Saturday, October 14, 2017

Editorial: Lose with King Moron / Save the Iran Deal

Donald Trump markets himself as the master of the deal, but there are two kinds of people who have dealt with Trump: those who have lost money investing in him and those who haven’t lost money yet.

Republicans are just starting to question their investment in the real estate huckster who has taken his businesses through bankruptcies six times — and at least five of those bankruptcies involved casinos, so Trump was the rare business genius who could lose money running casinos. But he looked good on TV and now he’s in the White House.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO who has repeatedly been undercut by Trump in his attempts to engage in diplomacy, reportedly called his boss a “f***ing moron,” which we have sanitized to “king moron.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the most prominent Republican to quit the Trump fan club. After Corker announced he was not going to seek re-election, the Tweeter in Chief on Sunday morning, Oct. 8, claimed Corker “begged” for his endorsement. “I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement). He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said ‘NO THANKS.’ He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal! Hence, I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn’t have the guts to run!”

Corker, who had been a prominent Trump supporter in 2016 and for most of this year, replied with his own tweet: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” Ouch!

In an interview with the New York Times, Corker said Trump had asked him at least four times this year to run for re-election and promised an endorsement. Corker also charged that Trump was treating his office like “a reality show” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

Corker started distancing himself from Trump in August, criticizing the president’s handling of the deadly rally of white supremacists, including Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis, in Charlottesville, Va. At that time, Corker said, “The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

On Oct. 8, Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

Other Republican members of Congress might feel the same way, but they are willing to put up with Trump as long as he is willing to sign a tax cut bill that their wealthy donors are demanding.

Trump and Republican congressional leaders in September released a summary of their new tax “reform” that would cut taxes by an estimated $2.4 trillion over the next decade, with 80% of the breaks going to the top 1% of superrich by 2027 while tax rates for the lowest-income level actually would increase from 10% to 12%. Americans for Tax Fairness figured that 30% of middle-class families making between $50,000 and $150,000 a year will pay $2,000 more in taxes, on average, under the Republican proposal.

To set up the tax cuts for billionaires and multinational corporations, the House on Oct. 5 passed a 2018 budget resolution on a 219-206 vote, with 18 Republicans joining 188 Dems in voting against the bill. Among other things, it repeals the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), resulting in a $1.5 trillion cut in health care spending, and it cuts Medicare by $473 billion, regardless of Trump’s campaign promises to protect those programs, Americans for Tax Fairness reported.

Trump also has vowed to protect Social Security, but we’ll see how that stands up to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s determination to privatize and/or raise the retirement age for Social Security benefits. Trump’s own budget proposes cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance. The Senate budget proposal not only cuts Medicare and Medicaid; it also cuts $37 billion from affordable housing programs, $100 billion from Pell Grants for university students; $3 billion from Head Start and essentially guts the WIC program that provides food assistance to 1.25 million for women, infants and children, said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Republicans plan to pass the budget through special rules that allow them to get it through the Senate on a simple majority vote. But the choke point is still the Senate, where the loss of three Republicans can stop the bill. If your senators claim to be conservative deficit hawks when Democrats are in power, get them to explain how the US can afford to give $2.4 trillion to billionaires, claiming it will spur economic growth, when the experience of the last 20 years proves that “supply-side” economics is a right-wing fantasy.

About a third of Americans continue to support Trump, polls show, despite his transformation from populist reformer during the campaign to a friend of oligarchs as president. He claimed he would “drain the swamp,” but he named executives and alumni from the Wall Street investment firm Goldman Sachs to key White House positions, as well as pro-corporate administrators to various agencies to prevent health and human services, environmental protection, public schools, federal lands and fair labor and housing standards.

Workers who invest their hopes in Trump are bound to lose.

Save the Iran Deal

Trump is trying to intimidate North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons at the same time he is threatening to renege on a deal with Iran, which agreed to give up its program to develop nuclear weapons.

Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign repeatedly ridiculed the Iran deal, which the Obama administration negotiated with the Islamic republic to give up its program to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Russian, China, France, Britain and Germany also were in on the deal, but Trump vowed to rip it up. He declared at the United Nations Sept. 19 that the agreement was “embarrassing to the United States.”

The only problem is that Iran is living up to its side of the bargain. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran is in compliance; when it has found minor violations, they were quickly fixed.

