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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Racism Emerges Full-Blown with Moral Numbness Close Behind

Well! Well! Well! Donald Trump is a Bigot and a Racist!  The standard media got that about right.  As often happens, they missed a few points, that I will be glad to illuminate. 

1)     The Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC brought some things into proper perspective as he carefully explained the difference between the two descriptive words.  Being a bigot goes to the heart of the biases that are formed in the core of a human being.  Some of it may be embossed on one’s RNA, but mostly are taken in from one’s life experiences, milieu, relationships and philosophical interpretations as well as the values that others demonstrate, illustrate or force upon us.

Being biased is simply a part of one’s make-up.  It has to do with your values, your morality, your beliefs, the myths that have invaded your brain and the perceptions that affect your thinking and your living.  You can be biased about almost anything that exists in the realm of human life and relationships.  You can be positively biased toward a particular religion but to be bigoted, you must also demean and denigrate every other religion based on a kind of superiority that you find in your chosen religion.  You can be negatively biased about left-handed people.  To be a bigot, you would have to find one particular negative characteristic about a few left-handers, make that into a stereotypical characteristic of all left-handers by applying it across the board to all who are left-handed in your interactions or experiences.  You can be biased toward your own race if you so choose (and truth be told, most of us probably are), but you become a racial bigot when you demean and denigrate every other race; when you express hatred in thought word or deed toward those of other races, or when you apply stereotypes to those of other races that tend to demean, disgrace and diminish those persons and their race.

Bias = 'a mental leaning or inclination; partiality; prejudice; bent'
Bigot = 'a person who holds blindly and intolerantly to a particular creed, opinion, etc.;' bigotry involves behavior that moves beyond belief to words and/or actions of intolerance.

This leaves us with trying to clarify the definition and description of a Racist.  The simple answer is – Donald Trump! 

How can I say such a thing?  Because Donald Trump pushes his biases and bigotry into policy, programs, government departments and offices, and into certain institutions, such as churches, the military and into public education.  From his words and treatment of Mexican and Muslim emigres to his latest in-meeting remarks that included demeaning of African countries as s***holes to his contrasting remarks about allowing more immigrants from Norway, this is who should appear in a photo next to the definition of
RACISM = any program or practice of racial discrimination, segregation, etc. based on ‘racialism’

RACIALISM = “a doctrine or teaching…that claims to find racial differences in character, intelligence, etc.; that asserts the superiority of one race over another or others; and that seeks to maintain the supposed purity of one race...”

(2)  The second point missed by (or avoided by) most of the mainstream media is that this event of expressed racism is related to a much scarier philosophy and strategy.  Let me put it this way:  Donald Trump uses his racism like he uses everything else: to advance himself as the Leader  (Fuhrer).  Let me be quite clear:  racist words, concepts and actions are one more strategy in his quest to de-construct the federal government, and to make it over into a fascist-style state.  Let it be shouted from the housetops if need be – DONALD TRUMP SPOUTS FASCIST ideology and he seeks to remake the federal government into a fascist state that will be under his tyrannical control.

(3)  The final point that needs to be made is that another effect of what Donald Trump is doing – perhaps one of the more important outcomes of their tactics that the Nazis were able to use to their advantage in grabbing power in Germany of the 1930s -- is writ large: “MORAL NUMBNESS.” 

We are approaching a very dangerous intersection on our journey as a multi-ethnic/racially diverse/immigrant nation.  We are experiencing a radical turn toward a racially superior/radically white nationalistic/morally depleted government; we are on the brink of take-over by non-democrats.  The fragile Republic established a mere 240 years ago is falling apart, being torn asunder by political sycophants, corporate tyrants, and little men in white robes or faux militaristic uniforms who have little or no regard for democratic values like equal and fair justice for all, freedom of the Press, or the welfare of all the people, particularly those who face special challenges. 

Their basic values are not democratic; not progressive; not concerned with equality, and not necessarily based on a humane moral system or code of ethics.  They are much attuned to a philosophy and to behaviors that promote control, power, superiority, their personal well-being and the unquestioning loyalty of their followers/employees/citizens.  Under Donald Trump, we are rapidly moving away from our founding principles and embracing (or becoming numb to) the fascist nature of the new administration.  And because we are not learning from history, we are frighteningly unaware of the consequences of a regime dedicated to fascist values. 

Therefore, let us take a short detour to enumerate, and briefly comment on, the 14 elements that are said to characterize fascist governments, as suggested in an article by Lawrence Britt, and based on an earlier work by Umberto Eco.; after which, we can return to the subject of moral numbness.  While this article has been criticized by some scholars, it seems to be a reasonable list of elements found in fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes; these 14 defining characteristics seem common to each:

Powerful and continuing nationalism [“America First”; make America Great Again; “stand up” to other countries; withdraw from Agreements and pacts that are ‘unfair’ to America; threaten others with the ‘biggest button” (nuclear war); the cult of a ‘supreme leader’ (like he who says – “I am the only one who can do this”) -- is often an integral part of this characteristic for the two go hand-in-glove]

Disdain for human rights [denounce the media constantly; ‘fake news’; ‘alternative facts;’ thereby eroding citizen trust and their confidence in freedom of press; denigrate people who disagree and find ways to penalize them; deport whole groups (DACA); restrict voting by certain groups and deny vote to others (felons); hold certain people without trial or charges; try to stop publication and distribution of recent negative book about him called “Fire and Fury.”]  

