Hurricane Harvey and Other Traumas

Rescue boats fill a flooded street at flood victims are evacuated as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

There are plenty of lessons to be learned in the news every day and this week we are learning some doozies. Hurricane Harvey came to Houston. Now Houston is full of water. All day long there is footage of people wading through water, riding through water on an astonishing array of water craft, being airlifted by helicopter – and soggy pets, mostly dogs, being rescued and displaying such stoic trust about it. We have no idea of how many people and pets have not been rescued. Hopefully that number is really low.

It is gratifying to see the response of the people of Houston as they just pitch in with no overarching direction and do what needs to be done. Without these spontaneous acts of courage, caring, and disregard for personal comfort a great tragedy would have brought us grievous news, instead of the uplifting news we are seeing play out on the media.

But what if the people in the area did not own the kinds of tools necessary to save people in a disaster? Would the government have been able to handle the rescues in Houston? Would they be able to rescue you in your hometown if there were an emergency? Perhaps the National Guard could have responded with resources for Houston and performed the same rescues that neighbors have taken on. Would the response have been as timely? Would this event have looked more like Katrina?

We also know that housing people in giant shelters like convention centers does meet the immediate needs of people who have lost everything and have nowhere to go. And we see the shelters in Houston have learned from the fiasco at the Superdome in New Orleans. But will those lessons be enough when those shelters contain twice as many people as agencies planned for? Logistics is key but this storm has flooded a very wide area. Are there good supply lines? Is there a steady supply of food and water? How quickly can people be moved out of these less than ideal situations? Would you want to be sheltered in a convention center or sports arena?

I am proud of the way Americans cooperate in times of strife. Watching the news each day from Houston is just as uplifting as it is sad because of the activities of rescuers and of the Houston government and even the federal government. During this summer of 2017, 1000+ people died in flooding in Southeast Asia my newsfeed tells me. Perhaps there are not as many people who own their own boats as we have in America, perhaps the flooding happened too quickly, and, of course, the geography and infrastructure is very different.

Look at what happened at the Grenfell high rise in England. There is no way any heroics on the part of individual citizens could have helped in this case. This event was so fast and so devastating that the government was relatively helpless. But would you like to be treated the way the surviving residents were treated after they made it through that trauma. The government seemed rude and cold-hearted. Perhaps that was their only option, I don’t know, but I wonder how those residents have adjusted to the enforced changes in their lives.

I guess I am feeling that the government and even our neighbors may not be able to save us every time if weather events are getting more and more severe, and if crowded conditions are likely to generate more tragic events like Grenfell (yes, there was an architectural issue, but there may be many hidden weaknesses in our structures that we cannot know about until a failure occurs). I know that there are people who cannot evacuate their homes because they have no emergency funds for a hotel and no family to take them in. Perhaps centers could be designated before an event, especially a coastal event, to give people a place to evacuate to. What if you lived in an area where neighbors did not own the equipment necessary to make citizen rescues?

I guess I am thinking about this because some of us think we live in fairly safe areas, away from the zones where more extreme weather events occur. We don’t live on coastlines. We don’t live in high rises. We rarely have tornadoes. But perhaps no area is really safe. Storms happen and we live in areas that used to be different biomes in earlier times and could perhaps revert.

Our cities have nowhere to go but up but it doesn’t look like there is any good way to rescue people from the highest floors in a fire. That means that you had better hope the architect and the builder were skilled and did not cut corners.

Is there any way we can preplan for all possible permutations? If these large scale emergencies happen too frequently will we totally run out of resources to offer even the amenities we offer right now? What good will a survivalist plan do if you are unable to stay near your supplies? It looks like people need to evacuate when told to and do it right away even if it seems difficult. We need to stop feeling upset if we evacuate and it turns out to be not necessary. Maybe we need evacuation insurance.

We are watching, we are concerned, and we are donating whatever we can to help. I hope all turns out well for all the survivors of Harvey and I also hope this makes us begin to have some conversations to generate useful ideas for citizens who find themselves in situations like this.

Budget 1 – Ryan Budget Cuts/Trump Budget Cuts

Budget 1 – “Down in the weeds”

Ryan Budget Cuts

 

Paul Ryan’s proposed budget cuts according to a right wing blogger Evangelist Greg at Breakfast Bible Bytes https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/paul-ryan-proposed-budget-cuts-greg-deans/ (This is an odd source but it matches other sources but is a bit more complete.)

(*Asterisk = also on Trump’s list of cuts)

Corporation for Public Broadcasting Subsidy – $445 million/yr.

Save America’s Treasure Program – $25 million/yr. *

International Fund for Ireland – $17 m/yr.

Legal Services Corporation – $420 m/yr. *

National Endowment for the Arts – $167.5 m/yr.*

National Endowment for the Humanities – $167.5 m/yr. *

Hope VI Program – $250 m/yr.

Amtrak Subsidies – $1.565 b/yr.

U.S. Trade Development Agency – $55 m/yr. *

Woodrow Wilson Center Subsidy – $20 m/yr.*

John C. Stennis Center Subsidy – 430,000 per year

Community Development Fund – $4.5 b/yr.

Heritage Area Grants and Statutory Aid – $24 m/yr. *

Essential Air Service – $150 m/yr.

Technology Innovation Program – $70 m/yr.

Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program – $125 m/yr.*

Department of Energy Grants to States for Weatherization – $530 m/yr.

