Saturday, November 12, 2016

Recession, repression & regression: the likely results if Trump-GOP legislative program becomes law

By Marc Jampole

Recession. Repression. Regression.

It seems fitting that 3R’s characterize the Trump-GOP legislative program since it was the lack of 3R’s—an old-fashioned, old-timey way to say education—that catapulted Trump to the White House, as uneducated white voters, and many educated ones, too, were so blinded by fear of “the other” that they believed Trump’s lies.

What we see in Trump’s legislative ideas is a wish list from the extreme right that will please very wealthy people and eventually disappoint everyone else accept those that think the function of government is to suppress minorities. If fully implemented, Trump’s legislative program will lead to a worldwide recession or depression, repression of civil rights and a regression backwards in time that erases the economic and social progress we have made over the past eight years.

Let’s take the proposals Trump and the GOP have put on the table topic by topic.

Trump and the GOP may engineer the largest tax break for the wealthy in American history, including the Reagan and Bush II cuts. If Trump gets his way, the tax cuts will skew in favor of those whose wealth is tied up in land, but those who own financial assets will also make out like bandits. Large multinational companies storing billions of dollars in profit abroad will be able to repatriate their earnings at a bargain-basement rate of 10%.

Lower taxes on the wealthy and less revenue for the federal government to dispense will eventually lead to a deep recession, as it did under Bush II.  Rich folk will invest their wealth in financial and collectible bubbles, as they always do. No new jobs will be created, because it is not money that is holding back big companies from investing in growth today, but the lack of market growth potential. That lack of a market derives because the middle class and poor have less money than they used to, partially because the government, starved of resources, does not funnel as much money to these groups—AKA the 99%--as they could if taxes were higher. Lower taxes on the wealthy means less money for education, infrastructure maintenance, food stamps, mass transit. Lower taxes on the wealthy also means more money to feed financial bubbles. We’ve seen this before, not just in the United States but throughout history. The asset bubble bursts and it always turns out badly for the economy.

Infrastructure Investment
Trump is living in a free-market dream world if he thinks that his infrastructure financing plan will work. He wants to provide tax incentives to the private sector, which will then rebuild our highways and bridges and expand our mass transit systems. How will the private sector make money on roads and trolley lines? Only by jacking up prices, ignoring the public benefit of building certain roads and routes because they’re unprofitable and hammering down employee wages. The private sector always goes after the money, which may result in rebuilding municipal water systems only in wealthy communities. We’ve tried private sector solutions to prisons and the military and failed miserably. Advanced studies show that when you take into account the wealth and disabilities of the student base, private schools underperform public schools in educating children.  There are just certain basic societal needs that government must finance, address and manage, and infrastructure is first among them.

Trump is still talking about funding a wall between the United States and Mexico and he still thinks Mexico will “reimburse” us for its construction. While he intends to have the private sector pay for roads, bridges, mass transit, waterways and sewers, he wants Congress to pass a law that has our taxes laying out the money for this unneeded monstrosity, this money pit that will provide no benefit save a temporary spike in construction jobs. I said “laying out money,” but only a died-in-wool, brainwashed Trumpsterite could believe that Mexico will pay even one penny for Trump’s folly. The rest of his immigration program presents new harsh penalties for breaking existing immigration laws, but nothing else.

If not stopped by healthcare industry lobbyists, Trump and the GOP could plunge the U.S. healthcare system into chaos, especially if they rescind Obamacare before replacing it. Getting rid of Obamacare will not only take away the health insurance of 20 million people, it will precipitously end three policies that helped everyone: 1) The removal of the cap on lifetime coverage; 2) the rule that someone cannot be denied insurance for a pre-existing condition; 3) allowing children to remain on their parent’s health insurance policy until age 26. Now if Congress should pass a law that keeps these important benefits but doesn’t mandate the kind of universal coverage that Obamacare does, health insurers will be forced to jack up rates.

As with everything else, Trump and the GOP favor what they call “market-based” and private solutions to address America’s healthcare needs. They think that making it easier for health insurers to cross state lines (they already do so, but with unique corporate entities in each state responding to the local regulations in each state) and letting people create tax-free Health Savings Accounts will bring down the cost of healthcare. It won’t happen, but it will shift the burden of paying for health insurance from the government and businesses to individuals. Another proposal, to let states manage Medicaid funds, will enable those in right-wing states to reallocate dollars from helping the poor to other uses.

Obamacare isn’t perfect, but building on it makes a lot more sense than ripping it up in favor of “market” solutions shown not to work. I’m guessing that once the healthcare lobby gets through beating up Congress that whatever they call healthcare reform will end up keeping just about all of Obamacare.  

