GOP Tax Bill: “People Will Die”

Besides giving Ozark Billy Long a big rhetorical belly rub on national TV, Tr-mp’s appearance in Missouri today means nothing, of course. He rushed here to sell the used-car economics behind the rich-get-richer GOP tax plan that now looks like it possibly may become law faster than you can say “Happy Holidays” “Merry Christmas.” But all Tr-mp is doing in our state today is what he always does. Lying. One whopper after another.

As I write this he is telling a cheering crowd of alternative-fact folks that “there has never been a ten-month president (sic) that (sic) has accomplished what we have accomplished.” He also said the tax plan he is selling “is gonna cost me a fortune” and that “the rich people actually don’t like me,” which caused some in the audience to laugh either because they understood the lies, or, much more likely, because they didn’t. In any case, after the lies and the cheers for the lies from gullible or wealthy (or both) Missourians, Tr-mp will go back to that dump called the White’s House and tweet out Holy War video clips, which will make evangelicals in Alabama very happy.

Meanwhile, there is that horrific mess of a tax bill that, as the editorial board of The New York Times pointed out this morning, is actually getting worse by the minute. “Even by the collapsing standards of Congress this is astounding,” said the editorial. By “Congress” the Times meant Republicans in Congress, which the editorial board made clear:

This is how Senate Republicans compromise these days: They could make their enormously unpopular tax bill, which lavishes benefits on corporations and wealthy families, more generous to real estate tycoons and hedge fund billionaires to win over a couple of lawmakers who say the legislation doesn’t do enough for small businesses.

That’s how weird shit is these days. Everyone this side of Sean Hannity understands what’s going on. Republicans are offering us a used car we have seen on the lot before. The big idea behind the legislation—trickle-down voodoo—has a lot of miles on it. The tires are bald. The muffler is dragging the ground. The windshield is cracked. And the aggressive, thick-bellied salesman, who knows nothing about the Brownbackistanian car, is an obnoxious prick.

It would be funny if it weren’t so, well, so damned serious. There is a lot at stake for some vulnerable folks, as well as our children and grandchildren. Heck, there is a lot at stake for all of us who didn’t eat “24-carat gold flakes, sweet potatoes topped with caviar, and squab” with our Turkey last week.

You can find a lot of places on the internet that have analyzed the deceitful plan in detail (a good place to go is here). But I rather liked the way Harvard economist Larry Summers, who worked in both the Obama and Clinton administrations, put it during an appearance with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle this morning:

RUHLE: If there’s one thing in here you want senators to pay attention to, what is it?

SUMMERS: People will die because of the health care reforms. And our country will be living on a shoestring for decades because of the increases in the deficit that will result. This is a serious threat to our national security because of what it will mean over time for our ability to fund national defense, which obviously is becoming a more and more urgent priority with what is happening in North Korea and other parts of the world.

And the claims that it will produce a big-spurt economic growth are fundamentally dishonest. You look at the kinds of evidence cited. Half the time when you check the footnotes, they don’t say what people claim they say. This has been the lowest quality debate on a major public policy that I’ve seen in 25 years of watching things in Washington.

Summers went on to discuss the effects of the increase in our national debt:

SUMMERS: One and a half trillion dollars, which is the cost of this bill over ten years, is close to $5000 for the average person, $20,000 for the average family of four. That’s a fair-sized burden, and ultimately it’s their taxes that are gonna have to pay it off. It also means that there’s going to be less room for the federal government to do everything it needs to do: to protect our national security…to take care of an aging society…to repair [our] infrastructure…To somehow suggest that we can just starve the government and have a healthy economy, I think that is very wrong.

You can see that if this thing passes, the ill effects might not be realized until, say, the Democrats possibly take back the House in 2018, or, Allah willing, they take back the SummersWhite’s House in 2020. And you can see that the Republicans will then blame Democrats for all the ill. And you can see that deficits and debts will suddenly become very important to Republicans again. And you can see, if you look hard enough, new Tea Party gatherings in downtown Joplin and elsewhere. But I digress. Back to Larry Summers.

