Saturday, December 30, 2017

Paul Ryan should be feeling good; seniors, those over 50, and the vulnerable should not

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, January 3, 2018

.”Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader,  must be feeling good: .His life long quest to become the iimplementor of the Ayn Rand school of political/economic philosophy is half way done with the passage of the tax reduction bill. For his next act he wants is to cut “entitlements”, the social safety net,  Medicare and Medicaid.

The  unpopular tax cut legislation passed and signed by President Trump in December  lopsidedly benefitted the rich and left the middle class with some small change and  with  future generations  paying the interest to bond  holders of  trillion more debt  the “reform” caused. While both houses of Congress are still in the hands of a compliant GOP, Ryan is going to make hay while his sun shines before the 2018 Congressional elections in November, where the House and possibly even the Senate GOP majority is at risk. In so doing, he is  also handing Democrats an issue which will only help them to appeal to usually GOP stalwarts, seniors and about to be seniors.

Ryan’s motivations have been attributed to his  long time love affair with Ayn Rand, a writer of a  1957 seminal book beloved by many a conservative,” Atlas Shrugged.”  Rand, a Russian immigrant, railed against Communist collectivism, and  believed the way for governmental fiscal well-being was based on laissez faire capitalism and  tax policy that feeds the rich, but not the poor. While Catholic Ryan had rejected Rand’s aetheism, he shrugged his shoulders when a 2012 budget he had proposed cut the social safety net to the poor so drastically, the Catholic Bishops wrote …' deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people. (and his budget) ...fails this basic moral test.'” In 2014 he proposed even more dire cuts to the safety net..

However, instead of invoking the Rand philosophy as a reason to cut the safety net and retirees’ benefits, his rationale  now  is that the deficit (he helped enhance) is too  large. On December 6, on a radio talk show he is setting his sights on welfare and seniors and those about to be seniors.  “We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,.. Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements “ Already the Children’s Health program has left 9 million kids in jeopardy of losing their insurance because  its renewal is still on the GOP chopping block. The tax reduction legislation he helped engineered could trgger $25 billion from Medicare next year.  Over ten years, thirteen million under retirement age  ($4 million next year) will find health insurance unaffordable.

My conservative friends love Ryan’s approach to cutting welfare. In their mythological world, “ those welfare queens are robbing good American taxpayers and ought to get a job. “ We already had welfare reform in the Bill Clinton era that addressed that “get a job”  issue. .. Who is left getting most of “welfare” now? Kids.   Put them to work ?  Here are some statistics for a reality check: Three-quarters of food stamp recipients are families with children. Of the nutrition programs for the poor (8.7 million recipients), 4.3 million are women with children, 2.2 million with infants. National school lunch programs: 30.5 million kids benefit. “  So what do you want to cut, Speaker Ryan?


A reprint of a 4/12/14 Muftic Forum Blog


When Rep. Paul Ryan first proposed weakening the social safety net in a budget proposal in 20,12    ,the Catholic Bishops called it “immoral”.  That was even before Pope Francis reset priorities of the Catholic Church to care about the poor. Ryan’s newest budget passed by the House this month (and DOA in the Senate), reduces food stamps by $125 billion  and restricts access of the near poor to health care by repealing Obamacare and reducing Medicaid.If his first proposal was immoral, the 2014 version  is beyond immoral. Who is speaking for the poor these days?,

 Not The GOP, many of whom oppose even raising the minimum wage, so low now even full time workers live in poverty. Not Republicans who support laws making  it harder for the poor without affordable  and easy access to drivers’ licenses and birth certificates or convenient voting hours to raise their voices .Not the GOP House members including the GOP Colorado Representatives who voted for Ryan budget this month, that would have  cut  food stamps while cutting  taxes for the rich.

Growing  up in Oklahoma in the 1950’s, I  heard many  rationalize opposing government assistance  by blaming  the poor themselves,  opining African Americans  were lazy or undeserving.. Racist attitudes coloring opposition to  welfare still linger into recent times  per  a study of  many public opinion polls reviewed by Arizona State University.