Trump wants to end the sequestration of funds that has automatically cut federal government spending every year since 2013 for the military only and begin expanding military investment. He doesn’t really have a plan for what he will do with the extra money, but we do know that the Pentagon wants to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons and continue development of robot weapons that would make seek-and-kill decisions. Narcissists like Trump always like shiny new toys. Congressional Republicans are still following the Reagan playbook, which consists of cutting taxes primarily on the wealthy while increasing defense spending to starve the social services part of the government and at the same time create enormous deficits which, when interest rates are high, translate into safe bond investments for the wealthy.  I will give Trump the benefit of the doubt and say that I am unsure whether he will ever want to use American military might, but there is no doubt that he joins fellow Republicans in wanting to build it up and never pay for it.

Safety and Security
This part is where the scary repression comes in. Trump has proposed a number of laws that he says will address “surging crime, drugs and violence.” Of course, crime is not surging, nor is violence, except in households that own firearms. But much of Trump’s demagoguery revolves around the notion that we are unsafe. Here is an area in which Trump could take ownership of Obama-era statistics and declare victory, but I believe that Congressional Republicans relish the opportunity to grab more civil rights, to create more selling opportunities for gun manufacturers by underwriting greater weaponization of local police and to encourage harsh police-state tactics in minority areas. The racist undertones of the Trump campaign, his own history of racism and the desire for Republicans to disenfranchise the African-American community may lead to a generation of federal Jim Crow laws that also affect Latinos and Muslims, all in the guise of protecting us from a non-existent crime wave.

The Trump legislative plan marks the apotheosis of the Reagan political strategy: Play on the racism, nativism and religiosity of working and middle class whites to make them believe that their best interests lie with the wealthy, pretend that the social service network being shredded only serves minorities, while pretending that tax cuts help everyone and not just those at the top

Friday, November 11, 2016

The good, done, bad & ugly: much of Trump’s 100 day plan will hurt America economically & in other ways

By Marc Jampole

Donald Trump has released an ambitious if highly general plan for the first one hundred days of his administration. He calls it a contract, and like virtually all contracts, its literary value is nonexistent. As a document for change, it should frighten everyone, those who didn’t vote for him and those who did.

The document consists of two parts, things he thinks can do as the executive and things he will ask Congress to do. This article looks at what he intends to do as head of a vast regulation-creating bureaucracy. In a different article, we’ll consider his program for Congress.

The executive’s part of Trump’s “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” consists of four types of actions: 1) A few good ideas; 2) Things we already do and have done for a while; 3) General actions that are inherently bad because they deny his Administration the flexibility to address each problem in the best way possible; 4) Specific actions that will harm us economically or in other ways.

The good, the done, the bad and the ugly. Let’s look at these categories:

The Good
Trump wants to impose a five-year ban on White House officials becoming lobbyists after government service and a lifetime ban on lobbying on behalf of foreign governments; note he doesn’t include foreign corporations. He also wants to impose a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for any American election. He will propose a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress. All these moves will help reduce the influence of corporate and wealthy interests on our federal government, although none would help as much as appointing a Supreme Court justice who would vote to overturn the Citizens United decision.

He also proposes allocating funds to fix our water and environmental infrastructure, although he proposes to fund it by cancelling financial obligations to United Nation climate change programs, which makes no sense for two reasons: 1) the UN programs are also important to address the climate change he claims is not occurring; and 2) the money we spend on these programs represent a small drop in a very large bucket as far as what we have to expend to fix our city’s aging sewer systems, secure our coastal regions and improve our ability to withstand future extreme weather events.

The Done
During the election, Trump made a number of false accusations regarding the way the federal government handles basic functions, such as searching for undocumented immigrants who are criminals and administering trade deals and regulations. He thus now has to make a big show of doing things the right way. His ego demands it. I’m sure that after a few months he’ll release statistics that show Obama era improvements, take credit for them and declare victory. Here are the actions he proposes that we are already doing quite well. In all these areas, we are already doing everything we can to the extent that the law allows. For Trump to attempt more, he would have to break the law and he would likely end up impeded by lawsuits and constraining orders:
·         Identifying foreign trade abuses that unfairly impact American workers and use every means possible under current law to end any abuses uncovered.
·         Launch a program to identify and remove all criminal undocumented immigrants.
·         Suspend immigration from regions in which safe vetting of refugees cannot safely occur.
·         Implement “extreme vetting,” something we already do.
·         Cancel every unconstitutional action, memorandum and order issued by Obama: if any unconstitutional actions existed, the courts would have already canceled them!

