Author Archives: Stephen

Trump’s Five Craziest Arguments About the Shutdown

Published / by Stephen

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Oh, and about that wall. Here’s a financing plan that’s a win-win.

Brought to you by Nicholas Kristof

The Cats Are Going To Pay For It?

Published / by Stephen

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Thanks to Me Me:

Trump’s Understanding of Tax & Tarrif Policy

Published / by Stephen

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A Krugman Lesson on Tax Policy

Krugman on what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knows about tax policy? (a lot) versus what Trump knows? (not much)

A Comment on Trump’s Twisted Tariff Logic

Trump claims Chinese tariffs have brought in millions. Wrong. A tariff on imports is a Tax. The Tax is paid by companies importing Chinese products. These taxes are at least partially passed to consumers of the products. If it looks like a duck, swims a duck, and quacks like a duck it probably is a duck.

Trump Isn’t The Only Problem – Part 4

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More from Robert Reich:

Why We Must Get Big Money Out of Politics

The most important thing we must do to save our democracy is get big money out of politics. It’s a prerequisite to accomplishing everything else.

Today, big money continues to corrupt American politics – creating a vicious cycle that funnels more wealth and power to those at the top and eroding our democracy.

In the 2018 midterm elections, wealthy donors and Super-PACs poured millions into the campaigns of the same lawmakers who voted to pass the 2017 tax cuts, which gave them huge windfalls.

Consider conservative donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, whose casino business received an estimated $700 million windfall, thanks to Trump and Republicans’ tax cuts. The couple then used some of this extra cash to plow more than $113 million dollars into the 2018 election, breaking the record for political contributions by a single household.

That’s not a bad return on investment – for them.

All told, almost 40 percent of total contributions in the 2018 midterms came from people who donated $10,000 or more. Yet these mega-donors comprise a tiny 0.01 percent of the U.S. population.

Read on

Fences & Neighbors: A Blast From The Past

Published / by Stephen

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Robert Reich wrote this for the November 30, 1998 issue of the New Yorker magazine. He posted it to his blog today. It could not be more time appropriate.

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

It used to be that people who owned a lot of things could protect themselves and their things by erecting sturdy houses and, if necessary, putting a lock on the door. Today, it seems, that’s not enough. It’s estimated that three million American households live within gated communities – twenty thousand of them, often equipped with private security guards and electronic surveillance systems. Some years ago, the town of Rosemont, Illinois, erected a beige wrought-iron fence. Rosemont is a suburb of Chicago, with a population of four thousand, and it has one of the largest auxiliary police forces in the United States.

A wall is being erected around the nation, too – an outer perimeter, separating the United States from the Third World. So far, our national wall extends along only sixty-four miles of the nearly two-thousand-mile border with Mexico, but Congress has appropriated funds for lengthening it and also fortifying it.

The urge to erect walls seems to be growing, just as disparities in wealth are widening. Many of the Americans who reside within gates like Rosemont’s have become substantially wealthier during the past several years, whereas a great many Americans who live outside the gates have not. (One man, appropriately named Bill Gates, has a net worth roughly equaling the combined net worth of the least wealthy forty percent of American households.)

On a much larger scale, inhabitants of the planet who reside at latitudes north of the national wall are diverging economically from those who live south of it. The consequence is that at both perimeters – the town wall and the national wall – outsiders are more desperate to get in and insiders are more determined to keep them out. Yet the inconvenient fact is that increasingly, in the modern world, the value of what the insiders own and of the work they do depends on what occurs outside.