Pres. Johnson’s  War on Poverty  and civil rights legislation were  the reaction  to the injustice and  fueled by the long hot summer riots of the late 1960’s . America learned that the poor could get attention even if they did not have a political voice. But there were also abuses as some gamed the  new welfare system .

 Reality check: Welfare reform in the 1990’s  put more  to work. Those left receiving  food stamps now, per the US Department of Agriculture, are mostly kids  (47 percent are under age 18)and elderly (8%). . Three-quarters of food stamp recipients are families with children.    
 The charity community is  doing what they can , but sometimes the food bank cupboard is bare..Hunger plagues 1 out of 5 kids who do not know where the next meal is coming from and government through school lunch programs and food stamps make up part of the  difference.  

Many of the states with the largest number of poor have  state houses dominated by the GOP yet whose budgets are the most dependent on federal money for social programs. They have  the greatest need and the least will to provide .Leaving   states to use their own resources with federal block grants masking diminished federal contributions to Medicaid, as Ryan’s budget does, would  further divide this country  between the have  and  have nots..

Even the Democratic Party has  focused priorities  on issues supporting the middle class.
The voice of the poor was further overwhelmed by recent Supreme Court decisions that  gave corporations the same right as individuals to contribute political campaigns (Citizen's United), and a recent decision (McCutcheon v FEC) that made it much easier for the wealthy to  spread their  influence around.

So who is left as the strongest voice for the poor? Some in the  faith community and Pope Francis and God bless them.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

How Trump's love affair with Russia works against US interests

Putting Russia first is not the same as putting America first. Here is where Donald Trump's love affair with Russia hurt US national interests.Tump failed to 
activate Obama era plans to stop their cyberthreats..  In addition, while
Congress authorized further sanctions against Russia for interfering in the
2016 elections, Pres. Trump has failed to implement them.

Before departing office, Barack Obama ordered US spy agencies to plan operations to combat Russian cyberthreats, according to the The Washington Post.

What goes around, comes around. Trump lays groundwork for his future troubles

From the conservative media, who failed to mention that also reputedly Republican Presidential Candidate Marco Rubio first funded the
opposition research conducted by a very respected former English spy.…/conservative-website-funded-r…/ The project was then picked up by the Democrats So far, while not all parts of it
have been proved or disproved, most of it has that has been examined has proved to be true. Like everything, from this to Robert Mueller, when President Trump fears what will be exposed, he sets out to
kill the advance instead of refuting the substance of what is in it with his own set of facts. What he does with this is peak more curiosity of what is coming down the road that may
be damaging to him. Furthermore, to rally support he dredges up his favorite voodoo doll, Hillary, demands criminal investigation of a former opponent (great if you are a banana republic dictator seizing autocratic power.a favorite ploy, but  it has never done in American history). The precedent he has set may come back later to haunt him if he is out of office: the criminal investigations against him could also be continued then. What goes around, comes around.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Prediction: Impeachment will be the burning issue in the 2018 Congressional elections

Updated 12/22/17 

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News Dec 27, 2018

With  a President bent on self preservation in the face of impeachment threats, it is quite possible  that the 2018 Congressional elections will turn into a national referendum on the impeachment of President Trump. The  most serious issue on the table  will be whether President Trump   obstructed  justice or conspired  with Russians to throw the 2016 elections to defeat Hillary Clinton. So far evidence of such” misdeeds  and misdemeanors” have not touched  the President himself, but the investigation has not been completed.  Witnesses are still being interviewed and evidence  is still being collected.  It is even possible the Special Counsel led by Robert Mueller will exonerate him and his family members.

However, revealed last week  that there is  an attempt  by elements in the GOP  House meeting secretly  or by President himself to cripple the investigation by firing Mueller or disbanding the Special Counsel investigation, the ultimate  obstruction of justice. Suddenly in mid December the President and his media and Congressional loyalists  ramped up a “fire Mueller” campaign. It looks like they are expecting bad news from the Mueller investigation  and are making a pre-emptive strike to destroy credibility of any of the Special Counsel  findings.