Beach Replenishment – $95 m/yr.

New Starts Transit – $2b/yr.

Exchange Programs for Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Their Historical Trading Partners in Massachusetts – $9 m/yr.

Intercity and High Speed Rail Grants – $2.5 b/yr.

Title X Family Planning – $318 m/yr.

Appalachian Regional Commission – $76 m/yr. *

Economic Development Administration – $75 m/yr.*

Applied Research At Department of Energy – $1.27 b/yr.

Freedom CAR and Fuel Partnership – $200 m/yr.

Energy Star Program – $52 m/yr. *

Economic Assistance to Egypt – $250 m/yr.

U.S. Agency for International Development – $1.39 b/yr.*

General Assistance to District of Columbia – $210 m/yr.

Subsidy for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – $150 m/yr.

Presidential Campaign Fund – $775 million over ten years

Federal Office Space Acquisition (no funding) – $864 m/yr.

Repeal of Davis- Bacon Act – more than $1 billion/yr.

USDA Sugar Program – $14 m/yr.

Subsidy to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – $93 m/yr.

Ready to Learn TV Program – $27 savings

HUD Ph.D Program – no amount given

Deficit Reduction Check-off Act – no amount given

Other:

Eliminate duplicating education programs – HR 2274 in last Congress/Rep. McKeon- $1.3 b/yr. –eliminates 68 programs

Cut in half funding for congressional printing and binding – $47 m/yr.

Trim Federal vehicle budget by 20% – $600 m/yr.

Programs under the National and Community Services Act – $1.15 b/yr.

End prohibitions on competitive sourcing of government services

IRS Direct Deposit: Require the IRS to deposit fees for some services it offers (such as processing payment plans for taxpayers) to the Treasury, instead of allowing it to remain as part of its budget – $1.8 billion over ten years

Require collection of unpaid taxes by federal employees – $1 billion total savings

Prohibit taxpayer funded union activities by federal employees – $1.2 billion savings over ten years

Sell excess federal properties the government does not make use of – $15 billion total savings

Eliminate death gratuity for Members of Congress

Eliminate Mohair subsidies – $1 m/yr.

Eliminate taxpayer subsidies to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – $12.5 m/yr.

Eliminate Market Access Program – $200 m/yr.

Eliminate the Nation Organic Certification Cost-Share Program – $56.2 m/yr.

Eliminate fund for ACA administrative costs – $900 million total savings

Grand total in Savings – $2.5 Trillion over ten years (cuts 39 programs)

Trump’s Budget Cuts

Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts according to Gregory Krieg and Will Mullery, CNN

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/23/politics/trump-budget-cuts-programs/index.html

Independent Agencies:

Chemical Safety Board

Corporation for National and Community Service

Corporation for Public Broadcasting *

Institute of Museum and Library Services (MLS)

International Development Foundations *

Legal Services Corporation *

National Endowment for the Arts *

National Endowment for the Humanities *

Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation

Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Regional Commissions – provide funding only for orderly closure

The Appalachian Regional Commission *

The Delta Regional Authority

The Denali Commission

The Northern Border Regional Commission

US Institute of Peace – only budgeted for close-out costs

US Trade and Development Agency – again, only budgeted for close-out costs *

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars *

Allocations to the Housing Trust Fund and Capital Magnet Fund

 

Department of Agriculture:

McGovern-Dole International Food for Education

Rural Business and Cooperative Service

Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program Account

Single Family Housing Direct Loans

The Rural Economic Development Program

 

Department of Commerce:

Economic Development Administration *

Manufacturing Extension Partnership *

Minority Business Development Agency

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Grants and Education

 

Department of Education:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

21st Century Community Learning Centers

Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants

Impact Aid Payments for Federal Property

International Education

Strengthening Institutions (except HBCUs and MSIs)

Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants

Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants

Teacher Quality Partnership

 

Department of Energy:

Advanced Research Projects Agency

Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program

Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program

Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility Termination

 

Department of Health and Human Services:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Community Services Block Grant

Health Professions and Nursing Training Programs

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Department of Homeland Security:

Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program

Transportation Security Administration Law Enforcement Grants

Department of Housing and Urban Development:

Choice Neighborhoods

Community Development Block Grant

Home Investment Partnership Program

Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program Account

 

Department of the Interior:

Abandoned Mine Land Grants

Heritage Partnership Program *

National Wildlife Refuge Fund

 

Department of Justice:

State Criminal Alien Assistance Program

 

Department of Labor:

Migrant and Seasonal Worker Training

OSHA Training Grants

Senior Community Service Employment Program

Department of State and US Agency for International Development *

Development Assistance

Earmarked Appropriations for Non-profit Organizations

P.L. 480 Title II Food Aid

 

Departments of State/USAID and Treasury:

Green Climate Fund and Global Climate Change Initiative

 

Department of Transportation:

National Infrastructure Investments (TIGER)

 

Department of the Treasury

Global Agriculture and Food Security Program

 

Environmental Protection Agency:

Energy Star and Voluntary Climate Programs *

Geographic Programs

 

NASA

Five Earth Science Missions (RBI, PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR, CLARREO Pathfinder

NASA Office of Education

 

Trump proposes cutting 74 government funded programs but the article did not say what the savings would be. In the article he tells why he believes each program can be cut. It seems clear that each department or agency had to offer up cuts and give the reasons for their choices.

