Jim Hightower - Very rich donors are demanding lower taxes & GOP is going to oblige

Sam Rayburn of Texas, who was a legendary Speaker of the U.S. House in the 1940s and '50s, offered this piece of ethical advice for lawmakers who were conflicted over whether to vote for the people of the lobbyists: "Every now and then, a politician ought to do something just because it's right."

Wow, ethics — how quaint! Today's House Speaker, Paul Ryan, has put his own perverted twist to Rayburn's ethics, advising his Republican majority to vote for anything just because it's right-wing. Along with Donald Trump and Senate leader Mitch McConnell, Ryan is now pushing for a rewrite of America's tax law that's so far to the right that it's horribly wrong.

Tax proposals are written in dense legalese and gobbledygook, but core purpose of this 429-page monster is shockingly easy to understand: The Trump-Ryan-McConnell triumvirate intends to take money from millions of working families and give it to the world's wealthiest people and richest multinational corporations.

Of course, when they talk publicly about their proposal, they claim it's all about "helping" you working stiffs. It's "real tax reform for everyday hardworking Americans," trumpeted our president. In private, though, they reveal to their biggest campaign donors that the plan lets them "help themselves" to the people's money, giving these corporate elites a huge windfall — "the biggest ever," bragged Trump. In fact, the 400 richest families in America would average $5.5 million in new tax breaks. Meanwhile, if your income is under $75,000 a year, you'll end up worse off.

The Trump tax plan — better known as the Billionaires' Bonanza — is not selling well among the great unwashed. Indeed, a two-to-one majority of the public opposes it, and only 16 percent believe it would reduce their tax bill.

But the people don't seem to realize that Donald and his band of Trumpeteers in Congress really want to help us commoners. How? By killing that dreaded "death tax," meaning that when you and I die we can give our estates to our heirs without that inheritance being taxed. As the president so eloquently put it: "To protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer, we are finally ending the crushing, the horrible, the unfair estate tax."

All praise The Donald for saving us!

But wait — the great majority of us don't own farms, businesses or big estates of any kind, so the estate tax doesn't apply to us at all. Also, 99 percent of people who do have farms and businesses are already exempt from the tax, for it only applies to individuals with estates worth $5.5 million or more.

I realize that Trump prefers grandiose claims over actual facts, but here are a few reality checks showing that his statement is false, a lie ... a whopper: Only two-tenths of one percent of American estates are big enough to be taxed this year. How many is that? Not "millions" of families, as Trump so dramatically asserted, but just over 11,000. Moreover, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center calculates that, this year, the estates of only about 80 family farmers and small business owners will be subject to the tax.

So who, exactly, are Trump and the GOP Congress "saving" from having to pay some taxes on their multimillion-dollar estates? The richest 0.2 percent of American families — including one named Trump. It's a giveaway that lets the richest of the richest escape paying more than $20 million which they owe to support the country that has enriched them.

Forget trickle-down economics, the GOP is practicing tinkle-down economics! Why would they push such an evil, shameful policy? Because it's not you common voters they care about, it's the moneyed elites they love and the special interests that fund their re-election campaigns. As one Republican pusher of this tax giveaway to the rich put it: "My donors are basically saying: 'Get it done or don't ever call me again.'" And that's what the Trump plan is all about.

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

  • Written by Edward Engler
  • Category: Columns
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Bob Meade - Does nature compensate for human mistakes?

Let’s start with life itself. Normally, when we think of life, we think primarily of ourselves; human life. But the incredible genius of life, in all its forms, is its ability to reproduce.

Trees drop their fruit which can result in “baby” trees springing to life. A variety of animals feed on those fruits as squirrels store up their nesting oak trees with acorns and feed on them throughout the winter. Bears enjoy dining at the apple trees as they get prepared for their hibernation. And little chipmunks forage for the seeds from the sunflowers and stash them in their tiny underground pantry. And plants and grasses reproduce and multiply and become food for most living creatures, from tiny insects to humans to animals of all sizes and shapes.

A fish drops its countless eggs, roe, on the bottom of the lake and another fish comes along and drops its sperm and the result is countless more little fish come to life. And, as nature would have it, bigger fish feed on the smaller fish on up through the food chain.

