Thursday, December 21, 2017

Response to After The Victory

(See: Just Above Sunset: After The Victory)

You’d think it might have occurred to Democrats in the last month or so that repealing the individual mandate was tantamount to a "repeal-without-replace" of Obamacare.

And you’d think that they then might have sounded the alarm — not just to other Democrats, but also to moderate Republicans who might then notice the danger zone their party was walking into, and even Maine Senator Susan Collins, who could have helped spread the alarm further, since the danger of Americans losing health coverage seemed to be what had motivated her no-vote on Trumpcare.

I suspect the Democrats decided not to talk this up in the lead-up to the tax vote for much the same reason that Trump didn’t. Maybe Trump didn’t want to remind the Democrats to get up in arms, while maybe the Democrats didn’t want to remind conservative Republicans, in case they hadn’t noticed, that their chance to repeal Obamacare was just another good reason to vote for the tax bill.

I hate to admit this, but Trump is right. The Democrats blew it.

Yes, next year, we can use the fact that the Republicans repealed-without-replacing as talking points against them, but I see no guarantee that will get us much traction. I think the Democrats lost their chance to do some good, and got snookered by the kind of small-time pompous shithead mob godfather who demands his capos heap praise upon him in public.

I really don’t like criticizing my own party for not getting out in front of an issue, but that’s exactly what they didn’t do this time. We do need to work on that. Oh, well, spilt milk.

But meanwhile, there are two things I want to mention about what to expect from this tax bill, and then I’ll shut up for the rest of the day.


You could see this whole thing as a bait-and-switch, with the “bait” happening with just enough time before the 2018 elections to possibly effect them, and the “switch" happening so long afterward that everyone will be on to something else by then. It will be left to be handled by future generations of Republicans, who will probably explain it all away by blaming it on Democrats.

And they’ll probably get away with it, too, since remembering the truth doesn’t count for much in a world ruled by bullies, so I don’t advise assuming Republicans have filled out their own death certificate with passage of this tax bill.


When you think about whatever good effects Republicans are trying to get us all to expect from this bill, you have...

(1) “The tax cuts will improve the economy", and
(2) “The improvement of the economy will be enough for the tax cuts to, essentially, 'pay for themselves'”.

On the first, yes, we should expect some improvement in the GDP, since experience and models seem to show there usually is, but maybe not as much as conservatives think, because of this from a few days ago:
CEOs may like the idea of a big tax cut for businesses, but that doesn't mean they'll use the savings to create American jobs.

Just 14% of CEOs surveyed by Yale University said their companies plan to make large, immediate capital investments in the United States if the tax overhaul passes. Capital investments, like building plants and upgrading equipment, can lead to hiring. 

Only a slim majority of the CEOs, 55%, said the Republican tax package should be signed into law. The Yale CEO Summit surveyed 110 prominent business leaders of Fortune 500 and Fortune 50 companies last week.

The findings, along with other surveys, suggest that the tax plan may not have the dramatic impact on jobs that President Trump and Republicans in Congress have promised.
In other words, there is already evidence of this. The so-called “smart money” is already pretty sure of what’s going to happen:
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who leads the Yale CEO Summit, said in an interview that it's "astounding" how few companies plan to reinvest their tax savings.

He called the idea of a jobs boom from the tax plan "a lot of smoke and mirrors," especially because the unemployment rate is just 4.1% and companies already have plenty of cash to make investments. 

Sonnenfeld declined to name the CEOs who participated in the poll. He said it included "Trump supporters" and former members of the president's now-defunct advisory councils of business leaders.
Yes, Wall Street wants this bill, but maybe it’s not so much for the reasons that Trump says they do:
Wall Street expects companies will use a big chunk of the tax savings to reward shareholders with fatter dividends and stock buybacks, which makes stocks more attractive. That's one reason stocks have surged all year, putting the Dow in sight of 25,000. 
"Markets just love it," Michael Block, chief market strategist at Rhino Trading Partners, wrote in a note on Tuesday. He said it's "malarkey" to think that cutting corporate taxes will boost spending and wages. 
"As we've seen in history, this doesn't raise wages," he wrote. "What it does lead to is richer shareholders.”  
In 2004, when Congress offered tax breaks for companies to bring foreign profits back home, businesses used much of their cash on share buybacks.  
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities later concluded that the 2004 tax holiday "did not produce the promised economic benefits" because companies mostly bought back stock instead of investing to grow their businesses.
But onto number (2):

As we all know, maybe including most Republicans, while tax cuts may or may not boost growth, they never pay for themselves.

Still, the question is, do Republicans really care about whether tax revenues increase? In fact, have conservatives ever really cared about how much money government gets to do what it’s supposed to do?

Not noticeably.

If they did, they wouldn’t be constantly (and almost recklessly) looking for ways to cut taxes, even if doing so means cutting popular deductions. In fact, as far as Republicans are concerned, the less money government has, the better, since government seems to be always spending most of its money on doing things that only the Democrats want done anyway, such as "buying" the votes of "special interests" (such as poor people) with "giveaways".

Democrats, conservatives might argue — and they do! — are not really interested in helping the poor and the minorities who’s votes they court, they’re only interested in the power that comes from doing it. (Of course, Democrats don’t come across as “power hungry”, or not nearly much as the Republicans do, but that just goes to show how duplicitous those greedy bastards are.)