This is a true example of “Be Careful What You Wish For”. I have always suggested that surgical cuts, carefully chosen and precisely targeted cuts, would be a good way to tame the United States Budget. Well I am like the person who made a wish that was not carefully thought out, a wish that backfired such as when King Midas wished that everything he touched would turn to gold but neglected to make an exception for living things. I neglected to consider how ideology would matter when it came to budget cuts, and I neglected to consider that it might not be done through a normal Congressional process of give and take, bargain and negotiate.

If you carefully take stock of the categories of cuts it is clear that a majority of cuts affect the poorest sectors of our America. Housing programs take a big hit although we have had several recent studies that suggest that housing is an area that needs our special attention if we want to solve the atrophy in our cities and communities. Education, especially education through television and programs that target kids who start out behind the curve because of social challenges, is cut. This is in line with the focus on growing private education options and cutting public education.

We know that Republicans, and obviously Trump also, want to drastically trim the activities of our government at the federal level and give programs back to the states and the local governments. This sounds like a states’ rights gift from the Republican Party and the people because according to these folks they are restoring the original intent of the authors of our Constitution. In a decade let’s check back with this and see how the people feel in each of the various states about losing these services and let’s see how many services each state is able to fund. States do not have equal economic resources and what we most likely will see will be huge disparities among the states in terms of programs offered to assist citizens with their needs.

As to some of the cuts to international programs this matches with the goals of an isolationist President. And it is not at all difficult to understand cuts to climate programs.

I contend that if the Democrats performed surgery on the Federal Budget the list of cuts would look completely different from this list. These cuts are not even significantly effective in terms of the amounts of savings they provide to we the people. But I believe that they will significantly affect the services that are available to people in need and that we will notice the absence of some of these programs, e.g. the ones for teacher training. I pictured cuts that would take away props for people and corporations that did not need them. That is not what these cuts represent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowflakes and Ghosts

When I spent a few dollars to have my post about white nationalism “boosted” out on Facebook to more readers, two right-wingers piled on to comment. One argued that the Antifa and the BLM are way worse than the KKK which is very weak and on its last legs. I did not let them get away with that.

I got called a snowflake. But I know the power of deep snow. One snowflake – flaky, cute and doomed. A huge lake effect snow event however is an entirely different story. Without good governance, without effective snow removal plans such a snowfall could be a killer. Even with good services in place people have died.

But I think I would rather be a snowflake than some kind of unfriendly ghost, clinging to a past that is unlikely to return. The GOP seems to be trying to create the ultimate “safe space” for right wingers. They plan to establish an empire that will keep white folks on top of the social heap. Well they had better get the masses busy having lots of white babies and they had better get them busy right away if they want the future of our planet to be white. Some folks are way ahead of us in terms of population.

Right wingers also want a booming economy, although who will trade with us once we have shut ourselves away in the prison that an isolationist America will become. I do not know. We import much more these days than we export.

The middle class had better not fool themselves. They will be fodder for the industrial machine, especially with the power of labor unions nullified. Women will no longer work. They will be baby factories and tasked with reanimating the nuclear family. It will have to be a rather giant nuclear family. Perhaps polygamy will no longer be illegal.

Let the globe rage around us. We will be an island of peace and industry, the GOP contends, (but not an island of freedom).

There are a fair number of problems with this plan. It is very likely that our enemies – and they will be legion – will simply lob bombs into our “sanctuary” until it is obliterated and then someone, as soon as this newly opened territory becomes livable again, will claim it, or there will be a bloody war to decide who gets our once beautiful land.

Oceans and walls will not keep people out forever.

Perhaps after the resources of America are all found and consumed in every way that the avaricious desire, our land will no longer be a temptation for any other nation. Instead of beauty extending from sea to shining sea, our nation will be a grim wasteland.

I don’t see where isolationism and nationalism lead to any great future. Don’t ask for what you want because you might get it.

When times get tough and these are already tough times, you need your neighbors more than you normally do. We will certainly need Europe and any other nations who want to keep some order to the changes that are boiling up around us. If you want white-skinned folks to remain relevant you must be in the mix, pitching in, making life better for all of the poor and the victimized and the desolate. Cooperation will serve us all in creating a stable world for humans to live in.

A society is not only an economy. We have lived in a free society. We know the sweet taste of it. We have tried to make equal opportunity possible. And yet, although we may have pioneered the idea of a social safety net to lift up the poorest among us (which lifts us all up), we have such strong opposition to giving people “something for nothing” that we are now have the most poorly distributed wealth of all societies on the globe.

And still wealthy Americans are not happy with what they have. They want us to put more money in their pockets. These people have even convinced average Americans through Svengali levels of propaganda to help the rich put more of our money in their pockets. “Don’t worry,” they say, “we’ll throw some coins your way.” “We’ll give you back one of those jobs that you will perform from cradle to grave and then we’ll yank away your pension and raise the retirement age just when you sense that freedom is near.”

So I guess we should risk being snowflakes every day because it seems better than being ghosts. I see nothing positive being offered to the American people by the GOP.

At least if we go with the globalists there is a chance that we will have robust human societies on this planet for centuries to come. It will take time and patience to get everyone up to speed. Christians, Muslims and all religions either learn to coexist peacefully or we will not have to worry about which society is number one. We will be immersed in war for decades to come. That is where we are trying not to go. And America under Trump, and the GOP are not helping.