All throughout nature, animals become the food source for other animals. It seems like the bigger herds of creatures may be, the more likely it is that they are the food source for other animals. The gnu or wildebeest becomes the fodder for the lion.

Not only are life forms used to feed other life forms, in many cases they become the source of food, clothing, and shelter for humans. The fact that trees can and do reproduce has provided mankind with an on-going supply of materials needed for shelter. The wood from oaks, pines and others provide structural materials. Rubber tree plants can provide for roofing and hoses and tires and more. And, as winter bears down, those trees provide the fuel need to heat many dwellings or to act as shelter for herds of deer who gather together to share their heat.

There’s more but you get the picture, when the cosmos was created, the Almighty created life in order to sustain life. And that preamble brings me to the question, the point of this article, that is, does nature adjust to compensate for an anomaly it didn’t plan?

In trying to assess life, we looked at the demographics of fourteen nations. The six Western countries were the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. The Middle Eastern countries were Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The remaining countries were India, China, Russia, and Japan.

In the Western countries, the under 25 years of age populations ranged from a low of 23 percent in Germany to a high of 32 percent in the United States. In the Middle East, the low was 39 percent in Iran up to a high of 59 percent in Iraq. In the remaining countries, Japan had the lowest number of less than 25 years of age at 23 percent while India was much higher at 45 percent.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the percentage of the population over 54 years of age, the U.S. led Western countries with a low of 29 percent, with Germany coming in at the high end with 37 percent. The Middle East again had the most impressive numbers with Iraq having only 8 percent of its population over 54 years old, and Iran topping the list at 13 percent. Of the remaining countries, India came in with a low of 14 percent and Japan a high of 40 percent.

When these numbers get boiled down, the median age of each country’s shows that the Western and remaining country’s populations are significantly older than those in the Middle-East. For example, the median age for males in the West show that the U.S. has a low of 37 years and Germany has a high of 46 years. The remaining countries show Japan at 46 years on the high end and India at 27 years. However, the Middle East comes in well below most countries with Iraq being the lowest at 20 years of age and Iran the highest at 30.

The differences between the Middle-East and the rest of the world are only going to get wider as the numbers of births compared to the numbers of deaths swings heavily in their favor. For example, per 1,000 population, Iraq births 30.4 children. Because they also have only 8 percent of their population over 54 years of age, their death rate per 1,000 population is only 3.8. The other Middle-Eastern countries have very similar numbers.

In the West, the U. S. has a 12.5 to 8.2 birth/death ratio but two countries, Germany and Italy actually have more deaths than births; Germany births 8.6 to 11.7 deaths and Italy is 8.6 to 10.4. Of the remaining countries, Russia and Japan also have more deaths than births.

As the West and other countries continue to get older and older, the Middle East is becoming younger and younger. If our current population continues to think and act as they do, it may not take all that many years for the Middle East nations to dominate the world.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

  • Written by Edward Engler
  • Category: Columns
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Michael Barone - 'Hurtling' Republican tax bill actually serious

“The Republican tax bill hurtling through Congress is increasingly tilting the United States tax code to benefit wealthy Americans.” That’s the beginning of a 37-word first sentence in a stage-setting front-page story in The New York Times on the tax bill under consideration in the Senate this week.

It’s a nice illustration of creatively phrased advocacy journalism. “Hurtling” suggests irrational, uncontrolled, threatening movement; “tilting” suggests abandoning upstanding fairness; spelling out “the United States tax code” suggests an ominous attack on a respected national institution. And all this “to benefit wealthy Americans.”

This is less reportage than it is advocacy journalism, written to advance the argument, with which many people agree, that Republican tax bills are harmful because they make federal taxation less progressive. But it’s also an argument against any tax cut at any time. After all, if you start off with a progressive system that imposes higher rates on high earners and doesn’t tax low earners at all — as is the case with the current federal income tax — then every tax cut takes that shape.

Missing from the arguments of Republicans’ critics is acknowledgment that we already have what is, by most measures, the most progressive national tax system in the world. Other advanced countries tend to rely more heavily on regressive sales (value-added) taxes, and many have less steeply graduated income taxes.