What has changed from Trump’s confidence that he is clear of any  prosecution?  The person in the best position to know the inner workings of the Trump campaign, transition, and administration, former national security adviser Mike Flynn,  has begun singing like a canary to the Mueller investigators.

This past week  President Trump’s  media and Congressional cohorts launched a coordinated talking point effort to destroy the credibility and impartiality of Special Counsel Robert Mueller  and the FBI.  President Trump claimed the whole  FBI was “in tatters” and “corrupt”  because one FBI agent had texted scorn of him, even though Mueller removed that agent from the investigation last summer. He added this new line to his claim the Special Counsel was on a witch hunt and the investigation was a hoax. This  newest propaganda initiative by Trumpists appears to lay the groundwork to get public approval for  the firing of Mueller or President Trump’s  issuing pardons to any of his family or close friends who are in danger of prosecution .

The humor in the Trumpist charge that the Mueller investigation is " faux "so partisan motivated against Trump "is  in spite of  four indictments and two guilty pleas.  This is the same FBI whose director James Comey disclosed   publicly ten days before the  2016 election that Hillary Clinton’s emails were once again under investigation. while  every  FBI agent   involved was keeping it a dark secret that candidate Trump had been under FBI investigation for his Russian connections all along. Many blame the FBI for Clinton’s loss.

Voters are becoming aware  that it is  the House of Representatives  that initiates the  impeachment process,  an action that is much like an indictment. So long as the House  is in the hands of the GOP majority as is the Senate which needs a 2/3 vote to convict. the only way to break partisan resistance  is to elect enough Democrats to both the Senate and the House.. For that reason, my prediction is  the 2018 Congressional election cycle  mostly will be about whether voters think the President should or should not be impeached. Voters who are also unhappy with Trump's assault on health care affordability, the environment, race relations, civil rights, consumer financial protection, women's rights and respect, and even democracy itself, will join the impeachment movement in a unifying focus.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Unwrap President Trump's Christmas present and weep

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi News 12 20 2017

At last we get the “”giant, beautiful” Christmas present President Donald Trump promised.  Some tears will be for joy and others from dismay. The final version has emerged and as you read this, the President may have  already signed it.
The GOP is celebrating because they finally got one piece of major legislation passed and it brings into reality  many of the denizens of the swamp’s visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Everyone  else will be affected differently.   Some financial impacts will happen soon  than later.  
If you are already wealthy, an oil driller  in the Arctic wilderness , or  a real estate oligarch like the Trump family, your tears will be of joy. If you love the reduction in corporate taxes to 21%, do a happy dance. You still got your same corporate tax breaks plus repeal of the AMT tax  on top of it.  If your income is mostly from Wall Street, yahoo. That is where most of those corporate benefits will go because  there is no incentive in the legislation for  job creation or wage increases, or even to expand and build more plants. Corporations are already cash rich and already could have done it if they wanted to.
The dismaying damage to pocket books is done by the legislation’s hit on  health insurance. .Your take home check will look bigger beginning this  February due to increases in individual standard deductions and  in withholding due to  tax  reductions in lower brackets for 2018. On the other hand,  if you are lower middle class, 4 million in 2019 with a total reaching 13 million by 2027  will  not be able to afford or want to afford, or be required to carry health insurance.,.Those losing insurance should  be prepared to face  bankruptcy since they will now be billed for the full cost of services. including check ups,  ER visits, birth control pills. and cancer screenings and  treatments .just like the old days before Obamacare.  If your children's health care was covered by CHIP, dig into your own pockets. The program has not been renewed.  If you are rich or poor,  your health insurance premiums will increase by 10% than otherwise  in the coming years.thanks to the removal of the mandate for individuals to carry insurance.
Political fallout could dim the  GOP’s victory glow in 2018 and 2020.. Polls of public  approval  of the tax bills (Marist, CBS, Quinnipiac,Gallup)   earlier in December ranged from below 30% to 35%, split along party lines., but swing independents were even more negative.  Polls reflected a  perception of unfairness,  that the rich benefit more than the middle class, though most of the middle class with  exceptions in upper brackets  will  get some degree of temporary  tax reductions.The final version tinkered  with some  details,  but did  little  to change the math  facts that the rich and corporations still benefit the most. . In 2025   all of these tax breaks to individuals will go away. Tax reductions to  business and corporations are forever.
There are   many media takes on specific  winners and losers in this legislation. . The opinion  that counts is from the  non- partisan Congressional funded Congressional Budget Office  because  it is  more  often  relied upon  by those shaping  legislation,.   The clearest up to date analysis expressed in plain English  and CBO based   I found  was done by the Associated Press and published on Yahoo News.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Heads up, seniors and soon to be seniors. You are about to be screwed by the GOP