My views of the future are not based on facts. They cannot be, because any prediction is a hypothetical. The GOP has predictions also but I don’t know if they are being honest with us or not, the propaganda campaign has been so omnipresent. I believe that isolationism will lead to atrophy and the fall of our grand experiment. What do you predict the current politics of each side would bring for America and for the world?

Evicted by Matthew Desmond – Book

Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City summarizes the lengthy and intimate researches of this sociologist with a MacArthur Genius Grant who has done his due diligence. His interest is in analyzing and discovering ways for breaking up stubborn, seemingly impossible-to-resolve problems that make life a misery for poor folks, especially black poor folks, and single mothers who are at the absolute bottom of the economic heap.

Mr. Desmond, a young man, still in college, moves into two different poor neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since he is white he perhaps would have been distrusted in a minority neighborhood so he started out in a trailer park at the edge of the city with a more mixed-race population. This allowed him to make some connections, see some possible housing issues and eventually he was able to enter the predominately black North Side as a resident. He roomed with a black policeman called Officer Woo (a childhood nickname).

Obviously poverty and all of the things attendant on it, such as lack of education or training, being limited to low paying jobs, being hungry and having to spend too much time finding food for your family, not having an appropriate job wardrobe are all factors that contribute to keeping poor people from rising.

But Matthew Desmond decided to focus on the issue of housing and he exposes an angle on urban poverty that we have not yet explored in enough detail. He looks specifically at the part evictions play in squelching opportunity. He looks at a cycle that allows ever higher rents that do not decrease for low value properties. He looks at the gap between incomes and rents. He introduces us to the people he met who let him have access to their personal finances. I will issue a warning to you that they still haunt him even as he moves on to pursue his own life, and they will stay with you also.

Anecdotal studies are difficult because of the fact that the researcher is present and interacting. This can change the data in ways that are quite subtle, and perhaps not so subtle, sort of the way in which a rock bends the current in a stream. Desmond tried to keep his presence somewhat personal even as he also stuck to his position as a writer and a recorder of the lives of the people he met. He calls his report, his book, an ethnography, which seems accurate enough.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey has a book club every summer. He chooses a title and everyone who signs up for the book club reads the same book. There is a discussion session at a certain date. This is the book for summer, 2017. You could probably still sign up.

I’m not going to summarize Desmond’s findings or his suggestions for fixing this seeming unresolvable dilemma of inner cities which seem to act like traps, robbing Americans of the comforts we expect life in America to offer. These observations are the entire content of his book. However, I will say, “Good choice, Cory Booker!”

True Goals of the Alt-Right

 

No one is afraid of liberals. No one has to steel their heart and check their guns when they hear that the liberals are taking to the streets. That is the main difference between the alt-right and the left. There is no alt-left; that is “fake news”, unless it refers to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who usually (never) set out to intimidate anyone unless you are afraid of their long term ideology.

The Neo-Nazi’s, White Supremacists, the KKK, and White Nationalists, on the other hand, are frightening. They are intimidating on purpose. They move in a pseudo-military cadence, they threaten people by carrying weapons, by scowling, by using symbolic body language like the Nazi salute. The left chants against inequality. The alt-right chants about exclusion, bloody exclusion (blood and soil) and threatens people whose relatives were either gassed or lived out their lives with numbers tattooed on their forearms. (Jew will not replace me.)

The alt-right has a problem. It’s a fairly big problem. Their problem is the conundrum about what to do about Americans of African Descent. They are dark-skinned people, pigmented people. They have been in America longer than the ancestors of most Americans. You cannot make America white by sending all the pigmented immigrants home. You will still be left with the people your ancestors kidnapped/bought and brought here against their will. This is the problem that rests at the bottom of losing the Civil War.

The White Nationalists don’t have a lot of choices if they really want to “preserve” an all-white nation. How will they deal with the African-American problem? These people cannot be accused of being here illegally. They cannot be sent home. They could, of course, be eliminated; killed and imprisoned. Sometimes it looks like there are already attempts to implement these strategies.

Americans of African Descent could be subjugated once again, “put them back in their rightful place”, but not without violent opposition.

Hasn’t this grossed you out yet? Doesn’t this function like a radioactive marker on a CT scan to highlight the cancerous growth that is the alt-right (I use this as a convenient term to represent all of the individual groups in the white nationalist movement?) These ideas do not animate liberals or

anyone o

 

n the left.

The white supremacists, etc. see one more choice. They could form an all-white separatist state within the current borders of the United States. The South could symbolically rise again. Would the rest of us let them go or would we fight a new Civil War to keep the American states united as one nation? Are we fighting that war right now; at least the ideological foreplay of that war?

Have you ever considered the possibility that the whole idea of the limits on federal power, of giving power to individual states, may be, at base, all about fighting for white supremacy from within the system rather than declaring an actual war? Well I have.

The right and the left are not the same at all in my mind. If they are in yours perhaps you favor the idea that we divide into two separate nations, one for white-skinned Americans and another for everyone who doesn’t think that skin-color makes any difference in the grand scheme of things.

Have you spit in a tube to have your DNA tested recently? It might be an eye-opener. You may find that you have already lost the war for white supremacy.

 

Is Violence Speech?

Well, here we are, back at our discussion of free speech. Free speech that is emotional, that expresses ideas we are invested in, whether they are socially acceptable ideas or anti-social ideas, may lead us to feel that words are not enough. After all, we still have some pretty primitive hard-wiring. Our physicality might be called into play. Thus free speech can lead to violence as it did this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Is free speech paired with violence the kind of speech we are guaranteed in the First Amendment?