Half a world away from Rosemont are places whose currencies, denominated in bahts, ringgits, rupiahs, and won, began toppling more than a year ago, and seem to have come to rest only in the last several weeks at levels far below where they started. This has caused most of these countries’ citizens to become far poorer. An Indonesian who had worked for the equivalent of three dollars and thirty-three cents a day before the rupiah’s decent is now working for about one dollar and twelve cents. Efforts by the International Monetary Fund to build back the “confidence” of global investors in these nations by conditioning loans on the nation’s willingness to raise interest rates and cut their public spending have had the unfortunate side effect of propelling more of their citizens into ever more desperate poverty. After the tremors spread to Russia last summer, and it defaulted on its short-term loans, the worldwide anxiety grew, spreading all the way to Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America, with the widest gap between rich and poor. In return for its promise of austerity, Brazil is now set to receive an international line of credit totaling forty-one and a half billion dollars, designed to convince global investors that its currency will not lose its value, and that, therefore, there is no reason for them to take their money and run.

All this commotion has also diminished the economic security of quite a number of people who thought of themselves as safely walled in. …. Recent government data show that in the third quarter of 1998 the profits and investments of Americans companies shrank for the first time since the recession year of 1991. This is largely because their exports to Asia and Latin America have continued to drop, while cheap imports from these regions are undercutting their sales in the United States. In consequence, they have been laying off American workers at a higher pace, and creating new jobs at a slower pace, than at any time in recent years.

We do not know how many residents of Rosemont will lose their jobs or the value of their stock portfolios because of the continuing global crisis. No burglars will climb over the steel barrier now walling off the United States and then scale Rosemont’s beige wrought-iron fence, but some residents of Rosemont will lose a bundle nonetheless.

The major risks of modern live now move through or over walls, sometimes electronically, as with global investments, but occasionally by other means. A lethal influenza virus originating among a few Hong Kong chickens could find its way to Rosemont via a globe-trotting business executive. Drugs are flowing across the border as well, not because the walls are insufficiently think but because the people behind them are eager to buy. Something these is in capitalism that doesn’t love a wall.

So why do we feverishly build more walls when they offer us less and less protection? Perhaps it is because we feel so unprotected of late. Amid all the blather about taking more personal responsibility for this or that, there is a growing fear that random and terrible things can happen to us. Solid walls at least create the illusion of control over what we call our own, and control is something we seem to need more of these days, when almost anyone can be clobbered by a falling baht.

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Trump Tax Cut – Wrong!

Published / by Stephen

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You want to know how wrong the Trump tax cut is? Read this, written by someone with the economic chops to know.

NYTimes.com: The Trump Tax Cut: Even Worse Than You’ve Heard

Climate Change – “The Science Is Settled”

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A global heat wave. Extreme rainstorms. Severe droughts. Rapidly intensifying Gulf Coast storms. The deadliest wildfire in California history. And a presidential administration that’s trying to make the problem worse. David Leanhardt,  NYT’s Op-Ed Columnist

Climate change gets a network’s spotlight

“NBC devoted the full hour of December 30 “Meet the Press” to climate change, featuring an interview with Michael Bloomberg vowing to elevate its role in the White House race.”

“We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.”

— Chuck Todd at the open of today’s show

“Bloomberg said he’ll work to ensure that 2020 Democratic presidential candidates offer strong proposals on climate.”

“I don’t know whether I’m going to run or not, but I will be out there demanding that anybody that’s running has a plan. And I want to hear the plan, and I want everybody to look at it and say whether it’s doable.”
— Bloomberg on “Meet the Press”

To Preserve Democracy – America’s New Year’s Resolution

Published / by Stephen

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America’s New Year’s Resolution: Remove Trump

After his first bizarre year, his apologists told us he was growing into the job and that in his second year he’d be more restrained and respectful of democratic institutions.

Wrong. He’s been worse

Republican members of Congress must join with Democrats to get this task done as quickly as possible. Nothing is more urgent. It must be, in effect, America’s New Year’s resolution

Read on for why …

Trump Isn’t The Only Problem – Part 3

Published / by Stephen

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While much of the country was focused on Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the presidential election two years ago, Republicans in North Carolina were attempting a brazen power grab. After their nominee — the sitting governor — lost re-election in November 2016, Republicans in the state decided to weaken the governor’s office. The state legislature passed two bills stripping the governor of some powers, and the outgoing governor, Pat McCrory, signed them.

eeIn doing so, McCrory and his allies rejected the peaceful transfer of power that is essential to democracy. They instead chose the peaceful transfer of some power.