Identifying scapegoats [ban immigration from Muslim countries; make Mexicans into illegals and criminals; question judge’s ability to be fair because he is Hispanic; denigrate women especially those who charge President with sexual assault; homosexuals; individuals who are transgender; NFL players who kneel for anthem or pledge of allegiance]

Military supremacy [ludicrous increases in spending on troops and weapons; making threats against N. Korea and other countries; war against ISIS – bombing indiscriminately – especially in Syria; generals elevated to cabinet & WH positions; wars continued in Iraq and Afghanistan] 

Rampant Sexism [obvious after the nine women who have come forward to make charges against the president; the Access Hollywood tapes and signed Orders removing protections for women in relation to both sexual harassment, access to healthcare coverage and to special preventative measures; restrictions on lesbian service in armed services; assault upon abortion choice as a right; his support of Roy Moore for Senator from Alabama; stories of harassment of women at his own beauty pageant]

Control of mass media [exclude certain media representatives; limit press attendance at important events; trash particular media people; threaten to disapprove owner licenses; do not hold press conferences; use an alternative method such as Twitter for most communication; pick reporters from other countries to be only media to cover a major event; attempt to stop stories from being published or aired; use media to own advantage – plant stories; mislead and lie, lie, lie]

Obsession with national security [his obsession with crime perpetrated by immigrants once they arrive in this country, strangely obviated by his non-obsession with Russian interference in the 2016 election process; the building of a Wall on our Mexican border; his military build-up]

Religion and government intertwined [executive order opening religious communities to greater ability to be involved in political issues and to receive government grants; pushing private schools receiving public funds (many of them associated with a particular denomination or religion); support for pro-life attempts to destroy access to abortion]

Business interests protected [although there are several examples, the mention of the Tax Code bill’s passage should be enough to illustrate the depth of importance given to business interests; however, there is always regulatory reduction and the removal of healthcare mandates]

Labor power suppressed [support of right-to-work states; attacks on bargaining rights; opposition to minimum wage increase; and laws that prevent unions from striking; appointment of Labor Department head who was anti-union along with the pro-business slant of most cabinet members]

Disdain for the arts [look at the budgets he’s presented or supported: cuts in public radio; first of modern presidents to not attend Kennedy Center Honors presentations; no state dinners; presidential medal of honor – few and far between; offended his own arts commission so that all members withdrew]

Obsession with crime and punishment [Since Donald Trump took office early last year he has signed a long and ever-growing list of executive orders, hoping to fulfill many his campaign promises.  "Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety" -- Signed: Feb. 9, 2017.  The order directs Attorney General Jeff Sessions to create a task force that would propose new legislation to reduce crime, highlighting drug trafficking, illegal immigration and violent crime. The task force will submit yearly reports to the president.  Throughout the campaign, Trump promised voters a return to "law and order" in the United States and said minorities from inner cities are "living in hell" because of violent crime]

Rabid cronyism and corruption [cronyism is evident with all the Wall-Streeter’s and millionaires in his cabinet; but it is his family ensconced in WH operation that is the worst; corruption

Fraudulent Elections [from requiring IDs to claiming voter fraud by people voting in two different locations, Trump makes the point himself that election system is broken, but it is not what Trump says; it is caused by corrupt politicians who want nothing more than to remain in a job where they can collect taxpayer and big business and local developer pay-offs without batting g an eye; Trump himself has turned Trump Towers and Mar-A-Lago into money-making machines dependent on his celebrity] 

And, here’s the rub:  Trump may not have (or be capable of instituting) a well-thought-out Plan to make us over into a fascist country, but he is already acting upon his internalized values, beliefs and experiences that drive his actions, as they have always done.   Denying the existence and danger of that poisonous strain in him is a fatal flaw that has left too many other countries like ours corrupted, overtaken and devastated in the wake of authoritarians who acted upon their fascist beliefs, myths and biases, while the bulk of the citizenry (and too many in the media) lived in constant denial of that possibility. 

Let us then return to that subject of moral numbness.  When evangelical Christians who supported Trump fail to recognize his fascist tendencies, continue to support him without any acknowledgment of his immoral and inhumane budgets, or his growing idolatry -- worshipping money (profit) rather than their God -- have they become numb to the Christian ethic hiding behind their questionable abortion opposition?  Certainly, any evangelical still attending his rallies or events demonstrates a moral numbness that cannot be over-looked.

However, the moral numbness that we should most abhor and fear has been clearly demonstrated by the Republican Senators and Congressmen who have failed to put country before party when Trump says or acts upon his fascist and racist tendencies.  The very fact that current and former White House staff, cabinet secretaries, and members of Congress ignore, hide from, and obfuscate by loss of memory or just plain lies whenever Trump behaves in a white supremacist, racist manner is proof enough for me that we are fast approaching that time when our government could be overthrown and wallowing in its own Nazi-like nightmares. 

We cannot let this moral numbness advance any further.  That’s what many German citizens did in their Nazi era and they are still carrying the awful burdens of their Nazi past, just as we as a nation carry within our institutions and our social behavior the awful effects of forced slavery of one race of people.  Moral numbness is the straw that will break democracy’s back in our nation. 

Do not be numb to the fact that the 14 characteristics of fascist governments are all being fulfilled; do not be quiet when propaganda, lies and non-democratic values are being pushed upon you.  Demand public response from your Representatives in public office; support a statement of censure of the President from Congress.  Most of all, make sure that morally numb Republicans (and Democrats) are driven from office in 2018 and 2020.  Resist fascist values in the social, religious, corporate and political spheres, demand moral budgets and ethical government, and VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!                                                                             

Monday, January 1, 2018

LOOKING BACK – Yes, I Did Say That!

