Saturday, October 28, 2017

Editorial: White House of Lies

We never had much hope for Donald Trump, who ran for president as a fake populist on trade and economic issues who promised to protect American workers and “drain the swamps” in Washington. But for years Trump has shown a reckless disregard for the truth in his public statements, acted as a grifter with authoritarian leanings and has a history of stiffing contractors, fighting unions and looking out for No. 1.

Since he has been presidenting, Trump has been caught lying at a dizzying pace. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, as of Oct. 10, had counted 1,318 false or misleading claims in the 263 days since he was inaugurated. PolitiFact, which has been checking Trump’s claims since 2011, has examined 462 Trump statements and found fewer than 5% of Trump’s statements checked out as entirely true while 48% were entirely false. At the same time, Trump has reneged on campaign promises, packing his administration with half a dozen former executives of Goldman Sachs as well as pro-corporate administrators at federal agencies to prevent health and human services, environmental protection, public schools, federal lands and fair labor and housing standards.

Now it appears the Grifter in Chief’s mendacity has infected Chief of Staff John Kelly, who joined in Trump’s efforts to slander a Florida congresswoman who criticized Trump’s awkward attempt at a condolence call to the widow of US soldier killed in West Africa.

Kelly, a retired Marine general, was widely seen as the grown-up who was grounded in the real world, and who could instill order in the White House when he was moved July 28 from Homeland Security to become the gatekeeper to the Oval Office.

Kelly was sucked into the Trump vortex on Oct. 19 when US Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) criticized Trump after the president told Myeshia Johnson on the phone that her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in action with three other US soldiers in Niger, “must have known what he signed up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

Trump denied Wilson’s account, stating that he had proof it was “totally fabricated,” without producing evidence. But Wilson’s account was corroborated by Johnson’s aunt, who was with the widow and Wilson when Trump spoke to Mrs. Johnson on a speaker phone.

Kelly, in a press conference, said he was “stunned” that a member of Congress listened in on that conversation. “It stuns me. I thought at least that was sacred,” said Kelly, who was also listening in on the conversation with Trump. Kelly actually confirmed much of Wilson’s account, though he clarified that the president meant that Johnson knew the risks but he enlisted anyway.

Kelly went on to criticize Wilson as an “empty barrel” who, at the dedication of an FBI building in Florida in 2015, disgusted Kelly by hogging the credit for securing funding of the building.

Video of the event showed Wilson actually was responsible for naming the building for two slain FBI agents, and she fulsomely praised the dead agents, along with other law enforcement personnel at the dedication, as well as bipartisan members of Congress who helped rush the naming of the building in time for the dedication.

Kelly did not apologize for his slander and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Kelly was justified in accusing the lawmaker of grandstanding. “As we say in the South: all hat, no cattle,” Sanders said of Wilson, an African American who is known for wearing brightly colored cowboy hats.

Showing contempt for the First Amendment, Sanders also warned reporters not to criticize Kelly, because he was a four-star general: “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate,” she drawled.

After Sgt. Johnson’s funeral, Mrs. Johnson on Oct. 23 confirmed that Wilson’s version of events was “100 percent correct” and said her conversation with the president left her “very upset and hurt; it made me cry even worse,” particularly when she heard the president stumble trying to remember her husband’s name.

Not long after the interview aired, Trump disputed Johnson’s account with a tweet: “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!”

That prompted Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, to respond, “If you find yourself defending President Trump after he is attacking the widow of a fallen warrior, you might rethink that.”

Trump ignores repeated attempts at correction and refuses to admit he was wrong, instead usually claiming that the media is engaging in “fake news” when it points out his statements are at odds with the facts. For example, several fact-checking organizations have noted that his repeated claims that the US is the highest-taxed nation in the world are false.

The US has the highest statutory tax rate for corporations among developed nations, at 35%, but thanks to the thousands of deductions and exemptions in state and federal tax codes, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report, the effective average corporate tax rate is 22%. That puts the country in the middle of the pack among our economic peers, PolitiFact noted.

As a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), the US tax burden — covering all levels of government — was 26.4% in 2015, which ranked 28th out of 32 developed nations ranked by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). When PolitiFact ran the numbers based on federal revenues alone, the rankings stayed about the same.