Currently, the top 1 percent of earners account for about 40 percent of federal income tax revenue; the next 9 percent provide about 30 percent more. You could make the system more progressive with more progressive income tax rates or by raising the amount of income subject to the payroll tax, but at the risk of redirecting high earners’ attention from productivity to tax avoidance. Such changes tend to reduce economic growth, just as tax cuts tend to increase it.

In fact, this year, Republican tax writers have devoted much less attention to cutting income tax rates for high earners than their predecessors did in 1981 and 2003 or their presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012. Instead, they want to increase the child tax credit and double the standard deduction. That would reduce taxes for many modest earners and get the government out of the business of encouraging some behaviors and therefore discouraging others. This could reduce the scope of lobbyists larding up the tax code with special exemptions and favors.

The Republican plan attacks two of the three largest “tax expenditures” by limiting or eliminating the deductions for home mortgage interest and state and local taxes. The monetary benefits of this would largely come from “wealthy Americans,” especially in high-tax, high-housing-cost states, where they vote heavily Democratic. These progressive changes could only be made by Republicans, who have few House members and zero senators from such constituencies.

Sophisticated critics of the Republicans’ plan, such as former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, avoid arguing against any tax cut ever but say that with low unemployment and increasing growth, this is the wrong time — that economic policy should depend on the economic, not the political, calendar.

The problem with this argument is that the biggest cuts in the Republican plan would be to the corporate income tax rate — from 35 percent to 20 percent. Today’s corporate rate is the highest of any advanced nation. It encourages multinational firms to park billions of dollars abroad rather than invest them here or to be merged into foreign-based rivals.

Moreover, economists of just about every stripe agree that the economic burden of the corporate tax falls on not just stock owners but also employees and consumers. The only disagreement is on who bears how much.

So there’s a widespread consensus for a corporate rate cut. Barack Obama proposed one in February 2012 but never got around to negotiating seriously with congressional Republicans. Republicans today are only acting responsibly, at the political risk of demagogic charges that rate cuts for corporations and unincorporated businesses paying as individuals would aid “wealthy Americans.”

Some critics focus on provisions fashioned to take advantage of budget procedures and Congressional Budget Office scoring rules mostly set in the 1970s. Both parties are guilty of gaming this increasingly dysfunctional system, especially the CBO’s wildly oscillating cost estimates of the Obamacare mandate.

As this is written, it’s not clear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can round up the needed 50 votes or, if he does, whether a conference committee will hammer out a version that can pass in the House, too. In any case, the Republican tax plan is something more serious and responsible than “hurtling” missiles “tilting” the tax code toward the “wealthy.”

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

  • Written by Ginger Kozlowski
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Susan Estrich - Don't let Trump make you sick

I tried not to roll my eyes when an acquaintance, a woman I respect for her professional accomplishments, told me she thought Donald Trump had caused her cancer. "You know, the connection between stress and cancer," she said. I know. But was she really so stressed about Donald Trump that she got cancer?

She was not the only one. A journalist who writes frequently for my local paper, when recounting her battle with cancer, said that she was afraid Trump would hasten her death because she was so upset about his presidency but she was hoping that her anger and rage would be a reason to live longer and not die sooner.

I understand that politics matters. I have devoted much of my life to it. But it should not be a life-and-death business in the most stable democracy in the world.

I wrote a book supporting Hillary Clinton. I'll match my anti-Trump positions against anyone's. But this is a democracy. We had an election. The candidate I supported — whom my acquaintance and the journalist with cancer also supported — lost. That happens in a democracy. And when it does, I've always believed that you shouldn't get sick about it. When the going gets tough, you just keep going. We don't kill our opponents. I understand undocumented parents who are literally sick with worry about being divided from their children; I understand that kind of sickness. What I don't understand is people literally getting sick from watching the news — and yet continuing to watch it.

"Turn it off," I said to a friend of mine. She was offended. She wants to be informed. So do I. But I don't spend half my life informing myself in excruciating detail about things I already know about and can't do much of anything about anyway.

That isn't being informed. It isn't being productive. It's just driving yourself crazy.

Driving yourself crazy and making yourself sick are not activities that accomplish anything positive. Trump does not suffer on your account.