Our ‘Look-back’ begins in July of 2016 when Donald Trump was nominated by the Republican Party Convention to be the next President of the United States.  Most of us probably thought it to be a terrible joke, but I chose to stress an awful reality and a bigger picture:

“Donald Trump takes pleasure in being the “Law and Order” candidate.  Why?  Because it fits with his bullying persona, his business values of cut-throat competition where only the strong survive, and his view of the world which is seen from a Tower bearing his name.   “In spite of the rosy words surrounding him from other convention speakers, Donald Trump has been named in at least 169 federal lawsuits, according to a LawNewz.com investigation. “They read like a history of Trump’s business failures, successes, and bombastic personality.  The federal lawsuits… date back to 1983 and involve everything from business disputes, antitrust claims and, more recently, accusations that Trump’s campaign statements are discriminatory against minorities. He’s been sued by celebrities, personal assistants, prisoners, people in mental hospitals, unions, and wealthy businessmen.
“The White House and the Oval Office are meant to be different – the ‘Peoples House’ -- in modern terms it is meant to be the place where the People’s business is transacted in ways that will benefit them, bring justice, and solve problems, dependent to a great extent on the attitudes and beliefs of the one who holds the Office and on those he/she appoints.
“In view of the useless, negative and meaningless rhetoric of Trump family members, politicos and others, on the campaign trail and in the convention hall in Cleveland, it all comes down to this:  Donald Trump has demonstrated that he is not fit to be President of the United States.  The directions he has proposed are contrary to our cherished ideals of liberty and justice for all; to providing opportunities for the vulnerable; to protecting all people equally; to meeting the legitimate needs of our people and providing for the General Welfare of all the people within our borders (not just citizens), plus honoring treaty provisions of common defense (of other) nations. 
“The fact that his acceptance speech contained just one ‘concrete’ proposal for change -- building that wall on our southern border – is demonstration enough that he is unqualified for this office.  Rather than propose specific steps to be taken to change policy or regulations (beyond Obamacare repeal and two treaties re-negotiated) he made it abundantly clear that everything depends on him as the change Agent, as the Facilitator, as the Negotiator.  That is equivalent to authoritarian leadership -- the strongman who has charge of everything and everybody. 
“Beware the meaning of Trump leadership – being the Champion, the Voice, the ‘Only One’ who can make something happen.  Democracy does not work that way, and Donald Trump is spouting fascist ideology of the cult of ‘der Fuhrer.’   The continuing consequences of putting such a cult leader in charge of our government are found in the histories of many nations across our globe.  Democracy is “messy” but authoritarian leadership is brutal and lethal.  We’re in danger of losing (our democracy) because we’re not looking at the bigger picture.”   [FRIDAY, JULY 22, 2016 Trump Presidency: A Bigger Picture]

This came out of earlier warnings I had issued about the antics, strategies and words of Donald Trump during his campaign leading up to the GOP nomination. On MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2015, I began a series of posts about a topic we do not like to discuss in great depth – the far right-wing love of control, dominance and exertion of ultimate power based on those authoritarian values.  I spoke about Fascism and its unfortunate strategies for gaining and maintaining power over a People and a nation, beginning with the “Niemoller Warning”, followed by a 3-part series of posts called: “Send in the Storm Troopers.” (11/17, 11/21/ and 11/30/2015). 

“First, they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”   -- Martin Niemoller

“What hurts one individual or group will eventually hurt us all.  For we are not simply a gathering of separate individuals, walled-off by certain characteristics.  We are a nation; we are a People; we are a commonwealth.  We are a community of inter-connected individuals bound together by our human nature and inalienable rights.  “As injustice and intolerance always do – they catch up to us and take away something precious from our lives and from the ideals upon which this nation was founded.  We cannot maintain our form of democracy by ignoring threats to liberty, equality and justice for all.  (For instance), the subject of Civil Rights is never just about people of color.  My civil rights…and your Civil Rights are inextricably intertwined.  Restricting the ability of certain groups to cast a ballot in a free and unfettered process is anathema to a democracy.
 “Civil Rights and Voting Rights are not ‘passing fancies.’  These rights go to the essence of our form of governing.  We must act toward them as Guardians of our Republic, not as Protectors-at-all-costs of a political Party.  Likewise, when we see what happened to that young teenager in South Carolina, we must recognize its universality, for it happened to us all.  Our Civil Rights were abrogated; our bodies were slammed.  Our sense of equal justice and of human dignity was brought low.  We were all attacked because she was attacked. Speak out now, for tomorrow may be too late and you and I could have no one left to speak on our behalf when our rights are trampled and denied.”

It seems somewhat strange now that I was speaking out about the Fascist tactics and values that Trump was exhibiting then (and continues to demonstrate today).  The traditional news media was essentially avoiding the subject as though it was The Plague; until just recently when it appears to be a more favored subject!  When the media does not address controversial subjects in depth or in a timely manner because of pressures from owners, sponsors, presidential candidates, and powers-that-be, that is exactly what Fascists and Nazis and white supremacists want:  a cowered (‘coward’) Press and intimidated TV news reporters.  Trump epitomizes that fascist tactic, just as he demonstrates adherence to 13 other tactics enumerated by Professor Briggs who has carefully studied the strategies and tactics used by those of similar ilk (see my 2-part Blog of 11/23/2016).  
My conclusion to Part I may hold some relevance to what I just said about the Media: 

“It is a disturbing thought that the very events and activities that are taking place in this country are reminiscent of the takeover of the German nation in the early 1930s. One of the most prevalent reasons for the relative ease of that takeover was a blindness of much of the electorate to the implications of the ideology and philosophy that was eventually forced upon the people. There was some resistance, but the general population acquiesced in the loss of rights, property and fundamental values that had previously sustained them.  We are at a similar point in our own evolution as a nation. Go on to Part 2 if you want to read more.”

At the end of Part II, I attempted to bring it all to a focused conclusion.  Does it resonate today?