Our forefathers were not very peaceful. They were revolutionaries. They backed their arguments with their fists, and guns. They fought duels. But our forefathers knew nothing of Henry David Thoreau’s essay on “Civil Disobedience”. They predated Gandhi. They did not know what Martin Luther King knew about peaceful resistance. Sometimes when innocents sacrifice their lives for a cause it is even more powerful than when combatants sacrifice theirs for a cause.

America has tried to move away from violence. Ideologically, we abhor it. We have advocated for peaceful coexistence around the globe. We know how violence destroys societies, or nations, or even civilizations. We have never truly put behind us the violence of brother against brother of our own Civil War. The recent demonstrations in Virginia which descended into violence were ostensibly about the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

The entire world was appalled by Hitler, at least they were once they realized that Hitler did not deserve anyone’s adulation. Once people realized he was insane and committing genocide on a scale and in ways most of us had never thought of, just about the whole world pitched in to destroy him.

So I say, despite our roots and our contentious forefathers, we are not a nation that believes free speech should have a violent physical dimension. We have wrapped ourselves in our “exceptionalism”. How is that looking now? Should haters have free speech? These folks don’t hate ideas, they hate people, people who are different from them. They honestly believe white people are superior, that Europeans rule by “divine right”. They were not around when other cultures and people had their moments on the world stage – Chinese dynasties, Byzantium, the Mongols and more, so they do not know that power has been owned by people who were not Europeans, not Westerners.

So because we, the “exceptionalists,” have not all yet learned how to handle diverse peoples, skin colors, or religions, these people, these neo-Nazis, these white supremacists, seem to think that punching shooting, running over everyone is free speech. However many of us believe that our planet is so small, so endangered, so overpopulated that we must at least try to forge common bonds.

Speech that comes with violence is not free speech – we know better here at the beginning of the 21st century. And we all have DNA made from the exact same chemical molecules even if they are assembled with infinite variety. The alt-right or the white supremacists, whatever they want to be called, should crawl back under the rocks that they came from if the only speech they want to be free with is hate speech. We must do better. We may be at the edge of apocalypse.

Sinclair We Heart Free Speech

Our free press is one of America’s greatest strengths. This is one of the “campaigns” of Mr. Trump that I find most disgraceful; his attacks on the media. He assaults the very best of our media and venerates all of the worst of it. He calls the media that tries to honestly report the events of the day “fake news” and he relies on all of the media which the rest of think of as “fake news”. Since our print media is already struggling to stay alive in these days of the internet, I am worried that Donald’s constant barrage of insults against the free press will leave us with only news that leans to the right, and made-up news.

Much of our pride in America is tied up in our free speech. We feel a bit superior to a nation like Russia or China with only state-sponsored news. Even so, we have lost some of our freedom because money is now speech and we don’t have enough money to buy as much “speech” as some Americans are able to these days. Even worse, now we have a “strong man” in charge who is trying to kill off sources of free speech. The best sources of news refuse to print unearned praise of the current occupant of the White House, so 45 is trying to suppress all our nation’s leading news sources.

Other powerful and wealthy men like the Koch brothers are trying to subvert media sources from within by buying them and then forcing them to print news stories they like or even ones they invent. I am very worried that the Conservative push to control America is going to take away the freedom of speech we have always enjoyed in our media.

History has taught us one way dictators destroy the free press is to make us begin to question which stories are factual and which stories are not. There used to be a fairly clear divide between commentary and news. Those lines are now being blurred. Before the 2016 election we all saw stories on Facebook that seemed extremely biased and some which struck us as too ridiculous to even bother to read. There were stories we had to hide so we wouldn’t ever have to see them again. Perhaps we attributed these stories to devotees of Fox News and never guessed that powerful people were deliberately planting “fake news”, or propaganda, on Facebook. But there were plenty of people on Facebook who would bury you in troll-speak if you dared express an opinion, in a comment, opposite to the “fake news”

I don’t like the Conservative agenda of today’s Republican Party and I make no secret of this. I do not believe that anything these folks want will be good for America, except perhaps training programs for workers and infrastructure investments (not pipelines). But Conservatives have been very effective at bamboozling, lying to, propagandizing, and convincing many Americas to believe that they have good ideas and that the Democrats don’t. If we are not careful the right – the GOP – will not just control the government and 30+ state governments, they might just become the only political power in America. What will we hear on our media then?

Well, I know where you can get a foretaste. Recently John Oliver outed the business plans of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a Conservative media group that owns local TV news stations in 81 local markets and that is trying to double the number of stations under its influence through a merger. In my mid-size city Sinclair bought three TV local news programs on different networks and two of those stations are the most popular stations for local news, the news broadcasts people listen to every day and every night. Syracuse, NY was cited by name by John Oliver on this national network (HBO) and this is a rare thing indeed unless the news is about snowstorms.

So far the most noticeable feature of the “takeover” is that these stations are obligated to air commentary a number of times each week by a Trump supporter named Boris Epshteyn, “Bottom Line with Boris”. Katy Waldman at Slate.com in her article with the title “News. Traffic. Weather. Trump” begins her article like this: “the face of Boris Epshteyn, chief political analyst for the behemoth Sinclair Broadcast Group, is glowing like an oversized egg about to hatch the world’s most affable chicken. ‘Let’s take a look at the White House press briefing,” he suggests genially, the corners of his mouth lifting. ‘What it is, what it represents, and how it serves the American people.”