On a per-person basis, America’s tax burden ranked 13th out of 31 developed nations, according to OECD figures.

So when Trump said that the US is “the highest developed nation taxed in the world,” and said his view is “exactly correct,” some might believe him, but in fact, PolitiFact found, he is incorrect.

Trump’s record as a liar has done a great deal of damage to the reputation of the United States, as world leaders wonder what they can believe, but at least his untrustworthiness has undermined the Republican Congress as its leaders begin an effort to rewrite the tax code to give major breaks to billionaires and corporations, and congressional leaders find they can’t trust the president either.

The Washington Post reported Trump called Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who was leading a bipartisan effort to fix the Affordable Care Act. Trump left Alexander feeling he had the president’s support. Ten days later, the president abruptly changed his mind.

In September, Trump hosted Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi at the White House and left them thinking they had his support on a deal to protect “Dreamers” who had been brought to the US as children. A month later, Trump added a list of conditions that Democrats could not accept, topped off with funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border.

In May, Trump celebrated House Republicans’ Obamacare repeal passage in the Rose Garden. Later, he called the House version “mean,” though it’s basically the same plan Trump later tried to get the Senate to pass. When the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare with bills that would cause millions to lose health coverage, Trump blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and John McCain.

Trump’s political strategy is “divide and conquer,” and deflect blame. Let’s hope the Democratic Party sticks together in the Senate and Trump rattles at least three senators from the Grand Oligarch Party. On Oct. 19, all the Republican senators except Rand Paul stuck together to approve the 2018 budget with $1.5 trillion in cuts from Medicare and Medicaid. The GOP needs the money to give their billionaire donors the hefty tax cuts they demand as a return on their investment. And don’t give Paul too much credit — he voted no because the budget cuts don’t go far enough. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2017

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Selections from the November 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Lauren Weber & Andy Miller
A hospital crisis is killing rural communities. Trump’s Rx won’t help.

White House of lies


When rehab programs stink

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Buy nothing at Walmart on Black Friday

Senate OKs big cuts to Medicare, Medicaid to pay for tax cuts;
Rigged: how voter suppression threw Wisconsin to Trump;
Uninsured rate rising as Trump sabotages Obamacare;
Trump’s numbers are really, really bad;
Obama kicks off campaign to stop GOP gerrymandering;
Tillerson tells Shia fightes in Iraq to 'go home';
Abortion rates are down, so GOP is coming after birth control.

The wrong choice for Iowa State

Me too. And you. And you.

Abuses of power: Notes on Harvey Weinstein

Bed sheet flapping from the Oval Office

Marching with Trump ‘Through the Valley of the Shadow’

Amazon, taxpayer subsidies and worker safety

How to profit from the coming Trump apocalypse

So many tax lies, so little time

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Contraception and false science

Irrational voters have their man

Dusting off the guarantee clause for North Carolina

Ken Burns’ Vietnam War

Defanging debt, denigrating austerity

The America I knew has almost disappeared 

Tom Petty left his stamp

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Trump 3.0: The AIs have it

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Profile in pacifist courage: The railroading of the other Brian Wilson

Equifax ‘shared’ your data, but Congress is on the case

and more ...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Cutting taxes on rich will be as destructive as closing down trolley lines in cities to favor of cars was in 20th century