“So, here’s the point:   Our wounded democracy cannot survive this onslaught of fascist-like intrusion and power-grab.  WE MUST ACT in concert with others to learn the facts, apply strong rebuttal and protests, and act to curb the destruction that is occurring already, and that will reach its inevitable conclusion once all the pieces of this potentially-fascist regime are in place. 
The point is – ignorance or non-involvement does not excuse a citizen from his or her constitutional duty and responsibility to be the government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a fatal flaw to believe that politicians are the government or that our participation is optional.  We are the government; politicians (and their governmental appointees) represent us with our consent.  We must not let that power and responsibility be appropriated by forces that want to destroy our fundamental democratic principles.“

I continued throughout 2017 to stress, not only the fascist tendencies of the Trump regime, but to stress the undemocratic values that this man and his minions repeatedly display.  We have just enough space and time remaining to list some of those items with very brief comment.  However, I invite and welcome you to read further on any of the following topics that may catch your eye and/or your interest.

v Perverse Prevaricator – January 31, 2017 --- the primary thread that I see running throughout these Orders, Memoranda and Tweets and/or press Releases during these first few days of the Trump administration is Trump’s uncanny ability to base almost all his agenda on false premises and outright lies.  That’s right.  The Donald is on-course to become the most obvious manipulator of truth ever seen in the Oval Office – which will also end up being the underpinning of the legislative agenda about to be foisted upon us all.  It comes under the varied headings of “Fake News” “Alternative Facts” and the “Big Lie.” 
v Unfavorable Forecast—February 4, 2017 --- As I have previously warned and averred, this Trump administration, because of the authoritarian and narcissistic bent of its leader, is a threat to our democratic principles and to our constitutional structure of government.  Please bear with me as I review some of those past statements and predictions as they begin to play out, even though this administration is only two weeks-old! 
v Chaos Reigns – February 16, 2017 --- Not only does Chaos Reign in the early regime, it inevitably points to more predictions of chaos – check them out!
v Representation—February 26, 2017 --- it is highly questionable that beyond committee assignments (and those should be related to their value to the district and the voters), representatives should have a free hand to define their own roles and their relationship to those roles. The very core of meaning for representation lies in the fact that the representative is there as the stand-in or proxy or manifestation of someone else.  Losing that core concept is how we got to where we are.  We have wrongly allowed congressional representatives to believe that they are their own center of authority so that they do not need to consult their constituents or to solicit voter authority for what they do beyond the basic delegate role.  Two charts show differences of interpretation of their roles from the office-holders and their constituents: just one good reason to have a look!
v Values in Conflict: can Democracy survive? – April 15, 2017 – an interesting comparison of capitalist values and democratic values; check out the chart!
v If They Only Had a Heart! – May 8, 2017 --- My focus in this piece is the rather obvious and dubious lack of political attention to the lives of citizens as the top priority for any piece of legislation, executive order, regulation, contract, grant or policy that emanates from our national, state or local governmental entities. We seem so enraptured and captured by the glitter of ideology and pandering rhetoric that we tend to miss the fact that women, children, workers and retirees – among others – are being neglected, ignored and abused every time an economic or political ideology is placed before humaneness as the motive for legislation and judicial decision-making
v FOLLOW THE MONEY – June 13, 2017 --- Isn’t there a famous phrase that is often uttered in circumstances involving multiple threads or leads or circumstances that have been difficult to decipher, understand or relate to one another?  Yes, and it should be quite familiar to you – FOLLOW THE MONEY!!  Let’s explore some elements that were not even mentioned in Comey's hearing, but which must be of some interest to the FBI, to the members of the Senate investigating committees and certainly to the newly-named Special Counsel.
v Is 'Scapegoating': another Signpost? – August 6, 2017 --- sounds so akin to what Hitler and the Nazis did toward German Jewish citizens in the 1930’s and 40’s that it is absolutely frightening. Innuendos, lies, inflammatory rhetoric, and manufactured phantom threats (like sharia law) are all a part of what it takes for authoritarian leaders to cultivate a rabidly loyal following toward the ultimate goal of dictatorial control. Donald Trump is imbued with values and verities that challenge democratic ideals, most likely implanted in his psyche from the shabby (and shady?) business practices and principles he has absorbed and cultivated over the years. Under the guidance of Steve Bannon and others, he has begun to act on those values and we as a country are beginning to show the signs of an entrenched minority who are fiercely loyal enough to become his staunch…henchmen.
v Charlottesville: Ugly American Fascism Revealed—August 14, 2017 --- This event in Charlottesville is a benchmark and perhaps a red line.  It has marked the open defiance of avowed fascists against a fundamental civil right: that of peaceful protest. It has marked the public demonstration of Fascist and white supremacist ideology and vitriol.  It has identified the violent nature of this country’s Fascist movement: they will kill innocent people to advance their agenda (a very adequate definition of “terrorism”).  And, it has released upon this country a plan of attack that has characterized fascist groups throughout the world (see my Blog posts of 11/23/2015). 
v  Trump Budget and Child Abuse—October 10, 2017 --- “The Republican Radicals in Congress have decided to cut funding for almost every program that benefits, encourages, nurtures and promotes children:  research, universal pre-K education, housing for the homeless and the poor, adequate funding for all schools and the resources necessary to bring about a world-class education for all.  Instead, they cut Head Start, Aid to children and families, food stamps, and housing subsidies, and still want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  They have neglected children with special needs; have cut Pell grants and neglected to cut back on interest rates for student loans.  They neglect entirely the special needs of homeless children, children with disabilities, children who will not go to college, and of those who drop out of school. They have done nothing to reform the juvenile justice system or the over-incarceration of drug-abusers.  They have neglected the potential of minority children and have instead laid the groundwork for them to be labeled as perpetual felons with no vote, no rights and no jobs.  I call this abuse and neglect of children who are our most valuable resource.   Impeachment for these congressional naysayers is too mild.” 
v Undermining Democracy—November 11, 2017 --- What or who might be undermining the United States of America?  It’s looking a great deal like the Republican Party and its reluctant head, Donald Trump, are the culprits (with the enthusiastic help of Vladimir Putin).  They seem to be following a game plan put together by the former special advisor to Trump, named Steve Bannon.  Although he is out of the White House now, he seems to be carrying out, and advising on, a Plan to de-construct the ‘administrative state.’