Here’s a little sample of Boris in action.

I’m unsure that there is any path right now that would put news in Syracuse back with an owner who wants to offer segments that fairly present both sides of an issue or that take a brave stand when called for. But the word about Sinclair Broadcasting Group invading my local news is a depressing development and another sad step away from free speech. When will our politics, which has moved so far to the right, make a move back towards the center or to the left? That is difficult to predict. It could take many years to change US policy now that we have let Conservatives take over our politics, and have allowed them to be so invasive in our media dialogue and government. Will we lose our free speech rights? Will we become afraid to speak out if we disagree with laws or approaches to future crises that are sure to arise? Government-approved media could happen here. There is, as they say, “a slippery slope.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/07/how_boris_epshteyn_and_sinclair_bring_trump_propaganda_to_local_news.html

http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2017/07/john_oliver_sinclair_broadcast_group_cny_central_syracuse.html

http://www.syracuse.com/business-news/index.ssf/2017/05/sinclair_broadcast_group_tribune_media_fox.html

http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/11/syracuse_tv_stations_sold_ownership_sinclair_broadcast_group.html

Media/Experts on Tax Reform

Aspects of Tax Reform: What Media/Experts Say

Republicans promised tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations and Trump promised tax cuts for all. Although there is more negotiation occurring around the issues of tax reform, whose tax cuts will prevail has yet to be determined. Just recently Bannon almost convinced Trump to raise taxes on the wealthy but the Republicans were horrified and quickly said that Trump did not really intend to do any such thing. Both the GOP and Mr. Trump would like to do tax reform and to make filing simpler by ending some tax loopholes and tax breaks but leaving the ones that benefit the wealthy the most. Their slogan is “lower the rates, broaden the base, which means cut tax rates, but also eliminate loopholes that shield some income from being taxed altogether.”

Republicans have also been fierce about requiring “pay-fors”. If you make cuts you need a way to increase revenue to avoid raising our deficits or debt. But recently they are beginning to let go of some of the principles that were deemed most important to Republican tax reform/tax cuts including finding revenue to pay for cuts.

Deficit Neutral/ Raise Economic Growth Rate

“The White House has argued that tax cuts would spur economic growth, which would boost revenue and pay for cuts; economists on the right and left overwhelmingly reject that claim.”

“The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the questions, says the NY Times, will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. After years of fiscal hawkishness, conservatives now face a moment of truth about whether they truly believe America’s economy is drowning in debt.”

From the same article we are told: “It seems the administration is using economic growth like magic beans: the cheap solution to all our problems,”…Mr. Trump’s plan could reduce federal tax revenue by $3 trillion to $7 trillion over a decade. The economy would need to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent – more than double its projected rate, an unlikely prospect – to make the plan self-financing.” (Says Maya MacGuineas, president of Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.)

“This is fool’s gold that you’ll cut taxes, everybody will work harder, more money will come and you’ll erase the fiscal impact,” said Steve Bell, who was a Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee from 1981-1986. “It never happens.”

Doug Elmendorf, former Congressional Budget Office director, says, in the Washington Post article, pushing back on the Trump administration’s claim that this or any other tax cut will raise the growth rate by half (from 2 percent to 3 percent) says “The evidence shows clearly that no feasible tax reform in this country will raise economic growth to 3 percent on a sustained basis given our current demographics”

In this same article from the Washington Post by Jared Bernstein, Bernstein goes on to say that the slowing of our labor force “is largely a function of our aging demographics…Aging demographics not only have negative growth implications but also mean we’re going to need more, not less, revenue in the future.”

While Steven Mnuchin claimed that we got a new President because the old one could not get us to 3% growth (I’m paraphrasing), Bernstein says, “First, the president doesn’t set the growth rate. Not even the Federal Reserve does that, though that would be a bit closer to reality.” Then he gets a bit snide (and I don’t mind). He says, “Yes, when the stars align, policy can add or subtract from growth. Countercyclical government spending in recessions or investments in physical (infrastructure) or human capital (education) can boost growth. Conversely, austerity measures and disinvestment in public goods can harm growth. But we’re talking basis points (hundredths of a percent), not percentage points.”

Bernstein goes on to cite the comments of Neil Irwin in The Upshot. “It is striking how many (items in the tax plan)…affect the president and his family. He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on ‘pass-through’ companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free.” (Since both Trump and the Republicans plan to end the death tax.)

The Border Tax Adjustment

One way this administration hoped to make this tax plan revenue neutral and have cuts equal revenues was to place a tax on imports coming over our borders but not on exports crossing the other way. But, according to another article, this time in the NY Times “the idea drew the ire of retailers, energy companies, and the billionaire Koch brothers, who invested heavily to undermine it…To the glee of the border tax skeptics, on Thursday the provision officially died.

Full Expensing

“Full expensing means allowing companies to deduct all new investments from their taxable income in the year they are made. Under the current code, companies must depreciate investments over a course of years, according to a complicated schedule” says Joseph Lawler in the Washington Examiner on July 29, 2017.

Although the Ways and Means Committee says that this is still a goal, Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity said “his group would be advocating rate cuts, as opposed to full expensing, both of which cost revenue. We do think full expensing is not the right way to go, as it chooses a certain kind of economic activity to reward. Start-ups and established companies make differing levels of new investments.”