Trump must decide by Oct. 15 whether to certify that Iran is keeping up with its end of the deal. He wants to renegotiate the deal, but Iran has warned it would refuse to renegotiate the deal, unless the US was also ready to make concessions, which Trump won’t accept.

Trump’s top Pentagon advisers told Congress Oct. 3 Iran appears to be sticking to the 2015 agreement to halt its nuclear weapons program and expressed support for keeping the pact.

“At this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying in,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, told the panel Iran “is not in material breach” of the agreement, contending that the pact has “delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran.”

”By declining to certify Iran’s compliance, Trump would essentially kick it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose punitive economic sanctions. But even among Republicans, there appears to be little appetite to do that, at least for now,” Mark Landler and David E. Sanger reported in the New York Times Oct. 5.

Still, Trump’s expected move would allow him to tell supporters that he had disavowed the accord, while bowing to the reality that the US would isolate itself from its allies if it sabotaged a deal with which Iran is viewed as complying. But Trump’s bad-mouthing of the Iran deal is another cynical ploy to distract from the damage he is doing at home. And it tells our allies he can’t be trusted. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2017

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Selections from the November 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Heather Digby Parton
Trump’s Puerto Rico cruelty: Has he no sense of decency? 

Lose with King Moron; Save the Iran deal


Dick Gregory: God’s own troublemaker

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Still need to organize for peace

Trump eyes new ways to wound Obamacare;
Trump won’t let states improve their health offerings;
Trump job approval worsens;
Liberal groups got IRS scrutiny too, IG belatedly finds;
Don’t give Corker too much credit;
Dems unveil tax plan that helps working families;
GM embraces electric vehicle future;
White House ties Dreamer protection to increased border crackown;
NFL Players Association responds to Pence assault on free speech:
Coal lobbyist nominated for #2 spot at EPA ...

Planting sideways

We’re failing the US citizens of Puerto Rico

No wall, but Trump does have his foxhole

Now is not the time for your tears

Trump now owns white supremacy

Don’t mess with the disability community

We get sick, they get rich

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Green and red

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Revisiting the wisdom of Charlie Wilson

Ranking university rankings

Donald Trump’s new world disorder

Democracy and ecology on a dynamic planet

Asia’s refugee crisis: the grievous human tragedy

We are Niemöller 

‘Prairie Home Companion’ refreshed with Thile

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Let’s make a deal: Trump buys Puerto Rico

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Iran-Contra scandal gets the Tom Cruise, Hollywood treatment in ‘American Made’

and more ...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trump may be living in the past with his ideas and policies, but they are 100% 21st century GOP