The other thing Trump will do that has been done already is name a Supreme Court Justice to replace Antonin Scalia. If his appointment enables a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, I wonder how the nine percent of white women who believe in a woman’s right to an abortion but who nevertheless voted for Trump will feel—they turned the election.

The Bad
Trump insists he will implement a number of very rigid actions that apply across the board to all Administrative branches. These actions represent management strategies that are known to fail because they are too inclusive and deny organizations the flexibility they need to address specific problems. Here are the bad management techniques Trump wishes to implement:
·         Freeze all federal hiring not related to the military or public health and safety to reduce the federal workforce through attrition.
·         Require that for every new government regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated.

For Trump seriously to implement these two misguided principles he would have to cut into necessary and expected government services or to gut further the oversight that the government exercises over state governments and industries. Federal government employment is at a low point right now when we take a look at the post-World War II era. May agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency are already seriously understaffed.

The Ugly
Most of the specific actions Trump wants to take will inflict short- and/or long-term pain on the economy and American workers.

The most damage derives by his actions related to energy policy. Trump says he is going to lift Obama roadblocks to oil and gas development projects like the Keystone Pipeline and lift restrictions on the domestic production of shale, oil, natural gas and coal. By focusing on increasing domestic fossil energy supplies he makes a fateful decision: to develop fossil fuels instead of alternative energy and energy conservation. Let’s forget the deleterious impact on the environment that this decision will have and focus on the economic impact. There is currently a surplus of fossils fuel that has driven prices down significantly, in part as corporations and governments react to the global warming that Trump still denies. Figuring in inflation, American gas pump prices are the lowest in years. At this point, all the fossil fuel transmitted along the proposed Keystone pipeline will end up being sold to China, which will enrich the Canadian producers, but not Americans. If we want to sell more fossil fuels abroad, we will face some pretty stiff competition from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Russia.

By contrast, when it comes to competition in the emerging alternative fuels industry, only China can rival U.S. technical prowess. Pushing alternative fuels should be a major plank in any job-creation program of the early 21st century. Unfortunately, it’s a simple fact that anything that lowers the price of oil and natural gas hurts the alternative fuel industry, which is one of our major growth industries today and well into the future.

Three actions Trump promises in the area of trade could be disastrous. He wants to renegotiate the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and label China a currency manipulator. Whether you think NAFTA was a good or bad idea in 1992, let’s take a look at it today, when it supplies millions of jobs to American workers. Renegotiation in and of itself could be a good thing, especially if it leads to higher wages for workers in all three countries. But I have a feeling that Trump really wants to end NAFTA, which will put a lot of Americans out of work. Walking away from TPP would drive our trading partners to make a deal with China that doesn’t include us. Instead we should renegotiate TPP to make sure that the countries party to it comply with wage, environmental and our product and workplace safety regulations and to make sure it does not give corporations the right to sue governments.  

Labeling China a currency manipulator will get us off on the wrong foot with a country that could be a friend or a foe. Strange that Trump is making rapprochements to Russia while poking a stick into China’s eye. When we take a look at the two countries, the size of their armies, their intentions beyond their own borders, the business opportunities represented by their respective domestic markets, and the way their interests coincide or clash with ours, selecting Russia over China makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, those close to the Russian government have invested a lot into your companies.

The final specific action Trump will take chills free speech, hurts the economy and wreaks havoc on anyone who depends on city services like mass transit to survive. It is also likely illegal and will embroil the Trump Administration in a large number of lawsuits it is likely to lose: Trump says he is going to cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities, which are municipalities that adopt policies not to prosecute people solely for being undocumented. Imagine the economic chaos Trump will create by withdrawing all federal funding from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, Oakland, San Jose, Baltimore, the Portland on both coasts and other major cities that have taken seriously the concept of local control that Trump touts for education, wage rates and women’s health issues.

I suspect that if Trump really implements this hodgepodge of ideas—a few good but most not only bad but based on economic and governmental naivety—it will be enough to sink the U.S. economy with no help from Congressional Republicans. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Will all the King’s horses & men help yet another president conduct illegal activities?

By Marc Jampole

Donald Trump by himself can’t get anything done. Like any president, he needs an army of managers, economists, engineers, attorneys, spokespersons and other professional foot soldiers to head and staff departments and agencies to get the actual work done and documented.

We already know that when it comes to getting his way, Donald Trump is amoral, unethical and in many cases unconcerned with the legality of his actions, as long as he doesn’t get exposed. What will happen when the new president asks one or more of his many supernumeraries to engage in illegal or dangerous activities? To create an enemies list? To spy on those who his thin-skin thinks has insulted him? To use the Internal Revenue Service and other branches of government to punish his enemies or reward his friends? To put pressure on someone suing him? To transfer U.S. assets to a Russian bank? To do something specifically for one of his many business ventures?