So although full expensing would simplify the tax code it has enough push-back that it is unlikely to be included in the final plan.

Permanent v. Temporary Change to the Tax Code/Reconciliation

Ryan wished to make these changes to the Tax Code permanent “so that businesses can plan along 10 to 20 year timelines” says the article in the Washington Examiner.

The article goes on to say, “Using the legislative process known as reconciliation Republicans can pass a tax bill without the Democrats. But under the procedure a permanent change to taxes could not add to long term deficits. Some Republicans would rather cut taxes deeply, even if that meant that the changes to the code would have to be temporary.”

Since it looks like there is no way to make the tax plan deficit neutral or to pass the bill without using reconciliation permanent change is unlikely to be doable at this time.

Conclusions: For Now

Even with all the lost aspects of the tax reform plan, the last statements on the subject made by Ryan and Pence before the August break pleased some Conservatives:

“…Ryan pledged to take on ‘defenders of the status quo’- and then proceeded to defend many of the status quo’s worst aspects. He pledged to get rid of ‘special interest carve-outs’ except for those that ‘make the most sense’ – such as the deduction for mortgage interest. Actually this distortion of the real estate market says the Editorial Board of the Washington Post, is one of the tax code’s least sensible features, but it is politically sacrosanct due to the power of the real estate lobby. The only major individual tax break Mr. Ryan seemed to leave on the chopping block was the deduction for state and local taxes, which disproportionately favors states that send Democrats to Congress. Any GOP tax plan would eliminate the estate tax, Mr. Ryan insisted – thus entrenching the concentration of wealth in the United States.”

The editorial board goes on to say, “Mr. Ryan … alluded to the need for ‘tax cuts’. That made the week’s GOP messaging unanimous and reinforced suspicions that, for all their talk of reform, slashing taxes, mainly for the wealthy and corporations is the one policy that Republicans agree on and therefore the only policy they are actually going to enact.”

“This is a thing of beauty, a thing of wonder,” Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, said of Mr. Trump’s one page plan, ‘Growth, growth, growth!” (But the more satisfied Grover Norquist is with a tax plan the less likely I am to think that such a plan will benefit “we the people”.)

Now that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act did not pass (I’m being kind for ego’s sake) Congress may have to revisit health care if 45 makes them. Since neither the Trump tax plan nor the Ryan tax plan is deficit neutral it cannot hope to pass until there is a budget. So the new order of operations is. Health Care first (maybe). Then the debt ceiling needs to be raised and then the budget must be passed before Congress can tackle the tax plan. At least that is what one source is saying at the moment. This year could be a long slog for Congress, for “we the people” and for the resistance.

Tax Reform Article 1: http://thearmchairobserver.com/tax-reformtax-cuts-trump-plan-republican-plan/

Tax Reform Article 2: http://thearmchairobserver.com/tax-plans-talk-budgets/

Tax Plans and Talk of Budgets

It is fairly easy to research the details of the various tax plans (although, as far as I know, the Democrats don’t have one or need one right now as things stand). The facts of a tax plan are always a bit slippery of course, because they keep changing until the moment a final plan is passed.

But after you have the facts it is often a matter of conjecture to figure out what a tax plan will mean for the American economy. Experts look at past practice and make predictions about the future. When Congress wants to make fairly drastic changes to the federal budget and change the tax structures at the same time, predicting economic effects becomes far more problematic.

There is the matter of whether cutting taxes on the wealthy helps the economy or not. Republicans collect “facts” to prove that it has helped our economy in the past. Democrats collect “facts which show no statistically significant effects from “trickle-down” because “trickle-down” never actually happens.

Then there is the matter of cutting the corporate tax rate. Republicans say that corporations will come back to America. And if they can’t get the plants back they can make it more attractive for corporations to keep their profits in the US. Democrats say that the factories/corporations may return but they are likely to use higher levels of technology and robotics and will not need as many workers. Republicans bet on rebooting the peak times of the Industrial Age in America. This is why people say Republicans look backwards (they are reactionary), while Democrats look ahead (they are progressive).

I assume if there are both tax cuts and tax reforms the budget will have to take some hits. I suspect that our safety net benefits will be targets since that is what the GOP has been wanting for almost a decade. Trump has a budget plan and Paul Ryan has been ready with a budget plan, probably since those “kegger” college days. Trump’s budget plan is relatively brief- not at all a line-item budget. The House plan has 454 pages and gives us plenty of numbers, and cruel cuts, and lots of charts and graphs to justify the meanness. I will look at budget next.

However weak Trump is as a President, however focused on his own ego and his own needs, he is managing to fulfill some of the fondest dreams of the Koch brothers and the Conservatives in the GOP.

He has appointed exactly the right people to his cabinet to hollow out government agencies and produce that limited federal government conservatives have long desired. Look at any agency you choose – Education where Betsy DeVos is hard at work downsizing federal involvement in education. Look at the State Department and our embassies around the world where empty offices are turning the whole business of diplomacy into some other mission altogether – a mission only comprehended by Rex Tillerson (maybe). We have Pruitt in the EPA overturning environmental protections and eventually making his department unnecessary. Every department is shrinking, thus shrinking government. What may not shrink is the White House. Trump may have to build himself a palace like the one those Saudis have.