The economist from Harvard got into what Ruhle referred to as “the Bob Corker trigger,” which is a last-minute consideration designed to win over the reluctant senator and part-time deficit hawk from Tennessee. Essentially, Corker is demanding a way to automatically raise taxes if the voodoo economics at the center of the bill fails yet again and federal revenues shrink and the debt rises (you know, like always happens with massive tax giveaways to the wealthy). Here is what Summers said about the trigger:

SUMMERS: Stephanie, this is flat-earth economics. If the economy slows down, that’s the moment we’re gonna want to have more stimulus, not the moment when we’re gonna want to deliver a one-two punch to the economy after it’s already gotten the first blow. This is introducing what economists call procyclicality. It’s a step in exactly the wrong direction. And the truth is, as anyone who has been around Washington knows…it’s a phony. If it’s supposed to happen, it won’t. When the economy turns down, which it will some day, Congress, [with] the economy headed into a recession, is not gonna let some trigger from four years before cause us to have a major tax increase. So, anyone who takes consolation from that trigger should be thinking about buying the Brooklyn Bridge.

Ruhle asked Summers about the lack of analysis and modeling from Treasury officials and others that they say supports their wild-eyed claims about the tax plan and the imagined massive economic growth that it will supposedly engender. Summers responded:

SUMMERS: Look, I find the degree of irresponsibility stunning…The reason the analysis is so bad is that the conclusion is so absurd…This tax bill in a way corrupts anyone who touches it because you can’t make an honest argument that it’s gonna pay for itself. And since you can’t make an honest argument that it’s gonna pay for itself—and people feel a need to make that argument—they’ve got no choice but to resort to dishonest arguments.

Finally, Summers summed up the tax proposal:

It’s something that cheats the future.

If we’re going to cheat the future, if we’re going to spend money we don’t have to get something we don’t need, why spend it on a crummy used car that a creepy commission-seeking salesman is trying to pawn off on us? Let’s go big. Let’s just give every American 5000 bucks and call it good.

At least some folks can have a good time before they die.


Listen To The Women, Evaluate The Evidence, Then Pass Judgment

Five days ago, when the accusations against Sen. Al Franken came out, when right-wingers were gloating and left-leaners were in a panic and some were overreacting, I was on Twitter urging caution:

…this isn’t Roy Moore territory–yet. We shouldn’t lose our ability to evaluate the relative severity of inappropriate behavior.

A short time later, I responded to a tweet by left-leaning writer Jimmy Williams, who had written that he hoped “ANY woman or man accusing ANY sitting senator of sexual harassment creates an Ethics Committee investigation.” I wrote:

Sorry, but we should stipulate that the accusations be credible ones or this whole exercise will become meaningless and hurt real victims.

Those two elements—evaluating the relative severity of the alleged behavior and evaluating the credibility of the accusations—were lost in the rush to judgment during the immediate days following the charges against Franken. Among those rushing to judgment was another liberal writer and a woman whose opinion I greatly respect, Michelle Goldberg. Writing for The New York Times, she said of Franken, “I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat.” Now, after some reflection, and after many pundits are beginning to evaluate what is happening more soberly, Goldberg has had second thoughts:

Personally, I’m torn by competing impulses. I want to see sexual harassment finally taken seriously but fear participating in a sex panic. My instinct is often to defend men I like, but I don’t want to be an enabler or a sucker. I try not to be a hypocrite, while being aware that the right plays on the media’s desire to seem fair-minded, which is part of what led to wildly excessive coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails during the presidential campaign, among other distortions.

Goldberg noted the fact that it is “organizations with liberal values” that are expected to react decisively against alleged sin in their own camps, while little accountability is expected from Republicans. She continued:

As a result, it sometimes feels as if liberal institutions are devouring themselves over sex while conservatives, unburdened by the pretense of caring about gender equality, blithely continue their misrule.