In 2018, it became clear that this problem extended beyond North Carolina. Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan followed the same strategy. Perhaps the most chilling aspect is that Trump had nothing to do with these power grabs. Most of the leadership of the Republican Party in each state decided that their overriding goal was partisan power.

Click the link above to read the article

Trump Isn’t The Only Prolem – Part 2

Published / by Stephen

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Trump isn’t the problem. In fact he might be the wake-up call. At least that is what Paul Krugman argues:

THE G.O.P. GOES FULL AUTHORITARIAN Only Trump’s flamboyant awfulness stands in the way of his party’s power grab.

The full Krugman post follows:

Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

Yet those forces may prevail all the same.

If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street.

What we’ve seen instead are coups of a subtler form: takeovers or intimidation of the news media, rigged elections that disenfranchise opposing voters, new rules of the game that give the ruling party overwhelming control even if it loses the popular vote, corrupted courts.

The classic example is Hungary, where Fidesz, the white nationalist governing party, has effectively taken over the bulk of the media; destroyed the independence of the judiciary; rigged voting to enfranchise supporters and disenfranchise opponents; gerrymandered electoral districts in its favor; and altered the rules so that a minority in the popular vote translates into a supermajority in the legislature.

Does a lot of this sound familiar? It should. You see, Republicans have been adopting similar tactics — not at the federal level (yet), but in states they control.

As Levitsky and Ziblatt say, the states, which Justice Louis Brandeis famously pronounced the laboratories of democracy, “are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose.”

Thus, voter purges and deliberate restriction of minority access to the polls have become standard practice in much of America. Would Brian Kemp, the governor-elect of Georgia — who oversaw his own election as secretary of state — have won without these tactics? Almost certainly not.

And the G.O.P. has engaged in extreme gerrymandering. Some people have been reassured by the fact that the Democratic landslide in the popular vote for the House did, in fact, translate into a comparable majority in seats held. But you get a lot less reassured if you look at what happened at the state level, where votes often weren’t reflected in terms of control of state legislatures.

Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Wisconsin.

There has been a fair amount of reporting on the power grab currently underway in Madison. Having lost every statewide office in Wisconsin last month, Republicans are using the lame-duck legislative session to drastically curtail these offices’ power, effectively keeping rule over the state in the hands of the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature.

What has gotten less emphasis is the fact that G.O.P. legislative control is also undemocratic. Last month Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the votes in State Assembly elections — but they ended up with only 37 percent of the seats.

In other words, Wisconsin is turning into Hungary on the Great Lakes, a state that may hold elections, but where elections don’t matter, because the ruling party retains control no matter what voters do.

And here’s the thing: As far as I can tell, not a single prominent Republican in Washington has condemned the power grab in Wisconsin, the similar grab in Michigan, or even what looks like outright electoral fraud in North Carolina. Elected Republicans don’t just increasingly share the values of white nationalist parties like Fidesz or Poland’s Law and Justice; they also share those parties’ contempt for democracy. The G.O.P. is an authoritarian party in waiting.

Which is why we should be grateful for Trump. If he weren’t so flamboyantly awful, Democrats might have won the House popular vote by only 4 or 5 points, not 8.6 points. And in that case, Republicans might have maintained control — and we’d be well along the path to permanent one-party rule. Instead, we’re heading for a period of divided government, in which the opposition party has both the power to block legislation and, perhaps even more important, the ability to conduct investigations backed by subpoena power into Trump administration malfeasance.

But this may be no more than a respite. For whatever may happen to Donald Trump, his party has turned its back on democracy. And that should terrify you.

The fact is that the G.O.P., as currently constituted, is willing to do whatever it takes to seize and hold power. And as long as that remains true, and Republicans remain politically competitive, we will be one election away from losing democracy in America.