It is 2018, and there are some topics I have not addressed in depth that must be undertaken.  One is a return to fundamentals of the Constitution, another is the importance of something that many of our Founders thought to be imperative: the working out of vague generalities in the Constitution such as “high crimes and misdemeanors” and just what standards should be required of office-holders.  Perhaps an examination of oaths of office is overdue. Impeachment of Donald Trump needs to be specifically addressed.  For that matter, the questions raised by the courageous women who have come forth to tell the truth about male dominance and misuse of power to intimidate, harass, denigrate, diminish and violate women is a subject that cannot be ignored. And, of course, there is that off-year election that looms in November of 2018.  Perhaps of equal importance, is a topic as old as our nation:  are political parties a danger to our way of governing (as many of the Founders thought), or are they a necessity? 


Do hope you have a progressive and productive activist New Year with all the goodness and happiness that can be found in a life well-lived.  Also hope you will come back often to this BLOG to find some thoughts, ideas, actions and predictions that may appeal to your research and your interests.  Thanks for being here right now!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Christmas Stocking Full of Coal

Christmas is almost here -- are you excited?  Donald Trump (the Pretender President) says he is giving the American people the greatest Christmas present ever!  WOW!

Unfortunately, what the Donald has delivered to the American people – at least to those in the lower to middle income brackets – is lumps of coal, signifying the darkness of this administration and its sponsors.  Let’s look at some of the Winners and Losers targeted by this legislation (with much help from a summary published on Dec. 15th by The NY Times).

WINNERS
Donald Trump and the Trump Family – The Donald and Jared Kushner are both associated with the Real Estate development business, which is treated very well in this Act in the form of “pass through” income -- money earned by partnerships and other types of businesses whose income is passed through to its owner and taxed at the individual tax rate.   

Under previous law, that income was taxed at rates as high as 39.6 percent. Under this new Tax Law, much of that income will be taxed at a rate as low as 29.6 percent.  Real estate also avoided new limits on interest deductions and retained its ability to defer taxes on the exchange of similar kinds of properties, and added language makes it easier for real estate owners to avoid some of the pass-through provision’s restrictions and maximize the tax benefits even more.”

This is one major sign of an authoritarian leader – using government to feather one’s own nest.  This Blog predicted that outcome back in 2015 when Trump decided to run for the GOP nomination (see Nov. 17, 2015 blog, and others).  However, Trump is not the only elected official to benefit personally from this Act.  In all, 14 Republican senators (see list below) hold financial interests in 26 income-generating real-estate partnerships — worth as much as $105 million in total. Those holdings together produced between $2.4 million and $14.1 million in rent and interest income in 2016, according to federal records.  Who are they?


 “…more than a quarter of all GOP senators will be voting on a bill that includes a special provision that would give them a new tax cut through their real estate shell companies, (according to federal records reviewed by International Business Times.)
The provision was not in the original bill passed by the Senate on Dec. 1. It was embedded in the final version by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is among the lawmakers that stand to personally benefit from the provision.” 
“Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who owns up to $35 million in “pass-through” real-estate interests, claimed he did not know of the carve-out when he announced his support for the legislation on Friday, after previously casting the only Republican vote against the bill in the Senate, which did not then include the provision.”

So, let me ask youDid YOU get any special treatment like this, so that you could lower the taxes on your property assets?  Of course not; you got a piece of coal named SALT by which you can now only deduct up to $10,000 of your property taxes.  YOU got a small cut on your income tax and a possibility of using the increased standard deduction instead of having to itemize your expenditures in certain categories.  Lucky YOU.  Those small benefits of $18-20 per week will disappear quickly when your medical insurance premiums get raised by 10%, mortgage and credit card rates go up by perhaps a full point, and other prices like food begin to be inflated.  And, by the way, how do YOU like the fact that you are paying for the gains of these congressmen and senators? 

BIG CORPORATIONS – “Industries like big retailers benefit from the new corporate tax rate of 21 percent, since those companies were paying relatively close to the full 35 percent (old rate). Other aspects of the corporate tax cuts will be enjoyed by an array of multinational industries (particularly technology and pharmaceutical companies), like Google, Facebook, Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Such multinational companies have accumulated nearly $3 trillion in offshore tax havens untouched by the United States taxman. The tax bill will attempt to force those companies to gradually bring that money home, but it will be taxed at rates ranging from 8 percent to 15.5 percent. That’s far lower than the previous 35 percent tax rate on corporate profits and even lower than the new 21 percent rate.  Plus, American companies will no longer owe full corporate taxes on future profits they say they earn abroad, providing more incentive to push income into tax haven subsidiaries. The law even includes provisions that could encourage companies to move workers abroad, despite pledges to do the opposite.

So again, let me ask YOU:  did YOU get anywhere near a 40% decrease in your tax rate?  Of course not.  You maybe got a new bracket and who knows what that means.  Incentives to bring back that off-shore money – that’s what this is all about – this lowered rate of repatriation tax (penalty). 
BUT, what international corporations will bother, since they already receive top dollar for stashing the cash in the first place, and giving up 8-15% is not that appealing.  Once again, that offshore money is not going to help you; it’s not going to trickle down; it’s not going to be invested in new employment.  If it was, it would have been invested already in operations in other countries by these multi-national corporations.  What’s more, several countries are now moving quickly to lower their rates on profits and financial investment, etc.   Sorry, but the Trump Tax Code reformulation may have little effect on profit havens or investments in new jobs or bringing industries back to this country.

MULTIMILLIONAIRES An exemption for estates that owe what Republicans call the “death tax” was lifted to $22 million from $11 million. That means a big tax cut for people with estates worth tens of millions of dollars.  Plus, the top rate applying to wages and interest income would be cut to 37 percent from 39.6 percent.
PRIVATE EQUITY MANAGERS -- wealthy investment managers, thanks to the so-called carried interest loophole, pay taxes on the majority of their pay at a lower capital gains rate. But the purported reform to this tax provision will affect few if any private equity managers, leaving the loophole intact.

Like so much in the Tax Code, the last two provisions don’t apply to many of us because we don’t have enough money to qualify for these special breaks, nor did we get anything comparable – like a break on insurances (health, life, accident, property or estate) – or the 529 incentive toward private education for our grandchildren or children, since it is doubtful we will have enough personal income to send grandchildren to a private elementary or secondary school, as incentivized below for those who can afford it beyond the $10k per year.   