Quite the contrary. I think every time a Trump voter hears how sick the president is making liberals they are reminded of why they voted for him. This is, of course, the genius of Trump: that the billionaire demagogue from New York could become the voice of alienated, insecure, overwhelmed white Americans, who have nothing in common with Trump except the fact of their exclusion from the elite. And that is enough. It works.

The answer, then, cannot be to play into Trump's hands. It cannot be to send the message that we find their politics so offensive that it literally makes us sick.

"But I'm afraid," my acquaintance says. Of what? I don't like the president's fear-mongering about North Korea, but do you seriously think we are on the brink of nuclear war?

And short of nuclear war, Trump must deal with Congress and the courts. His problem, almost a year into his presidency, is not how much he has accomplished but how little. Whether he can get anything at all through the Senate remains an open question. The Founding Fathers were no fools.

Besides, there are so many better things to do than get sick. Like help someone in need. Lend a hand. I write this on National Giving Day. I contributed to a charity founded by a friend to continue his mother's work for survivors of domestic abuse.

I hate sickness. I have lost too many. I have stared at the ceiling in the ICU too many nights. Why would I reward Trump by getting too sick to stand up to him, too distraught to participate in the debate, too undone to realize that the messy process that brought us Donald Trump is still better than any alternative? We just need to win next time. Be well.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

  • Written by Edward Engler
  • Category: Columns
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Froma Harrop - Trump determined to help financiers at expense of ordinary Americans

A circle in hell has been set aside for financiers who fleece ordinary folks. This hot place has long rung with demands of death to the agency that protects working Americans from their pillage. President Trump is on the case as he tries to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by putting its enemies in charge.

Established in the rubble of the economic meltdown, the bureau's job is to go after the financial rackets that target the working class — abusive mortgages, student loans created to fail, credit card trickery and payday loans charging 400 percent annual interest. It even gets money back for some people.

But milking the economically vulnerable has become a very big business for the highest names in American finance, as well as the lowest. The less sophisticated the borrowers the easier to trap them in a sea of small-print legalese, the outrageous terms carefully hidden.

The consumer-focused agency's existence, of course, drives Wall Street nuts. "Wall Street hates it like the devil hates holy water," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.

For much of the financial industry, the prized "customer" is a working stiff who has a job and a steady trickle of income to siphon off. Credit card companies, for example, love the borrower who racks up big balances and rolls them from month-to-month at interest rates often exceeding 20 percent. Some of the biggest names in U.S. finance — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo — are making billions off unpaid credit balances.

Unfortunately, many financially strapped Americans are using plastic to pay for basics. And the numbers keep getting worse. Working-class Americans now spend a bigger chunk of their paychecks on servicing debt than they did three years ago, according to the Federal Reserve. Outstanding credit card debt broke a record this year, passing the $1 trillion mark.

Some are simply sucked in by promises of easy money. Scott Tucker, a payday lender in Kansas City, preyed on over 4.5 million people, charging as much as 700 percent. One of his outfits was named 500FastCash.

A payday loan is an advance of cash to be paid back when the borrower gets the next paycheck. This is a $40 billion-a-year business that makes $7 billion in fees alone, never mind the astronomical interest charges.

The first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray, recently finalized some rules taming this industry. They included limiting the number of repeat loans and requiring lenders to verify that borrowers have a prayer of paying them back.

So Cordray had to go. Trump announced last week that he would replace him, putting Mick Mulvaney temporarily in charge. The White House budget director, Mulvaney has called the bureau a "sick, sad joke."

Not so fast. Cordray resigned first, which he and others say automatically makes his deputy the new acting director. The lawyers are battling it out.

Why are we having this fight? Because the bureau was purposely designed to have more independence from politicians than other agencies regulating finance. Truck drivers and floor sweepers generally can't afford teams of lawyers and lobbyists to change laws in their favor. Wall Street can.

Trump paired his decision to defang the bureau with one of his habitually batty claims, that "financial institutions have been devastated." In the fact-based world, bank profits and stocks are soaring. (Financial companies are now four of the top 10 stocks held by hedge funds, according to WalletHub.)

You'd think that with the economy transferring hand-over-fist wealth to Wall Street, most politicians would at least tolerate a defender of the little guys. Sadly, the country is being run from hell.

 

  • Written by Edward Engler
  • Category: Columns
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