Adding to the confusion is the way so many different behaviors are being lumped together. Weinstein’s sadistic serial predation isn’t comparable to Louis C.K.’s exhibitionism. The groping Franken has been accused of isn’t in the same moral universe as Moore’s alleged sexual abuse of minors. It seems perverse that Franken could be on his way out of the Senate while Moore might be on his way in.

Obviously, with all the allegations flying around about creepy, caddish, even criminal behavior toward women, this is a major cultural moment. As I have always held, the women making such accusations should be believed until evidence surfaces that casts doubt on their charges. But that means the initial claims have to be subjected to an analysis that takes account of the available evidence, including the responses of those charged.

Image result for roy moore and bibleOf course we should treat the claims of offended and abused women with utmost seriousness. But we also have to treat the process of evaluating guilt or innocence with equal seriousness, as well as determining the proper penalty for bad behavior. Because, in time, we will see some charges advanced against men in power (so far, that’s who we are talking about) that are not true, that are part of a vendetta, either personal or political. And when that happens, if just one innocent man suffers because of such a vendetta—especially one aided and abetted by our eagerness to right past cultural wrongs—you can bet the creeps, cads, and criminals among us, employing nervous men as their mouthpieces, will use that miscarriage of justice as part of an attempt to squelch the vital movement we see sweeping the country, from California to Michigan to New York to, yes, Alabama.

Brown, McCaskill, And Sanders Fighting The Good Fight

One of my favorite Democrats in the Senate is Sherrod Brown. If you watched any news this past weekend, you were treated to his pissing off the insufferable Orrin Hatch, during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee last Thursday night.

Brown called bullshit on the Republican claim that their tax “reform” bill was all about increased incomes for middle-class folks. The senator from Ohio said:

I just think it would be nice, just tonight, before we go home, to just acknowledge, well that this tax cut really is not for the middle class, it’s for the rich. And that whole thing about higher wages, it’s a good selling point, but we know companies just don’t give away higher wages. They just don’t give away higher wages just because they have more money. Corporations are sitting on a lot of money now. They’re sitting on a lot of profits now. I don’t see wages going up. So, just spare us the bank shot, spare us the sarcasm and the satire, and let’s move forward.

Hatch, of course, grew indignant and began touting his former impoverishment, saying,

I come from the poor people, and I’ve been here working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance, and I really resent anybody saying I’m just doing it for the rich. Give me a break. I think you guys overplay that all the time, and it gets old. And, frankly, you ought to quit it…I get kind of sick and tired of it.

Now, one has to credit Hatch for properly calling his career “stinking.” But beyond that, anyone who thinks he has spent that stinking career working “for the [sic] poor people,” for “people who don’t have a chance,” I have a degree from Tr-mp University I’ll sell ya. As for Hatch being sick and tired, Brown said:

I get sick and tired of the richest people in this country getting richer and richer and richer….

He was gaveled down by the snowflake from Utah.

That leads me to my own senator, Claire McCaskill, who was just here in Joplin for a town hall-style meeting on Saturday (she was rudely treated by only one right-winger in the audience; that’s progress). During the meeting, she tried to educate the locals:

As I go around the state, particularly in some of the rural communities, where it is tough in terms of jobs and it is tough in terms of the AG economy, so, talking about a tax code that we could reform to really help those folks, but instead, Republicans are putting forth a bill that is really focused on people that make more than $1 million dollars.

McCaskill doesn’t just talk truth about Republicans while here in Missouri. She also had a few things to say during a Senate Finance Committee meeting last week, also featuring Orrin Hatch:

Clearly, that notorious fighter for the poor, Mr. Hatch, had no idea what was in the bill he was defending. But, aw shucks, neither does the man Republicans are counting on to sign it, should they succeed in ramming it through Congress.