Let’s journey back to the early 1970s to learn what will happen when a professional in government is asked to do something illegal. Watergate, like the Iran-Contra scandal, the justification for the second war in Iraq and the creation of the torture gulag, required dozens of people to discuss and engage in illegal activities. But I want to focus on one incident, the Saturday Night Massacre.

Archibald Cox, the special Watergate prosecutor had decided to subpoena Nixon to get the tapes he had made of all Oval Office conversations. Those tapes would show that President Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in, other dirty tricks and the cover-up of said activities. Nixon naturally balked at handing over the incriminating material. On Saturday, October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered Elliot Richardson, the Attorney General, to fire Cox. Richardson, as rib-rocked and loyal a Republican as one could find, refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered the Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, another dyed-in-the-wool, lifelong Republican, to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also resigned rather than do it.

But there is always some careerist, some amoral technician, willing to do the dirty work of a powerful person. In the case of Watergate it was Robert Bork, the Solicitor General, who fired Archibald Cox.

The story has a relatively happy ending. A judge declared the firing illegal. Nixon had to resign. And Bork was rejected when Ronald Regan nominated him to the Supreme Court. The country got a modicum of election finance reform…at least until the Citizens United decision.

The broader point is that there is always someone willing to break the law for our leader. Always an Oliver North willing to buy and sell arms illegally and give the proceeds to an army that Congress had explicitly put off limits. Always a John Yoo to come up with complicated legal-sounding mumbo-jumbo to justify illegal torturing of other human beings. And what’s most scary, is that there are always honorable men like General Colin Powell or Vice President Hubert Humphrey who will place a single indelible stain on their reputation to follow the commander’s orders and treat what he knows are unsubstantiated or already disproven rumors as the truth. 

In 1927, the French thinker Julien Bendel wrote in The Betrayal of the Intellectuals (in French, La Trahison des Clercs) that the intellectuals—the high level knowledge workers like attorneys, engineers, economists, writers—betrayed the ethics and principles of their professions to support the self-serving ideas and proposals of governments, politicians and the wealthy that they knew were wrong or unprovable. He wrote specifically about the many European intellectuals who became apologists for crass nationalism, warmongering and racism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Be they historians, political scientists, economists, philosophers or theologians, they betrayed the very foundational principles of their disciplines with false arguments justifying racism or a particular war. The intellectual who sells out is a standard character in 20th and 21st century world fiction, be it the fascistic Willy Stark’s press secretary Jack Burden in All the King’s Men or the Jewish physicist Victor Strum in Life and Fate. In real life, we have Edward Teller, Kellyanne Conway and George Will.

Benda never got into why intellectuals betrayed themselves (and society), but today, we do it for money.

That’s why I fear for this country over the next few years. I fear that a lot of talented educated people will participate in a campaign to reign in our free press, harass the political opposition and further suppress the vote. I fear that when President Trump orders the military to drop a bomb—conventional or nuclear—because of a momentary whim he will find a general willing to implement the order. One whose family probably has access to a well-stocked bomb shelter.

But it’s only four years.

I expect Trump to be a one-term president. His past is just too littered with illegal or unethical actions for him not to do something so obnoxious or illegal that Congress is forced to impeach him. Or, the GOP may impeach and convict him quickly, to gain their revenge and install one of their own, Mike Pence, in the White House.  I reckon that the likelihood of Trump dying in office, or being assassinated, is very high. I do not believe the American government participated in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but I would wonder about the U.S. military’s involvement if Trump should take a bullet.

Even if Trump survives impeachment and assassination, he will rightfully be blamed for the world-wide depression that implementing ever one of his or the Republican platform’s half-baked economic ideas would cause. Unless Mike Pence is president because of Trump’s passing, the Republicans will likely have most of the country angry at them for one of any number of betrayals by 2020. African-Americans, Hispanics, the LGBTQ community and left-leaning Democrats and independents will likely have a good chance of turning the tide and beat back the politics of selfishness and racist nativism among whites that catapulted Trump to the presidency.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Shame on my fellow white people, but blame the news media that created Trump and distorted Hillary

Shame on us, white people.

We just rejected the most presidential, qualified candidate in history to vote for a mentally ill buffoon who spews hate speech and has no impulse control.

We voted against someone who has studied every issue and developed a reasoned approach to each so we could vote for someone who has displayed total ignorance and confusion on the basics of what constitutes abortion, foreign trade, contemporary business practices, military strategy and tactics and a wide range of other important matters.  