By Marc Jampole
Slashing taxes on the wealthy and cutting services to children, the poor and the aged.
Cutting back on immigration and deporting the 800,000 dreamers.
Shaping government policy to promote fossil fuels, while ignoring the role government can play in addressing global warming
Ending our commitments to treaties forged from a policy of cooperation with other nations throughout the world.
Let’s forget about the human tragedies that these Trump-GOP policies will produce. If carried through, any of these four actions will be enough to sink the American economy.
But don’t think that it’s the first time that the leaders of our country have instituted policies that were doomed.
We’ve done it before.
And usually, the reason for the disaster has been that the government policy was concocted to help one industry or small group of people and founded on the faulty ideas and reasoning that industry/group developed to justify their greed.
20th century American history records at least three instances of our government working hand-in-glove with well-heeled special interest groups against the best interests of the American people:
  1. Truman’s decision to develop nuclear energy instead of solar energy.
As if dropping atom bombs on two large cities wasn’t enough, Harry Truman also got the federal government behind development of nuclear energy as a means to generate electricity and squelched the solar option. In the early fifties, experts placed two white papers on his desk—one to develop nuclear, the other to develop solar. Truman went with nuclear, because it did what the large utility companies and major manufacturers wanted: centralized power facilities transmitting electricity along a grid and then metered and sold. Solar by contrast, would have developed decentralized industries and enabled many consumers to lower their use of all other metered energy, such as heating oil and natural gas. Non-metered electricity and heat? Better for the long-term economy, public safety and the economy, but a no-no to the big guys.
  1. Destruction of inner city mass transit and the development of auto-dependent suburbs
Lots of things contributed to the development of our car-dependent existence and its discontents, e.g., pollution, traffic jams, social isolation and segregation. Government housing and transportation policies, the rapid decline in cost of both cars and homes, the creation of suburban plans that tended to isolate people, media exaggeration of urban problems, the machinations of local real estate industries everywhere and racism all played a role. But there can be no doubt that the long prevailing mass transit policies—the destruction of dedicated trolley lines in cities in favor of the automobile and busses and the related development of suburbs with no mass transit to urban and job centers—were negative policies that played major roles in creating all the dystopic aspects of suburban life. As Kenneth T. Jackson so ably detailed 30 years ago in Crabgrass Frontier,before World War I we had more trolley lines in inner cities than all of Europe combined. Governments saw trolley lines as private businesses which they taxed and regulated to keep fares below costs. The same governments invested huge sums in highways. Moreover, the federal government sat still for 30 years and let General Motors buy up hundreds of trolley lines all over the country and either shut them down or convert them to buses, freeing the roads for cars and more cars. Meanwhile, unlike the first wave of suburban growth, new suburbs were developed that did not have ready access to rail mass transit helped by governmental policies. As a nation, we turned our back on dedicated mass transit for the benefit of the automobile industry and certain developers.
  1. The imperialist post-World War American foreign policy
After World War II, the United States acted as if a country that wasn’t completely anti-communist was a threat that gave us the right us to interfere in its politics. We were quite willing to do business with dictators, but not with democratically elected governments that leaned left. People of good will can dispute the merits and necessity of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but how did we improve our national security by helping totalitarians overthrow the democratically elected governments of Iran and Chile? How did we improve national security by taking sides with anti-democracy forces in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Angola? How could Democrats and Republicans so ubiquitously share the mass delusion called the domino theory and therefore subscribe to the Viet Nam war, a war that Lyndon Johnson knew was unwinnable even as he kept escalating it? The Iraq War merely extends the lunacy of post-war U.S. foreign policy. One consistent element in all of the individual bellicosities the American Imperium has committed has been the massive economic benefit it provides to large defense contractors and to other large industries, often involved in natural resource extraction.
Yes, our leaders have had a curious habit of hurting the country to favor a few wealthy industries or families. It goes back to the beginnings of the nation—subverting democracy to favor slave-holding agricultural interests through the institution of the Senate, the Electoral College and the counting of slaves as three-fifths of a person for census purposes.
These collective inanities of the 20th century have turned us into a society divided by money, race and geography with a crumbling infrastructure, poor health and severe environmental and climate challenges. But behind each mass delusion are good intentions: securing our supply of energy in a post-oil world, making it easier for people to move around the world, defending our national security. In theory it’s not a bad thing if industries and individuals benefit by fulfilling national policy. In a market-based economy, even one with lots of regulations, a wide social safety net, and government involvement and even ownership of industry, individual companies, industries and families will always benefit from government policies. There’s nothing wrong with that outcome, as long as the benefit to the industries and individuals maximizes the benefit to society and everyone else. All too often in the United States, however, industries and individuals highjack policy and shape it so they will benefit, even if it means hurting others.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains fills in blanks in Jane Mayer’s Dark Money narrative

