can’t.”

…But one giant mistake doesn’t condemn us in perpetuity. I actually find comfort and a cause for optimism that so many people were unable to imagine a Trump victory. It means that I wasn’t alone in having some standards or in believing that we can be better than this. It’s just going to be harder and take longer than I was willing to imagine.

Wrongo thinks Martin is too optimistic, and we shouldn’t expect any real change in his lifetime. Why? One reason is that the Democrats can’t stop playing inside baseball long enough to have a winning vision for the country. The Donna Brazile kerfuffle tells all we need to know: There is no leadership in the Democratic Party.

So, no leadership and no vision. The Dems are like your kids fighting in the back seat of the SUV. While the GOP is a well-oiled machine, staying on message, even when they don’t agree with whatever it is that the Donald just did.

The Democratic Party leadership has to go, we can’t stand by them, not even for another election cycle. Mike Allen at Axios suggests we look to mayors for the next Democratic leaders:

Here’s something unusual and refreshing: There are two highly ambitious Democrats who don’t even bother hiding their strong desire to run [for president] in 2020 — and to reshape the party: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, president of the US Conference of Mayors.

Allen thinks that Democrats could be led back from the wilderness by a mayor:

  • Garcetti: “We’re too busy talking to ourselves, and about ourselves…People don’t care about our inner workings, or even our inner leadership battles…We’ve got to get back to speaking plain English. We are so inside baseball right now…Are you a Bernie person? Are you a Hillary person?”
  • Landrieu, speaking about the bipartisanship of the Conference of Mayors: “The one thing we never do in any of our meetings is think about what the Democratic caucus or the Republican caucus in Washington, DC, is doing. It never enters our mind…People in America are feeling unbalanced right now.”

Allen asked top Dem donors and operatives about possible candidates like Garcetti and Landrieu, and heard that they think DC experience is a vulnerability not an asset for a presidential candidate.

Wrongo agrees. America’s mayors actually do things, and getting things done energizes them. Wrongo has seen this from up close in his hometown. Mayors don’t talk like DC pols, they seem to love their jobs.

And it’s a level of government where Democrats have a deep bench.

The GOP’s goal is to destroy the New Deal, the environmental legislation passed during the Nixon administration and all of Johnson’s domestic achievements.

We won’t defeat their goals without a new message and a new messenger.

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Here’s Who Benefits From Trump’s Tax Cuts

The Daily Escape:

Floating Village in Lan Ha Bay, North Vietnam – photo by Son Tong

Nobody knows what the final shape of the GOP tax plan will be, but we can see the financial implications of the current bill. Jill Schlesinger has a handy quick and dirty look at who benefits from the proposed cuts posted on her web site. Of the expected $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, only 15.2% will be for individuals. Schlesinger’s conclusion is that Republicans mainly want to help corporations:

  • $1 trillion will accrue to Corporations and Pass-through businesses
  • $228 billion accrues to Individuals
  • $172 billion accrues to Estates

Of the GOP’s $1.5 trillion government handout, corporations get two-thirds. Pass-through businesses are S-Corporations, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietors. About 95% of businesses fall into this category. Many of these are professional service organizations (lawyers, doctors, accountants, consultants and architects) who otherwise are wealthy individuals, and those infamous hedge funds.

Estates will receive a Republican tax handout that is nearly as large as that provided to individuals. Today, roughly 5,000 people pay estate taxes under current law, but about 3,200 Americans would not have to pay the estate tax next year if the Republican tax bill is passed.

Think about that: 5000 individuals will split up $172 billion in tax relief due to Trump’s largesse!! In 2000, 52,000 estates had to pay the tax. Now it is down to 5,000.

Individuals include everyone who files a tax return. But even here, the WaPo says that the wealthy will do better:

Households with annual incomes over $1 million would see their after-tax incomes increase by 3.2%, 16 times the percentage increase for any income group in the bottom half of the income distribution. . . . (The disparity in average tax cuts measured in dollars would be even larger.)