Surveys say Americans want to protect and strengthen Social Security, yet white people voted for the candidate whose platform wants to gut this successful program. Surveys say we believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion, yet whites voted for someone who says he wants to restrict those rights. Surveys say we are wary of Russian motives, yet we voted for a Putin apologist.  Surveys show that a whopping 64% of all Americans worry about the effects of climate change, yet we whites voted for someone who denies that climate change is occurring.

In the 2016 election, whites have done what they—what we--have been doing since the election of Ronald Reagan—we voted against our own interests.

Because the majority of whites are racists? Because they secretly don’t think women capable of leading? Because we secretly want an autocrat, no matter how erratic?

I am ashamed of the color of my skin this morning, but I don’t place the primary blame on whites. I blame the mass media for manipulating the fears and prejudices of whites and putting profits above ethics.

It was the mass media that decided that a clownish failed real estate developer would play the role of a titan of business on TV. When Trump started doing “The Apprentice,” his real estate empire was in shambles. He was involved in thousands of lawsuits. The New York real estate industry considered him a buffoon. He had mismanaged his family’s fortunes so much that the Trumps were worth much less than if he had invested in mutual funds that track the S&P 500.  But the media bought into Trump’s narcissistic self-delusions of business genius and by doing so validated them to the world. Most importantly, the media created the “celebrity culture” that glorifies selfish consumption and reduces all issues to personal opinions, not the analysis of reality and facts.

The news media also bought into and publicized the inaccurate image of Hillary Clinton that Republicans assiduously created. It took years of bullshit investigations and false rumors, years of characterizing her speeches as unexciting and her program as uninspiring, never with any examples, since the examples would all prove the opposite. The news media followed the GOP playbook. It also applied a double standard that blamed Hillary for mistakes her peers also made and set a higher standard for evaluating her words and actions.

Once Trump announced his run, it was the mass media who took him seriously, giving his campaign far more coverage than what they gave to other Republicans and the Democratic candidates.  His insults and lies dominated the news pages.

Finally, until very late in the campaign, the news media refused to call Trump on his obvious lies.  Illegal immigration from Mexico has been negative for several years now, meaning more undocumented migrants are crossing back into Mexico than are sneaking into the United States. Crime is down. Police deaths are down. Acts of terrorism are way down. African-Americans do not for the most part live in warzones. There is no such thing as an abortion in the eighth month. Putin did invade the Ukraine. The list of Trump’s big and little lies go on and on and on and on. But until Trump made the outrageous claim that Hillary Clinton started the “birther” rumors and he ended them, the mainstream media reported what he said, but never told us it was a pack of lies. I understand that NBC producers were sitting on tapes which proved Trump assaulted women and showed him using the “n” word, but they released them.

One of the network executives said during the primary campaign that Trump might not be good for the country, but he was good for ratings, and therefore made the networks a ton of money.

No consolation, but that worm is going to turn very quickly. Economists and pundits are already talking and writing about a Trump recession. By itself, any one of several Trump proposals will throw the country and the world in to a deep economic crisis. Rounding up and kicking out 11 million people will do it.  Taking health insurance away from 20 million people—the net effect of rescinding Obamacare—will do it. Entering into a trade war with China or Europe will do it. Lowering taxes on the wealthy will do it. Building a wall on our southern border for hundreds of billions of dollars will do it. Withdrawing from trade agreements will do it.

In other words, it’s likely that the media moguls who put profits first will see their investment portfolios take a big hit and then take years, if not decades to recover. The media itself will find itself under much greater scrutiny during the administration of an autocrat, if Trump makes good on his revenge threats and his threat to pass libel laws that infringe on press freedom. 

So the news media will suffer for their sins. Poetic justice, except the rest of us will also suffer.

And maybe we deserve to suffer, at least white people. Although I blame the news media for manipulating us, upholding the wrong values and turning its back on the truth, we swallowed the nonsense. We swallowed it because it confirmed the deep-seated racism, sexism and jingoism that it appears most white still have.  Because of voter suppression laws passed by Republican legislatures in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio and other swing states, there were not enough African-American and Hispanic voters to compensate for the failings of the white voter.

I would like personally to apologize to the African-American and Hispanic communities, who saw through the garbage and voted for Hillary. I would like to apologize to millennials, who will have to live a long time in the dystopic world Trump and the GOP want to create. It would be grandiose to apologize on behalf of all white people, so I do so for myself and my family.

This morning, I am as ashamed of my color and my nationality as I could ever be.