PRIVATE SCHOOLS AND THE PEOPLE WHO CAN AFFORD THEM Parents are now eligible to use a type of tax-deferred savings plan — known as the 529 plan — to save for their children’s elementary and secondary education. Previously, those savings plans were only eligible for college, but have now been expanded to allow for up to $10,000 a year for tuition at private and religious schools. Simply another attack by this administration on public education.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
TAX ACCOUNTANTS AND LAWYERS Mr. Trump once said his “dream” was to put tax preparation services out of business by simplifying the tax code. But the rushed legislation will probably have the opposite effect…. tax preparers are sure to see a boom in business advising clients on how to restructure their employment and compensation arrangements to take advantage of the lower tax rates on income reported by corporations and pass-through entities.

LOSERS

PEOPLE BUYING HEALTH INSURANCE -- According to the Congressional Budget Office, healthier people are more likely to drop their insurance, leaving insurers stuck with more people who are older and ailing. This is expected to make average insurance premiums on the individual market go up by about 10 percent. All told, 13 million fewer Americans are projected to have health coverage over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Another piece of COAL for YOU:  average cost of health insurance premiums going up by 10% -- that’s what you get simply because one political party desires the denigration of the signature piece of legislation of our first African-American President.  The radical Republicans have removed one leg of a 3-legged plan in Obamacare, but subsidies and Medicaid expansion remain.  Note one thing – there is nothing to support coverage by excellent health care – like incentives for insurance companies who take on the sickest patients (the Republican Congress removed those incentives back in 2014!)

INDIVIDUAL TAXPAYERS IN THE FUTURE To stay under the $1.5 trillion limit for new deficits, Republican lawmakers opted to make the cuts for individuals and families temporary, expiring at the end of 2025 — even though the corporate tax cuts will be permanent. Republicans are counting on a future Congress to extend the lower rates, but there are no guarantees, and that could mean a big tax increase down the road. Moreover, the use of a different, less generous measure of inflation (chained CPI) will push taxpayers into higher tax brackets more quickly.

YOU may have missed that last one – ‘the chained CPI’.  Wasn’t that something that was defeated as an unreliable formula for determining the cost-of-living increases for Social Security (even though President Obama favored it)?  Yes. 
Application of chained CPI has been suggested as a means of reducing the US federal budget deficit by reducing the rate of growth of government benefits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates switching to the chained CPI would save $340 billion.  However, moving to the chained CPI would also reduce Social Security benefits by 3% for the bottom 60% of Social Security recipients and 4% for the top 40% of beneficiaries (per estimates for 2050 from the Social Security Administration ).
The Tax Policy Center estimated that changing to the Chained CPI would increase the taxes paid by 30% of the bottom 20% of the income distribution, 70% of the next 20% of the population, and nearly all the people in the top 60% of the income distribution. “(Wikipedia).  At any rate, this formula for measuring inflation seems flawed enough to reduce Social Security benefits and to increase taxes. 

THE ELDERLY A 2010 law requires that any legislation that adds to the federal deficit be paid for by spending cuts, increases in revenue or other offsets. Some cuts would be automatic, and the biggest program to be affected is Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. Dozens of other programs are likely to be cut as well, but Medicare, which would face a 4 percent cut, is by far the biggest. Republicans say that this rule will be waived, and the cuts will be averted, but that will take a bipartisan deal.

Does it occur to YOU that something is wrong here?  Social Security and Medicare – two of the most important social insurance programs ever assembled to alleviate the poverty of Seniors and to bolster the dignity of their lives:  Both are being cut to help fund the huge Christmas gift to the 1% in this country.  And here is the statistic that should rattle your cage if nothing else has done so:  80% of the benefits of this bill go to 1% of the population – the richest individuals and corporations in the nation are being showered with more wealth taken from the rest of us! 

Meanwhile back at Reality Ranch --
LOW-INCOME FAMILIES  who claim the earned-income tax credit will lose out on at least $19 billion over the coming decade because of the change in the way inflation is calculated. And a new requirement that families claiming the child tax credit provide a Social Security number is projected to mean a big reduction in the families claiming it, since those who are not in the United States legally would be prohibited, even if their children were born in the United States.

Now, that’s one way to get at DACA – by having children of undocumented immigrant parents penalized by a subterfuge in the Tax Code of having to present a SSN to receive an income tax credit.
When extracting your tax dollars from the U.S. Treasury by claiming a benefit or incentive or receiving a pass-through of assets to be taxed like wages -- are the people in the top 1% placed under the same degree of scrutiny?  What if some of those 1% are frauds, felons or criminals preying on others to their own aggrandizement?  What if some of those hedge fund managers benefiting from carried interest are cheating their clients?  Isn’t that essentially what Donald Trump claims to be true of most undocumented aliens – that they are a criminal element?  He never says that about the 1%.  Yet, here’s the rub – as a group, the wealthiest 1% has harbored the richest thieves and crooks of all time.  A few of note range from hardcore criminals like Al Capone to corrupt financiers like Bernie Madoff, and Leona Helmsley.  What has Trump done to scrutinize this criminal element among the 1% to equal his scrutiny of immigrants?

And let us not forget that The Donald has done nothing to make absolutely sure that poor children are covered with excellent health care, are well-educated, are given decent opportunities to succeed in life and are adequately housed.  The EIC is not the answer nor the solution to the ill effects of poverty upon our children (see my Blogs dated 10/10/17; 5/8/17)

PEOPLE IN HIGH PROPERTY TAX, HIGH INCOME STATES -- Homeowners in high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California could be big losers. Their ability to deduct their local property taxes and state and local income taxes from their federal tax bills is now capped at $10,000. In some cases, that could be offset by the lower tax rates that all taxpayers will owe on their ordinary income. 
[A version of this article appeared in print on December 17, 2017, on Page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Is the Tax Bill a Christmas Gift for You? Check the Fine Print]
 
The Sham and the Shame
To carry through on the new Tax law, it is estimated that $1.4+ trillion is going to be added to the national debt because new (and some old) tax loopholes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations remain in this bill.  Republicans have failed once again to reduce the deficit and the debt because they believe that a fanciful “Trickle-down” theory enhances everyone’s status and opportunities as the rich get richer and invest in the broader economy.  Will someone please tell me why there is an accumulation of over $3 trillion in off-shore financial institutions where it is not helping anyone except its owners and the banks in which it resides. 