Now we come to an appearance by Bernie Sanders on CNN’s State of the Union. Here is the Vermont senator’s exchange with host Jake Tapper:

TAPPER: President Trump is accusing Democrats of being obstructionists on the tax issue. He tweeted — quote — “If Democrats were not such obstructionists and understood the power of lower taxes, we would be able to get many of their ideas into the bill.” What’s your response?

SANDERS: Well, that’s total nonsense. Democrats have been completely shut out of this process, just as they were shut out of the health care legislation process. Here is the fact. And Trump should understand this. What this legislation is about is fulfilling the promises, Republican promises, made to wealthy campaign contributors. There is a reason why the billionaire class provides hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Republicans. And now is payback time.

What this legislation is about, Jake, is giving 50 percent of the tax benefits to the top 1 percent, and at the end of 10 years in the House bill, forcing almost 50 percent of the middle class to actually pay more in taxes. What this legislation is about, absolutely insanely, is repealing the estate tax, a $269 billion tax break, not for the top 1 percent, but for the top two-tenths of one 1 percent, a handful of the wealthiest families in this country, like the Walton family and the Koch brothers family and other very wealthy families….And, by the way, Jake, one other point.

When they run up a $1.5 trillion deficit, as they will in this legislation, they’re going to come back — and that’s what Paul Ryan is saying — they’re going to come back with massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, because they say, oh, my goodness, the deficit and the national debt are too high.

This is a terrible, terrible piece of legislation, and it must be defeated.

That was quite a takedown of the phony Republican tax (and, for now, healthcare) bill. But Sanders wasn’t finished:

TAPPER: So, Republicans’ response to the idea that 50 percent is going to the top 1 percent is, the top 1 percent pays a disproportionate amount of taxes. I do want to better understand your objection to this aspect of the bill. Is it the size of the tax cut going to the wealthy that bothers you or the idea that the wealthy are getting any tax cut at all?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, what the Republicans are forgetting about is, yes, the rich pay more in taxes because we have massive income and wealth and equality in America. Fifty-two percent of all new income in America is going to the top 1 percent. Duh. Yes, the rich are going to be paying more in taxes.

Now, Sanders just about said it all right there—just about. The most beautiful part of what he said, the most concise framing of the issues voters may hear in the next two election cycles, was what he said next:

SANDERS: But does anybody watching this program really believe that the major crisis facing our country—when the middle class is shrinking, when our infrastructure is falling apart, when young people can’t afford to go to college, are leaving school deeply in debt, when 28 million people have no health insurance—does anyone really think that the major crisis facing this country is the need to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very richest people in this country?

That was what wrestling fans might call a flying spinning heel kick. In one sentence, in 81 extemporaneous but eloquent words, Sanders struck his Republican opponents with the truth. 

Good for him. And although Republicans won’t listen, if voters do, good for the country.


Packing The Courts While We Aren’t Paying Attention

Don’t count me among those who are giving credit to Mitch McConnell for trying to ditch Roy Moore. Five minutes ago, McConnell was trying to get the lawless theocrat elected. Nor will I give credit to most of the other Republicans who have spoken against Moore. Almost to a man, and woman, they all were recently rooting for Moore (Sen. Flake, excepted) to win and, thus, help the GOP screw the working class by raining tax cuts on the wealthy. A few truly courageous victims of Moore’s white evangelical Christian virtues spoke up and changed the dynamics of the Alabama special election and, essentially, forced national Republicans to say what they should have said a long time ago.

Missouri’s Republican senator, Roy Blunt, finally chimed in:

Alabama voters should have a better choice, and Judge Moore should have better answers to these charges.

Blunt had no problem with the Orange Predator during last year’s presidential election. He didn’t demand that Tr-mp “have better answers” to the 20 or so women who accused him of either sexual assault or sexual harassment. Nope. When Tr-mp denied the charges, when he claimed “locker room talk,” Blunt was on board. The evidence against Tr-mp was at least as compelling as the evidence against Roy Moore. But Blunt, like his colleagues throughout Congress, was all-in on Tr-mp. All. In. And Tr-mp has done, and continues to do, more damage to the country than a Senator Moore could ever dream of doing. Yet, Blunt and McConnell and nearly all Republicans who matter are hard at work aiding and abetting Tr-mp’s disastrous reign—especially when it comes to federal judges and our courts.