About 45% of cost of the bill’s tax cuts would go to households with incomes above $500,000 (fewer than 1% of filers). About 38% of the bill’s cost would go to tax cuts for households with incomes over $1 million (about 3 out of every 1,000 filers).

What should the response of Democrats be? Democrats are correct in saying that the Republican plan is tilted too much toward the ultra-wealthy. They propose tilting it more toward the middle class.

Bruce Bartlett was a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official under George H. W. Bush. Bartlett says that Dems:

Should counter with a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan and no tax cuts for anyone.

Bartlett points out that since the Clinton administration, Dems have tried to show fiscal responsibility, supporting tax increases and spending cuts. Meanwhile, Republicans abandoned any pretense of concern for the deficit, as their new budget shows.

Bartlett argues that a big infrastructure program will provide a payback for decades to come, just as Eisenhower’s highway program did. Importantly, he points out that building infrastructure will create vastly more jobs than any kind of tax cut, especially given the Republican proposal that largely benefits the wealthy, while providing no incentives for job creation or investment.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has routinely provided estimates to Congress showing that direct spending by government on infrastructure has a bigger multiplier effect on economic growth than any tax cut. Their February 2015 report showed that purchases of goods and services by the federal government raises GDP by as much as $2.50 for every $1 spent.

The report also says that a temporary tax cut for the wealthy, such as Republicans are now proposing, would create at most 60 cents of GDP for every $1 of foregone revenue. Corporate tax cuts are the worst, creating 40 cents of GDP for every $1 of revenue loss.

Our government is starved for revenue. This is not the time to even consider a tax cut for the wealthiest.

A true conservative tax policy would raise taxes to balance the budget, reduce deficits and debt, while investing in basic infrastructure, education, job training, research, technology and other drivers of growth.

That is the kind of conservatism we should get behind.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 6, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Balloon Festival, Armenia. In the background is Mt Ararat – photo by Karen Minasyan

As bad as you think it is in Trumpland, it’s actually worse.

It’s likely that you missed the letter that 84 members of Congress sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Monday. The letter suggests to Sessions that those engaged in activism disrupting or damaging pipeline operations should face criminal prosecution as an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act.

The letter’s broad definition of terrorism, if adopted, would allow prosecutors to treat people who chain themselves to pipelines or construction equipment involved in pipeline projects as terrorists. This would treat climate activists in a harsher way than Charleston killer Dylann Roof, or the congressional baseball shooter James Hodgkinson were treated under existing laws.

Interestingly, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), a victim of Hodgkinson’s attack, co-signed the pipeline terrorism letter.

While the letter cites a series of pipeline-cutting operations by radical environmentalists that occurred last October as its principal motivation, its language would include even the nonviolent resistance tactics employed by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The 80 Republicans who co-signed the letter are from states with significant oil and gas industry activity. Four Texas Democrats also signed the letter.

Two days after the Congressional letter to AG Sessions was published, the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance’s (EEIA) announced the creation of an “Energy Infrastructure Incident Reporting Center.” The initiative also is a reaction to pipeline protests. Their database initiative says its purpose is tracking:

Incidents of eco-terrorism, sabotage, arson, vandalism, and violence are on the rise as severe actions have become a regular feature of pipeline protests, endangering public safety, the environment, jobs, and leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars…

Annie Leonard, executive director for Greenpeace USA, denounced the database. Leonard told the AP:

Corporations and their governmental enablers are desperate to silence dissent every way they can… [the database is] more fear-mongering by corporate bullies hoping to see what they can get away with in Trump’s America.

Peaceful protest = terrorism.

Attacking peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and water cannons = law enforcement.

Sentencing peaceful protesters as terrorists = the end of the First Amendment

Should our elected and non-elected co-conspirators be able to say peaceful civil protests against pipelines are an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act?

Time to wake up America! We need to fight to keep our Constitution or face the Orwellian future that Jeff Sessions and Trumplandia want so badly for all of us. To help you wake up, here is Neil Young and Crazy Horse with “Rockin in the Free World” from his 1989 album “Freedom”:

Takeaway Lyric:

There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign
on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’
we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan,
but I am to them
So I try to forget it,
any way I can.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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