“Trickle-down” has always been a farce because the wealthy owners of such money do not see it going anywhere except into their own coffers and those of their administrators and lawyers, their boards of directors and their investors.  They like the arrangement of paying lower taxes on assets, property, business operations (labor especially) and income from other than wages in certain tax-friendly countries, and having it to spend or leave to family when the time comes. 

International corporations are doing just fine, and they won’t invest in the U.S.A. just because the Republicans need them.  There is a report circulating on TV about a room filled with high-powered administrators from international corporations.  When asked if they expected to increase investment in U.S. industries and communities because of the Tax Code changes, just one person raised his hand to indicate a Yes.  The rest were reluctant to commit themselves or their companies to such an outcome.

The sham is that the trickle-down theory has never been proven TO WORK.  Tax cuts for the wealthy do not bring prosperity for all, just for the wealthiest.  The low unemployment rate, and the stock market record-breaking sales are not measurements of anything except the fact that the rich are making more millions.  They are the ones who play the stock market en masse and its results have relatively little to do with the middle class.

 The shame is that the concept of responsible philanthropy, or of a social contract with the rest of society, is not generally accepted by the wealthiest people and corporations.  They exist to make a profit, and sharing with others is not high on their list.  (Take a look at my blog postings of 3/21/2017, 3/10/2016, 9/21/2015, 3/8/2014).  Another bit of shame is that Congress and the Great Pretender seem unable to practice equanimity.  What is the problem with having a rule that says that any cut or break given to one bracket must be matched by similar actions in all other brackets.  After all, if there can be a budgeting rule that says increases in one area must be offset by similar cuts in other areas, an equity rule for benefits should not be that difficult to employ!   

Your Christmas present from this Congress and pretend President is not only a sham and a shame – it is a sop, meant to appease his followers and to solicit your vote.   Any cuts realized by middle class taxpayers will be offset by other provisions of this sham – like cuts to personal deductions and to Medicare; use of the chained CPI to measure inflation inadequately; a 10% increase in health care insurance premiums caused by the elimination of one of Obamacare’s three pillars – the individual mandate.  The latter will quickly return us to paying the increased administrative costs and burgeoning salaries of insurance company executives, as well as paying for more ill people using emergency rooms because they have no health insurance.

The Tax Cut Act is the gift of an authoritarian leader whose quest is control of the working class, monetary support from the oligarchs, and obsequious loyalty from the lesser mortals who direct his offices and departments.    AND PLEASE DON’T FORGETREP. Claudia Tenney (R-NY22) voted in favor of this debacle! 

Despite the pieces of coal that Trump and One-Term-Tenney left in your stocking….

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, and may the NEW YEAR bring new strength to enable us to persevere until November 6, 2018!      

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Undermining Democracy

“Undermine” – “to wear away at the base or foundation; to injure, weaken, or impair, especially by subtle, stealthy, or insidious means

Syn. “de-construct” – a non-word; see “destruction” – “the act or process of demolition or slaughter
We need to be perfectly clear about this: “de-construct” is a word created to avoid the use of another word, like “demolish’ ‘destroy,’ ‘decimate’ or ‘undermine.’