Julia Ioffe, who just exposed Tr-mp Junior’s collusion with WikiLeaks-Russia, was on television this morning explaining the un-American behavior of the second creepiest Tr-mp in the family. At one point, Ioffe mentioned how all the craziness surrounding Tr-mp amounted to “flooding the zone,” while he and Republicans in the U.S. Senate are able to quietly “pack the courts.” Huh? You mean Tr-mp is getting something done besides trashing the Constitution and the environment? Is he packing the courts, too?

Hell yes, he is.

Over the weekend, Charlie Savage wrote an eye-opening article for The New York Times (“Tr-mp Is Rapidly Reshaping the Judiciary. Here’s How.”). Savage began with Donald McGahn’s “secret battle plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges.” That plan was formulated during the transition, before McGahn became Tr-mp’s White’s House counsel. Savage wrote:

Mr. McGahn, instructed by Mr. Trump to maximize the opportunity to reshape the judiciary, mapped out potential nominees and a strategy, according to two people familiar with the effort: Start by filling vacancies on appeals courts with multiple openings and where Democratic senators up for re-election next year in states won by Mr. Trump — like Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania — could be pressured not to block his nominees. And to speed them through confirmation, avoid clogging the Senate with too many nominees for the district courts, where legal philosophy is less crucial.

Savage pointed out just how successful the plan has been. Tr-mp is on a record-setting pace in getting his judges through the process. But there is a very dark side to how Tr-mp is able to set records and shape the judiciary:

Republicans are systematically filling appellate seats they held open during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office with a particularly conservative group of judges with life tenure.

Yes. For two years Republicans cheated Obama out of his right to appoint such judges. Actually, they cheated him and us. They essentially nullified our votes, when it came to shaping the judiciary. And they treated Obama like three-fifths of a president. Sure, we all saw Republicans openly and unashamedly steal a Supreme Court vacancy from the two-term uppity black man in the White’s House. We saw Neil Gorsuch wither on the Senate’s vine. But not many people knew about all those appellate judges Obama did not get to appoint. Not many people knew that Obama did not get to make as big a mark on the judiciary as he was entitled to make, as we were entitled to expect as his voters.

And we have Mitch McConnell, who some people are lauding over his throwing shade on Roy Moore, to thank for it.

I waited and waited for media outlets to pick up on an interview McConnell did two Sundays ago with right-wing nut Hugh Hewitt. But I couldn’t find a single television segment or a single news article about it. I suppose it was crowded out by the massacre of praying Christians in Texas and other outrages. But while our attention has been turned to mass shootings and collusion with Russia and Tr-mp embarrassing us abroad, our children’s future is being placed in the hands of reactionary judges, some qualified to do the dirty work and some not. Here’s what McConnell had to say to Hugh Hewitt:

MITCH MCCONNELL: There were 1,200 executive branch appointments subject to confirmation in the Senate. I not only didn’t allow the Supreme Court vacancy to be filled during the last year of Barack Obama, I also didn’t allow a lot of other federal judgeships to be filled. So when President Trump got elected, and we held our majority, we had the largest number of federal judicial vacancies to be filled since the early 1950s. And the President is sending up spectacular nominees. Barack Obama only had 60 Democrats in the Senate, got three circuit judges in his first year. We did four the week you and I are talking. We had already done four. That’s eight. And we’ll do more before the end of the year. In conjunction with the President and his spectacular White House counsel, Don McGahn, we are making permanent, long lasting changes to the federal judiciary.