By Marc Jampole

It seems as if the pace of Trump Administration abominations is accelerating. Every day Trump’s soldiers issue another decree that hurts the economy, harms our future potential, endangers our population or curtails the civil rights of a group or all of us. Meanwhile, Trumpty-Dumpty sets verbal dumpster fires all over the place as a distraction: Most recently he has picked fights with the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a distinguished if unchangeably rightwing Senator, his own Secretary of State, the trigger-happy dictator of North Korea and the National Football League.
These reality TV shenanigans claim most of the news, while Trump’s troops continue to reset the long-term course of U.S. policy in civil rights, the environment, foreign policy and energy policy. Just take a look at what has happened in the past week or so; I put the harm each action does in italics:
  • Announcing that he will likely decertify the Iran nuclear agreement. Decreases our safety, isolates us from our allies and reverses path to a real peace with Iran
  • Setting terms for putting DACA into law that are harsh, including building a wall and severely limiting immigration. Takes a winning idea and turns it into a lose-lose situation: Deporting 800,000 productive members of society will send us into recession; not getting the additional immigrants we need to fill future U.S. jobs will stunt economic prosperity
  • Letting employers refuse to cover birth control for their female employees on religious grounds. Raises medical costs and abortions, as less access to birth control always leads to more pregnancies (expensive) and abortions (inexpensive, safe but frowned upon by Trumpites)
  • Ending the exemption to the Jones Act, so that only U.S. ships can dock in Puerto Rico once again, driving up the cost of food and other supplies precipitously. A cruel policy in light of the hurricane damage suffered by the island
  • Announcing a tax reform plan that raises taxes slightly on many in the middle class while giving the wealthy and ultra-wealthy an enormous tax break. Will lead to another asset bubble followed by a crash and will increase inequality of wealth and income in the country
  • Telling companies that they can discriminate in employment matters against the transgendered. Do I really have to write why this decision is wrong?
  • Repealing the Clean Power Plan. Doesn’t help anyone since coal is a dead industry but sets back efforts to combat human-induced global warming
  • Making deep cuts to the programs that enroll people for healthcare coverage on the individual health exchanges. Will increase both premiums for the insured and overall medical costs, as fewer people covered leads to higher premiums and more expensive emergency room visits and critical treatments since the uninsured put off seeking medical attention.
It’s a breathtaking display of ignorance and obstinacy. In every area, Trump prefers to believe long disproven myths and his own self-serving ideas than to follow science, empirical observation and the recommendations of experts. In every case, the basis for his views are observations that apply to past decades, myths that have long been proven false or the imaginary creations of the Internet rumor mill. People used to believe that the crime rate was higher among immigrants, but now we know it’s much lower. Same thing with the job-creating impact of lowering taxes on the wealthy. Economic research has proven it doesn’t happen. Extending an unharmonious relationship with Iran only makes sense to someone whose pride is still wounded by the 1979 hostage crisis, which is a far less crime against the amour-propre of a country than overthrowing its democratically elected leader, which is what we did to Iran.
With Trumpian ignorance comes a full dose of venomous small mindedness. He never forgives or forgets a slight or a grudge. Take Trump’s feud with the NFL because its players demonstrated respect for the American way by kneeling during the singing of the national anthem to protest police violence against people of color. While it continues his subtle campaign to demonize people of color, it also enables him to stick it to an old adversary, the NFL. Some history: the U.S. Football League was minting small money as a way to see football during the NFL off season until Trump bought a franchise (probably with OPM) and bullied the other owners into competing directly against the NFL. The USFL soon went bust, losing millions of dollars for all its investors. It’s the perfect Trump move—he comes into something successful and botches it up. Kind of like the casino business and the White House. In any case, his NFL feud plays to his core of racists and jingoists, while allowing him to exact some sick revenge on someone who vanquished him decades ago.
Thus in every way, Donald Trump lives in a past comprised of misbegotten ideas, obsolete notions and old grudges.
But he nonetheless represents the party that he leads. Virtually all of the current GOP subscribes to his full range of crackpot ideas, from lowering taxes on the wealthy to building a wall to supporting the religious imperatives of rightwing Christians to hating Iran to turning back the clock on environmental, labor and safety regulations.
The 21st century GOP pursues the selfish economic interests of the ultra- wealthy by pandering in word and deed to the social imperatives of rightwing Christianity and white racists. Virtually all of the GOP platform is based on the same old ideas and disproven myths that animate the Trump program. It takes ignorance to believe much of their economic nonsense, which explains why the wealthy sought allies among the most uneducated and intellectually vulnerable part of the populations—those with irrational beliefs.
These views do not represent the opinions of a majority of Americans, or even a majority of the approximately 50% who choose to vote, much less in off years. But a constitutional bias in favor of rural states and rural areas within states, gerrymandering by the Republicans, a wave of voter suppression laws and a mass media prone to tolerating Republican lies have enabled the minority that do hold these views to predominate.
Yes, the irrational, voluble, mentally unstable, ignorant and self-centered Trump scares me. But the rest of the Republican Party scares me just as much.

Monday, October 9, 2017

NYC can become an urban paradise if it raises taxes for mass transit & affordable housing