Shrinking departments, shrinking involvement out in the world, will certainly help shrink the budget and perhaps it will shrink enough to save our safety net, but at the terrible cost of isolating ourselves from everyone and destroying the diversity which brings new genes and new cultural threads that would help us avoid stagnation. Obviously using ideology to design tax plans and budgets can have some profound effects on America and not all of them will be economic, or positive.

Tax Reform/Tax Cuts – Trump Plan, Republican Plan

The next items up on the Congressional agenda are Taxes and the Budget, including raising the debt ceiling (or shutting down the government). Trump has a tax plan that is very light on details and the Republicans have their own tax plan. There are two issues in play here. One is tax reform, which means revising the tax code. The other is tax increases or cuts.

Since Mitch McConnell says that he intends to do tax reform/cuts without any Democrats being involved, all of the negotiations are between the White House and the Congress on these issues. Democrats say that if the Republicans plan to cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans then they cannot be involved in such a plan and will continue to resist. As I understand things, Democrats might, if asked, like to have input into tax reform.

So what is in the 4 page plan from 45 with the heading TRUMP and the subheading TAX REFORM THAT WILL MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN? Trump says he wants to

  1. Offer tax relief for middle class America – keep more money in their pockets and increase after-tax wages
  2. Simplify the tax code – easier to prepare taxes, everyone keep more money
  3. Grow American economy – discourage corporate inversions (corporations that merge with foreign firms to access a lower tax rate abroad), add a large (whoops, make that huge) number of jobs, make America globally competitive again
  4. Doesn’t add to our debt and deficit (the President obviously is unaware of parallelism as an element of written style). (It is also unclear how his tax reforms/cuts could accomplish these goals.

He says that he can achieve these goals by exempting single people who make less than $25,000 and married couples making less than $50,000 from paying any Federal income taxes.

All Americans will fall in four simple tax brackets (0%, 10%, 20% and 25%).

Marriage penalty is eliminated.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) also eliminated.

No business will pay more than 15% of their income in taxes (which will make corporate inversions unnecessary).

No death tax for anyone.

Trump says he will make this revenue neutral by:

  1. Eliminating or reducing most deductions and loopholes for the wealthy
  2. One time repatriation of corporate cash held overseas at 10% – then an end to deferral of income earned abroad
  3. Reducing or eliminating corporate loopholes that benefit special interests, along with a reasonable cap on deductibility of business interest expenses

Here’s the tax table Trump includes in his document:

https://assets.donaldjtrump.com/trump-tax-reform.pdf

 

Here’s the tax table from 2016 from a Google image search:

Here are the projected financial impacts on various taxpayers from a Google image search:

Tax Rates in Republican tax plan:

This chart is from a Google Image Search but you can find much more information about the Republican plan at

https://files.taxfoundation.org/legacy/docs/TaxFoundation_FF516.pdf

I am no economist and taxes are definitely not an area where I feel that I have any expertise but I am an American citizen and as such I know that I need to understand this to the best of my abilities. I am not doing any in-depth critiquing in this article. I am just trying to pin down the details. I will try to seek out the experts eventually. But I do agree with the Democrats that if the goal of a plan is only to cut taxes on the wealthy and the corporations it will be difficult to back such a plan. Such a plan relies on “trickle-down”, which Republicans still try to force on America, despite data that proves there is no actual “trickle-down” effect from tax cuts on the rich. I think the other thing we have to watch out for is the cuts that Republicans will suggest for the budget in order to counteract the smaller revenue stream from cutting taxes. I plan to look over the budget plans of Trump and the Republicans in the near future.

I also believe that any tax plan and/or budget that makes Grover Norquist happy is a plan we should examine very carefully and probably oppose. (He is the head of the Americans for Tax Reform group that strong-armed Republican lawmakers into signing a pledge to never raise taxes – a pledge that led to lots of Republican drama in the Obama administration and a government shut-down.)

Then when the Koch Brothers also seem happy about these tax plans I assume that “we the people” will not be best pleased by any plan that passes muster with these two either.

Trump shocked these men, who are not part of our government and who should have only the one vote we all have, when he said recently, “The truth is the people I care most about are the middle-income people in this country who have gotten screwed. And if there’s upward revision, it’s going to be on high-income people.”

This statement does not match his tax plan says the NY Times. “Grover Norquist, the founder of the anti-tax organization Americans for Tax Reform, said he was certain that Mr. Trump understood that raising taxes on the rich would be bad for economic growth. He thinks Mr. Trump did not mean what he said.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/26/us/politics/taxes-republicans-congress-trump.html

A follow-up article on the next day in entitled “White House and GOP Leaders Reach Deal on Principles of Tax Overhaul” and contains more commentary on the Republican plan and what the Dems are saying.

“Mr. Ryan and Mr. Brady were both dismissive of Mr. Trump’s recent suggestion that perhaps the rich should see their tax rates increase to offer more relief to the middle class.”

“’The engagement and enthusiasm for pro-growth tax reform from Trump administration officials and congressional lawmakers is what will propel this over the finish line,’ said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

However we are told that “Democrats scoffed at the latest Republican outline as another vague set of ideas that would benefit the rich. ‘Republicans are dripping tax ideas out like a leaky faucet with no specifics to back them up,’ said Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.”

The article also gives details that suggest that Republicans have no intention of working with Democrats in this matter.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/us/politics/trump-taxes-congress-republicans.html

Yikes! Brain pain. What are your thoughts on tax reform/tax cuts?