If that doesn’t piss you off, if that doesn’t make your blood boil, then try this:

HUGH HEWITT: And so these 21 federal circuit vacancies that were inherited are almost as important as the Supreme Court. Are you satisfied that the White House is moving fast enough, because while there are 21 vacancies, there have only been 14 nominees, only 11 with their paperwork done. You confirmed eight. You’ll get the other three done. But we still got another ten nominees to come up to you.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah, I am convinced they’re moving fast enough. It takes a while to do the vetting and to get them in the pipeline. And now the pipeline is beginning to fill up. And we’re not going to be a bottleneck up here in the Senate. As you’ve noticed, as soon as the circuit judge comes out of committee, I call them up. I’m in charge of the schedule. I’ve got to choose what to bring up. Confirmation of circuit court judges is my top priority. As they come out of the committee, they will be called up.

In case you don’t know why the various U.S. Courts of Appeals are, except in rare cases, more important than the Supreme Court, there were over 50,000 federal appeals filed in the 12-month period ending June 30 of this year. Think about that. Thousands of decisions are issued by those courts and how many do you suppose are reviewed by the nine justices on the Supreme Court? Here’s what the Court itself says:

The Court receives approximately 7,000-8,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari each Term.  The Court grants and hears oral argument in about 80 cases.

Appeals Court statisticsThousands and thousands of decisions are made by federal appellate judges without review by the Supreme Court. That’s why Republicans are so giddy about what McConnell and Tr-mp are doing. As I said, conservative zealots are literally mucking up the future for our kids and grandkids. And it isn’t just at the appellate level. The zealots are advancing unqualified people to the federal district courts, too. The latest has made a splash on some news outlets:

A 36-year-old lawyer who has never tried a case and who was unanimously deemed “not qualified” by the American Bar Association has been approved for a lifetime federal district judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That Times article quotes Kristine Lucius of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She said it was “unprecedented” to have so many unqualified nominees for the district court. She added:

When you think of how much power a district court nominee has over life and death decisions every day, it’s really irresponsible to put someone on with that little experience.

Yes, it is irresponsible. And, given how we got to this point, given that many of these appointments were stolen from President Obama, it is unforgivable.

So, the next time you hear some pundit giving Mitch McConnell or some other Republican credit for doing the right thing on Roy Moore, remember that almost all Republicans supported and still support a pussy-grabbing, court-packing Tr-mp, whose damaging court picks—most of them white men—will be around long after he is gone.

federal appeals courts by president

What Democrats Need To Understand Before 2018

As you will figure out (if you haven’t already) from watching the Vox video below, technology and globalization aren’t going away. They are two powerful forces shaping our collective lives today, two forces that, in purely economic terms, have both good and bad effects. One of the bad effects is the increasingly large money gap between the wealthy and everyone else. Most Democrats believe that government, particularly the federal government, can help mitigate the rapidly worsening income and wealth inequality that is, essentially, a plague on our economic system. Unfortunately, it is Republicans who are in the position to reconstruct our tax code—an instrument of behavior modification—and they are hard at work reconstructing it to favor, even more than it does now, their rich donors. If they are successful, their plan will not only increase the federal debt for no good reason, but leave vulnerable populations even more vulnerable, when Republicans return next year with planned cuts to social programs to address “the debt” they are now ignoring.

There has been a lot of talk about just how Democrats should confront the next wave of elections in 2018 and 2020. Obviously, one domestic policy component of any electoral strategy is to run against Tr-mpism, which means embracing diversity and inclusion and, uh, reality. Another domestic policy component is to put forward a realistic plan for expanding health coverage (can anyone say, “public option”?). And still another component is to articulate an economic vision for the country that addresses income inequality without damaging our prospects for economic growth. In other words, Democrats have to come up with a plan—one that can be simply expressed—that acknowledges the reality of the changes brought upon us by technology and globalization, without trying to roll back the clock to simpler times, when America was the dominant economic force in the world. This won’t be an easy task, but it begins with acknowledging reality (and building on the ideas advanced by the Clinton campaign last year). The video below will help:

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