What or who might be undermining the United States of America?  It’s looking a great deal like the Republican Party and its reluctant head, Donald Trump, are the culprits (with the enthusiastic help of Vladimir Putin).  They seem to be following a game plan put together by the former special advisor to Trump, named Steve Bannon.  Although he is out of the White House now, he seems to be carrying out, and advising on, a Plan to de-construct the ‘administrative state.’
Looking at present circumstances, there are some elements that stand out as indicators of de-construction.  Here are some of the more important ones, in my opinion:    
1)     Attack government as the main problem confronting our society.
2)     On the other hand, be prepared to use government infrastructure as the means for destroying democratic principles
3)     Appoint people to run the departments of the federal government who are dedicated to the exact opposite of what their departments have demonstrated as their mission. Choose people who have little expertise for their jobs but who pledge absolute loyalty to the Executive.
4)     In tandem, attack civil rights and praise the accomplishments and behavior of authoritarian leaders of other countries
5)     Withdraw from multi-national agreements and trade associations, and engage only in bi-lateral agreements and treaties
6)     Conduct personal business using government structures and officials
7)     Use the military apparatus and weapons to threaten, impede and intimidate other countries
8)     Advocate and execute actions that divide people into winners and losers; good and bad; friends and enemies
9)     Ignore and eschew legislated laws and ethical standards
10) Denigrate individuals and groups that oppose or reveal truths about government corruption or unethical behavior
11) Conduct legislative functions by means of Executive Orders and informal press releases like Tweets
12) Appoint people to the Supreme Court and lower courts who will generally find a way to support all of the above
13) Lie, prevaricate, mislead, dissemble, and emphasize distractions from real issues
Most of the above have been addressed by this author in other posts, so let us focus on what may be too often overlooked or dismissed:
  • The inability of certain legislators to stand up and oppose unethical, illicit or illegal behavior of the Executive, or of their colleagues.  As we speak, there are sexual predators in the Congress who are known by other members and staff.  Still they remain anonymous because other members will not condemn them.  Why? Because they fear retribution?  Because they are too powerful to challenge? Because whistle-blowers could lose their jobs?  Or is the silence part of an unwritten pact between colleagues?  Probably all of the above.  But, the silence undoubtedly goes much deeper than that because male dominance in this society would be in danger if women were believed when they say they were sexually abused or harassed.  A change that fundamental could threaten the myth of male superiority, thus threatening a multitude of behaviors, myths, stereotypes and beliefs. Allow me to mention just a few:
    • Marriage as the ’giving’ of a female child by one man (the father) to another man (the groom), by which transaction a pattern of superiority, control or power is passed from one male to another.  It is a ritual that encompasses many social remnants of male dominance: the concepts of the wife “obeying” or of the male as “Head of household” remain in some marriage ceremonies.  However, such ancient symbols have also been removed by denominations or religions that have recognized their significance.
    • The taking of the husband’s name by the wife is a symbol that still prevails, although slightly challenged by a hyphen linking last names of both partners. 
    • The mythical concept of the woman victim as the one at fault in a case of sexual misconduct by a man is engrained in societal folklore to the extent that it pervades even our justice system. It is based on ancient myths, folklore and stereotypes that the woman is some sort of siren who entices a male by her “wiles” – which the dictionary defines as “a deceitful artifice” or a “beguiling or coquettish trick.”  Thereby, the woman accuser is made into some sort of magician or, more likely, a “witch” with a magical power that cannot be resisted by a man.  Her clothes, her appearance, her gestures, perhaps her words are made out to be seductive, and the resulting sexual encounter is therefore the ‘fault’ of the accuser.    
    • “His word against hers” is a false standard that gives the male the edge every time, as the stereotype of male power and superiority is automatically accepted by most people, including too many women jurors.  When some women defer to a husband by saying “my husband says” there is, indubitably, a hint of acceptance on the part of the wife that what her husband says carries more weight than what she might aver on her own.  Such ingrained acceptance of cultural norms or myths overarches gender, just as any bias can do.
Hopefully, these brief examples provide some insight into the power of the male dominance myth and societal norm.  The acceptance of a different scenario or standard – like calling out a U.S. Senator for unacceptable behavior toward women -  is a challenge not only to the male club in the Senate or the House, but also a challenge to all the biases and myths that keep male dominance in control of societal norms and behaviors.       
  • Another overlooked but important undermining of our constitutional principles is the inability of voters to withdraw their support of such behavior and policies.  Voters and non-voters are contributing in a big way to the destruction of our democracy. How?
    • Acceptance of lies and propaganda leads to a society that becomes unstable because it has no core – no center – on which citizens can depend.
    •  One of the most important building blocks of our democracy is ‘representation.’  And, representation is necessarily based on the foundation of trust.  Trust that the representative will care what happens to you.  Trust, that your representative will not only provide factual information, but that s/he will put principle above ideology or politics (“do what is right”).  Trust, that the Representative will make sure that constituents are not harmed by abusive or politically-motivated legislation.  Trust, that citizens will have every opportunity to be heard and to be taken seriously.  Trust, that the representative will act to keep his/her oath of office.  Trust that truth will be honored in all dealings with voters and constituents.              
    • Acceptance of unethical, immoral and anti-social behavior tends to infect the society, and bring about a milieu in which destructive behaviors and actions are more generally viewed as acceptable, leading to a society that is based on harm, hurt, competition, and violence rather than on caring, healing, opportunity and the building of a diverse but unified community.
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“FBI: Hate crimes reached 5-year high in 2016, spiked around presidential election.  A new FBI report documents a five-year high in hate crimes, which trended upward shortly before and after President Trump won the election last year. The increase further confirms the explosion of bias incidents we documented in the wake of the election.” (SPLC)
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    • Another building-block of democracy is, of course, elections.  Not only is it important to have honest, dedicated, competent candidates, it is also imperative to have a process that is fair, equal and open for voters of all persuasions and circumstances.  Restricting the voter franchise is a danger sign for our democracy and our society. In the current atmosphere, we are in imminent danger of this right being undermined and limited.  Acceptance of imposed restrictions, and acceptance of unequal access to the voting apparatus is another danger sign, not only for our democracy but for our entire society that has begun to accept authoritarian rule as the norm, and inequality as the result.
    •  Moreover, acceptance of inequality in terms of the weight given to different cohorts, individuals, or organizations is equivalent to cheating.  PACs, Super-PACs, and unrestricted inducements of private wealth are all threats to our democracy.  We cannot survive as a democracy under the current weighting of votes, buying of votes and restrictions on voters.
    • In addition, when Party ideology becomes all-important and trumps what is best for the country, and what is right for all, there arises a threat recognized at the very beginning of our country’s independent existence. President Washington spoke about this in his Farewell Address and minced no words.
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“Washington recognizes that it is natural for people to organize and operate within groups such as political parties, but he also argues that every government has recognized political parties as an enemy and has sought to repress them because of their tendency to seek more power than other groups and to take revenge on political opponents.  He feels that disagreements between political parties weakens the government.

“...he makes the case that "the alternate domination" of one party over another and coinciding efforts to exact revenge upon their opponents have led to horrible atrocities, and "is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism."  

From Washington's perspective and judgment, political parties eventually and "gradually incline the minds of men to seek security... in the absolute power of an individual",] leading to despotism.  He acknowledges the fact that parties are sometimes beneficial in promoting liberty...but argues that political parties must be restrained in a popularly elected government because of their tendency to distract the government from their duties, create unfounded jealousies among groups and regions, raise false alarms among the people, promote riots and insurrection, and provide foreign nations and interests access to the government where they can impose their will upon the country.” (Wikipedia article)
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The undermining (de-construction) of government is well underway, and is well down the road to destruction.  Fundamental re-building is imperative, but will be delayed until we return to the basics of our constitution and re-formulate the building-stones of our democracy.  It is not too late, but the current administration is intent upon creating a nightmare for activists, liberals, and progressives. First step: win offices on all levels -- local, county, state and national.  2018 is our chance to turn the tide, and 2020 is our chance for a major change of direction.