By Marc Jampole
According to the standard leftwing narrative about the current dominance of Republicans on both the state and national levels is that the economic rightwing has contrived a deal with racists and social conservatives (among which groups there is some but not complete overlap) by which the ultra-wealthy have manipulated poor and middle class whites to vote against their own economic interests while seeking to disenfranchise large groups of left-looking voters. It’s a storyline which I think pretty accurately describes American politics over the past three decades.
Duke University history professor Nancy MacLean, however, makes a strong case in Democracy in Chains, that the techniques for gaining absolute power and the ultimate objective of the Koch, Mercer, Anschutz, Bradley, DeVos, Prince and other ultra-rich, ultra-right families derive from the original racist reaction to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which outlawed segregation of the races in public schools.
According to MacLean, the key figure in transforming the reactions of segregationists to the working game plan of the 21st Republican Party was James McGill Buchanan, who stands out among Nobel Prize winners for Economics for his focus on theory and disuse of empirical evidence. His great contribution was to bring economic ideas into the realm of politics, primarily through what is called the “public choice theory,” primarily the idea that individuals always behave in politics in their own best interests. While at the University of Virginia, Buchanan put together the plan in Virginia to resist segregation by ending public schools and giving parents vouchers for private schools. Later he founded the Center for the Study of Public Choice, into which the Koch brothers poured millions of dollars. Once Buchanan transferred the program to George Mason University, the focus shifted from educating thinkers to dispute the constitutional thought that led to Brown v. Board to training operatives for the far-flung network of think tanks and lobbying groups funded by the Kochs and their pals. This network, which includes the Cato Institute, the Mt. Pelerin Society, the Heritage Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and Reason Foundation, among others, spews out deceptive information and ideas on a variety of matters such as healthcare policy, gun rights, climate change, school policy and public sector employment. You see their bogus work all the time as opinion or expert pieces in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Atlantic and elsewhere.
Underlying the convoluted gobbledygook of public choice theory is the basic belief that the majority should never constrain the minority. Public choice theory “elevates property rights as to paralyze the use of government for democratically determined goals,” as MacLean puts it. At the same time, public choice theory insists on the primacy of individual players, believing that collections of individuals, such as unions and other special interest groups, too often get their priorities approved by government, a terrible situation for Buchanan, Koch and others if it leads to any constraint on property. Buchanan and his ilk (disciples all of Hayek and Milton Friedman) want the government to operate like an absolute free market—each entity representing only itself, even if a small number of ultra-wealthy entities can therefore control everything.
Constraint of the majority was the original Southerners’ idea during the debate on the Constitution to prevent the growing, non-slave-owning North from gaining too much power through the federal government, leading to the Electoral College, Senate and the counting of slaves as three-fifths of a person for census purposes. Later it became the basis for all segregationist arguments, and still later the rationale for the opposition to environmental regulations, higher taxes on the wealthy, LGBTQ rights and a variety of other policies approved by a majority of Americans. In its extreme, as presented by Buchanan (and co-author Gordon Tullock) in The Calculus of Consent, it means that only those who agree to being taxed for public schools or building a road should pay and only programs with unanimous consent of all governed can be implemented by the government.
MacLean reports that after losing the battle against integration, Buchanan and some associates used what she calls Leninist ideas to put together a stealth plan to inject public choice theory into the mainstream of American political thinking and to turn the United States into the type of oligarchy that existed in Virginia and other southern states in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The plan seems to follow the lead of corporate mobilization called for in Lewis Powell’s famous 1971 memo in which the future Supreme Court Justice calls for corporate American take a more aggressive role in shaping America’s social and political ideas. It’s not mentioned by MacLean, but the process that Buchanan outlined and the Kochs and their pals funded seems right out of socialist G. William Domhoff’s public policy model. In simplified terms: rich folk put together foundations and think tanks, which propose ideas that rich folk find politicians to endorse; once elected, the politicians form commissions and committees on which sit the rich folks’ experts to promulgate the policies and laws that the rich folk wanted in the first place. like the plot of Jane Mayer’s Dark Moneyrequired reading for anyone interested in learning why our democracy has been commandeered for the benefit of a few ultra-wealthy and very selfish families.
Right-wingers have panned MacLean’s book, asserting that she made a selective use of Buchanan’s work, citing what damned him as an anti-democratic racist and ignoring other evidence that suggests otherwise. But as with the more than 150-year-old defense of the racist and strategically mediocre Robert E. Lee, the defense is based on snippets in an ocean of information. Democracy in Chains joins Dark Money, Domhoff’s Who Rules America Now and The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy and C. Wright Mill’s The Power Elite as essential reading to understand how rich folk manage to always get their way in the United States, even if their way hurts just about everyone else.