By Marc Jampole
New York City exemplifies the maxim of the great chess theorist Aron Nimzovich that every strength is also a weakness.
In New York’s case, the great strength is the mass transit network, the centerpiece of which is the subway system. Those lucky enough to live near one can pretty much get by without a car in the Big Apple. Moreover, for everyone—residents, commuters and tourists, it provides an inexpensive and theoretically hassle-free way to get to work and to the abundance of museums, performing arts facilities, parks, beaches, wildlife preserves, libraries, universities, research centers, historic buildings, restaurants and interesting neighborhoods within the city limits of what has become the unofficial capital of the 21st century. Augmented by city buses and a regional bus and rail system, the subway makes the joys and wonders of New York City reachable within an hour or less for more than 25 million people—and the 60 million tourists who visit each year.
But years of neglect and the burgeoning population of both the city and the region have led to a precipitous increase in service outages, accidents and overly crowded cars and platforms. During certain times of day, riding the subway can be a nightmare. And the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) can’t respond by adding more trains because the ancient switching system can’t handle the additional load. Plus, many neighborhoods not served by the subway desperately need stations and tracks, especially in Queens and Brooklyn.
Both progressive New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and centrist accommodationist Governor Andrew Cuomo have proposed ideas for financing the multi-billion dollar, multi-year investment that must be made to replace the switching system, build new stations and renovate existing lines and stations.
Cuomo wants to institute peak congestion pricing, which means that the people who drive into the city during rush hours will be assessed a tax and the funds will go to updating the subway system. The inherent problem with this tax is that it will make it more expensive for the middle class and poor to use the roads, which will send many to mass transit alternatives, further crowding the subway, bus and other rail systems. Of course, the additional funds will enable the subway to handle the additional riders, at least in theory. Additionally, the regressive nature of the tax is offset by the fact that reduced traffic is also good for the environment. Cuomo isn’t proposing it, but a graduated tax on peak users based on their income would address the fairness issue, while raising additional funds.
De Blasio is much less willing to compromise with big money interests than Cuomo and so has proposed a tax on the wealthy earmarked for mass transit, just as a tax on high incomes is funding the city-wide public pre-school program that de Blasio has initiated.
The New York Times is pushing a third alternative, which is to reinstitute a .45% tax on the income of the 800,000 suburbanites who descend on New York City—primarily Manhattan—every work day. There is a certain attractiveness about financing transportation improvements on the people who extract their living from the city but don’t live there.
Tax peak congestion drivers? Tax rich people? Tax suburbanites? What to do? What to do?
How about all three? That way MTA can speed up improvements—do more, more quickly. And I would add a special federal gas tax, with proceeds dedicated to mass transit in the United States, starting with building another tunnel underneath the Hudson River for Amtrak and New Jersey transit trains, something that would already be near completion if it weren’t for the veto by one of our epoch’s most obnoxious supporters of the ultra-wealthy and crony capitalism, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
And while we’re at it, let’s use taxation to solve the other major problem facing New York City–affordable housing. There are many reasons why housing is so expensive in New York City, including the fact that so many people, especially young people, want to live there. But one major factor driving up rents, especially in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, are the large number of people who own apartments but only stay in them for a few days, weeks or months a year. For example, only about 40-50% of the tenants in my apartment building live there full time. The others use it when they’re in New York, sometimes every weekend, sometimes every few months. In some buildings (not mine), owners rent out their apartments to tourists all or most of the time, often in violation of city and state laws. But whether you keep your apartment empty or rent it out to vacationers, the result is the same: another property is off the market, driving up the rents and prices on all other city real estate. I propose a special tax on properties whose owners don’t live full-time in their New York City apartments, with all proceeds used to make housing more affordable elsewhere in the city. The funds could be used to build city-financed housing for the poor and middle class or for rent subsidies for people making less than a certain amount of money. One positive effect of this new tax would be to discourage some part of the population owning but not living to give up their New York apartments, further driving down rents and prices.
Then there’s the taxes we need to raise to make the entire New York City area more able to withstand the more extreme storms that global warming has started to bring us. But imagine of we were able to make all the improvements New York needs. It would become an urban paradise.
New York is in many ways a microcosm of the United States, except it is much further ahead in supplying affordable and reliable mass transit. Every metropolitan area needs to improve its mass transit, and most have to move from buses to rails. Most regions of the country are facing crumbling roads, bridges and sewer systems. Everywhere, but particularly on the coasts and along rivers, communities have to modify infrastructure and housing to address climate change. And we haven’t even gotten to the pressing need to find more funds for traditional public schools and public colleges.
We have reached a major fork in the road as a nation: Will we slip into widespread societal breakdown?
Will we raise taxes, particular on the wealthy who have enjoyed 30+ years in which continual lowering of their taxes was financed by scrimping on our investments in the future and assuming massive debt?
We know how to solve most of our problems. The plans are out there in detail in government studies, academic papers and engineering plans. We just don’t have the money to pay for it because the ultra-wealthy, whose outsized bank accounts finance politicians and drive our political decisions, decided 40 years ago to withdraw from real civic involvement and selfishly accumulate wealth through lower taxes on their income and assets.