Newest polls...note especially the drop in support of seniors. "Trump also lost approval among older voters—47 percent of people age 50 and older supported the president in February, compared to 38 percent now—and among white evangelical Protestants, 61 percent of whom now support the president, down from 78 percent." Pew Poll. Rightly so
since Trump once claimed he would not touch Medicare and Social Security, but he has ignored the tax "reform" legislation, supporting whatever comes out of Congress . . Immediately, though, it cuts billions from Medicare.…/senate-tax-bill-change-federal-health… The House Majority Leader Paul Ryan is planning to propose cuts in 2018 to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. because their tax "reform" bill caused such an increase in debt.…/paul-ryan-aims-for-medicare-medica…/

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The GOP makes a Faustian bargain and sells its soul

Version of this published in the Sky Hi News December 13, 2017

Revised December 8, 2017
You may have heard the term , " a Faustian bargain". It means when someone sell one’s soul to the devil to get what they lust after.  The GOP sold its soul for tax reform, setting precedents for years to come. In  Alabama’s Senate race regardless if Judge Roy Moore wins or loses ( election results are unknown as this is being written), Faust’s bargain lives on. With their support of Moore and their tax reform bill, Donald Trump, the Republican National committee and almost all of the GOP lost any credibility as the guardian of fiscal responsibility and with caring about the safety and credibility of women in the workplace.

Why Faust? The greatest work in German literature, Faust, a play in prose and poetry, was authored  in the late 1700’ and revised through the early 1800’s by  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  He tackled a basic human dilemma,  a conflicted man  frustrated with failures in life
making a choice between doing what he knows is  moral or losing  out on other personal goals after which he lusted.  In Goethe’s play,  Faust   makes an arrangement with the devil: the devil will do everything that Faust wants while he is here on Earth, and in exchange Faust will serve the devil in Hell.  Faust , with help of the devil, pursued his seduction of his love, Margaret/Gretchen, who in turn killed her mother who opposed their affair . That tragedy is just for starters.  Faust's themes have resonated in opera and drama and have become an icon for the kind of dilemma humans have faced in life and in politics. It is that kind of Faustian bargain that will haunt the GOP for years.

The Republican National Committee  and Donald Trump reversed their  prior opposition to Moore. The RNC  put a million dollars into his campaign and  lost any holy than thou  moral authority in endorsing Judge Roy Moore in Alabama. Moore had been credibly accused of sexual violation of teenagers. Even the GOP Senatorial leadership caved, pontificating that it was up to the good people of Alabama, but, playing both sides, they would have an elected/seated Moore face their ethics committee, of course while or after the tax "reform" bill votes.  The exception: Colorado's Sen. Cory Gardner, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who said the NRSC would never support Moore .Gardner voted for the Senate tax "reform" bill version. Most of the GOP still gave the public  rationalization of the party’s continued support of Moore as his vote was needed on tax "reform". The "reform" bill is highly unpopular, polling with 35% approval.

The GOP has forever weakened their ability to use debt and deficits as an argument against supporting or expanding the social safety nets. They have forever wounded their reputation as budget/deficit hawks by approving a tax "reform" that would add one trillion dollars to the national debt. Nearly all independent experts agreed, including Congress' own experts.

Expect the GOP  to make the deficit hawk argument again when the service on the debt eats up so much of the federal budget, they have no choice but to cut medicare, medicaid, and social security and force it to be privatized or cut benefits, House Majority Leader Paul Ryan's goal all along.    Democrats will then be able to throw back in the GOP’s  face the GOP does not care about the debt so why should they?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Trump attorney claims Trump above the rule of law

"President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution's Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case," attorney John Dowd told  Axios."

Of course, this was Trump's attorney speaking, not the president himself. Besides, Trump not only expressed his opinion, he fired Comey, later stating he had the Russian probe on his mind at the time. Trump's recent tweet, allegedly written by his attorney, he fired Flynn because he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI has become another possible indication of his intent to obstruct justice since he knew Flynn had committed a crime of lying to the FBI and asked Comey to go easy on him.
Nonetheless, Dowd's comments  reminds me of Richard Nixon's famous 1977 interview with David Frost in the midst of Watergate, the last time a President overtly claimed his actions were above the law. ".when the president does it, that means it's not illegal". The issue over turning over the tapes that would incriminate him went to the US Supreme Court, which ruled that Nixon's privileges did not extend to this issue. The situation is different here, but if Watergate set the precedence was that Nixon was not above the rule of law.
Nixon's lawyers argued that this was a dispute between   parts of the executive branch over which he had control.  That did not fly.  The Court ruled that while the president had many powers, he could not claim that when other parts of the Constitution were involved, such as the right to a speedy trial. The facts are difference in Trump's case, but the principles are similar.  We do have a different balance in the Supreme Court, too,  with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch. It tilts right. If this ever ends up in the Supreme Court, who knows. Obstruction of justice was the prime charge  that resulted in the Watergate impeachment action.The same defense approach was tried by Bill Clinton in his House impeachment trial, and it, too, failed, though he was acquitted by the Senate for other reasons..

 More than likely, with the House in the hand of the GOP, and the House has to initiate the impeachment process, nothing will happen.  However, this could be the chief Democratic attack in 2018 that could result in a change in House leadership and a Democratic majority.  Aside from the pain certain constituents will feel due to the "tax reform" bill or the failure of "trickle down", I can see Democrats arguing if you want Trump impeached, vote for the Democrat standing for Congress and/or if you want to check the failed absolute rule of the GOP of all branches of government, vote Democratic.  All House seats are up for election in 2018 and there is a numerical chance the House could flip.  That chance does not exist for the Senate in 2018, because only one/third of seats, mostly Democratic, are up for grabs. However, 2020 could see a backlash in both the Senate and White House.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Fallout from Senate GOP tax plan likely if Conference committee changes little

The fallout from Senate GOP tax reform if included in the bill's final form: for the middle class
One half of Americans will received a tax increase in 2025, cuts are only temporary. Groundwork has been laid for cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
Per Forbes: "Ah...that middle class...the very group of taxpayers for whom this plan was designed, according to those who built it. While the majority of middle-income taxpayers will enjoy a tax cut right away, some won't be so lucky, with the Tax Policy Center estimating that 15% - 20% of those earning between $86,000 and $300,000 will experience an immediate tax increase, resulting from the confluence of lost itemized deductions, eliminated personal exemptions, and slower indexing of the individual tax brackets."
By the time the budget gimmicks prevalent throughout the plan run their course in 2027, however, things are much different for the middle class. If the individual cuts are not extended at the end of 2025, the middle class will not only be left with nothing by 2027, nearly 60% of those earning between $86,00 and $300,000 will pay more than if these cuts were never enacted. Oddly enough, even IF the individual cuts expire, by virtue of the steep corporate cuts, the richest 1% do just fine, with only 16% experiencing an increase relative to current law."