But, you may be asking, if Republicans don’t really care about government having revenue, shouldn’t they be worried about how to pay off the $1.5 trillion dollars they’re adding to the debt?

Okay, but hold the phone! We must not make the common mistake of conflating “budget deficit” with “national debt”, since “deficit" only becomes “debt” when and if you spend it!

In other words, expect some time in the future for Republicans to notice that we, for some reason nobody can explain, have this huge deficit that needs reducing! And what’s the best way to reduce a deficit — without, of course, raising taxes, which we’ve all decided should never be done?

You guessed it! We’ll need to cut spending!

And assuming you’re well off enough to have your own nest-egg and own health insurance — like any good American does, and should — then you probably won’t mind if we reduce the benefits of Social Security and Medicare (and not to forget, Medicaid, which only losers use anyway!), which is the largest chunk of change that the U.S. Government “wastes" every year.

We have to get used to the fact that, while for a very long time — probably dating back to the late 19th century as the United States became a global power — liberal assumptions about what this country represented prevailed in the country and throughout the world. America did believe in what Emma Lazarus wrote, that immigrants should be welcomed here because they helped make America great, just as former slaves deserved the same rights as the rest of us, and women deserved the right to vote. We saw to it that everyone had the same opportunity to strive and survive, no matter how poor, and we reached a landmark when we finally passed a national health program, to make sure that nobody, nor their children, suffered for not being able to see a doctor or go to a hospital.

That was then. All that liberal claptrap is now collapsing. Historians may someday look back and take note that Barrack Obama presided over the peak of America’s potential — it’s “spring of hope", in the words of Dickens, followed abruptly by its "winter of despair”.

You see where all this seems to be leading us?

If our answer to that was, “Yeah, somewhere out there in the Third World!”, then I think we may finally be coming to our senses.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Response to Not Quite Better Than Nothing

(See Just above Sunset/Not Quite Better Than Nothing)

I agree with Nancy LeTourneau and disagree with Kevin Drum, at least this once.

I think the Republicans are approaching everything they do these days like those football players when they try to explain themselves in those post-game press conferences — they have no idea what the big picture is, since they play just one game at a time. That way, even if they’re headed for the Super Bowl this year, next year they might end up totally out of the running based on things they’re doing now. But meanwhile, ignorance is bliss.

But what amazes me is how Trump’s base — which, let’s face it, is the new Republican base, whether Republicans are ready to admit it or not — goes along with all this! I don’t blame them for voting against their own self-interest. I do that, too, but in my case, the GOP tax bill, which probably will neither help nor hurt me, will (I think) probably hurt the U.S. economy, and at least hurt the middle class and the poor.

I’m pretty sure Trump’s base votes for him because they like his style, not because they believe he’ll get things done that they like. Sure, they’ve depended on Obamacare to stay alive, and sure, Trump is killing Obamacare, but they don’t seem to understand that he’s really doing that. They believe him when he says Obamacare’s failure is Obama’s fault, simply because they didn’t like Obama, and they do like Trump. Before they ever learn the truth — that Trump himself sabotaged Obamacare and blamed it on the Democrats, just as he said he would — it will be just someone else’s version of history that nobody really cares about.

And speaking of history, if you’re interested in where Republicans first came up with this “trickle-down” stuff, you should read this Isaac Martin article in the NY Times from a few days ago. You may have heard that Arthur Laffer invented the idea…
But the man who first put this strategy to work for rich people was Andrew Mellon, the millionaire who became secretary of the Treasury after World War I. Poor veterans of the war were clamoring for expensive public benefits. Rich men wanted their income taxes rolled back. 
Mellon squared the circle by inventing a supply-side argument: Cutting income tax rates would actually increase tax revenues. In particular, he said, cutting the top income tax rates would encourage rich people to pull their money out of tax shelters and invest in creating jobs… 
Instead of an economic model, he gave his readers a folksy anecdote about an overtaxed farmer. He also raised money for a grass-roots campaign to mobilize support for income tax cuts in parts of the country where almost no one was rich enough to benefit personally from those tax cuts. These activists did not have to win a majority of the public. They just had to win enough grass-roots support to intimidate members of Congress in a few key districts... 
Veterans of the campaign for the Mellon plan kept campaigning for income tax cuts through World War II. When runaway inflation put tax reform back on the agenda in the 1970s, conservative activists dusted off those old policy proposals. They copied the old tactics, too, including the recruitment of organizers to run grass-roots campaigns far outside Washington. These conservative activists picked up Mellon’s book and they copied Mellon’s argument: Tax cuts for the rich will pay for themselves with economic growth. 
Today’s Republican Party is the party that those activists made. Congressional Republicans who came up in the populist tax revolts of the 1970s abandoned the old party orthodoxy of balanced budgets and rebranded themselves as the tax-cutting party. They embraced the idea that deficits don’t matter as long as those deficits result from Republican tax cuts.
So did Mellon’s tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves? Here’s tax historian Joe Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts in WaPo:
Did the 1920s tax cuts bolster economic growth? Probably. Did that growth help defray the cost of the tax cuts? Probably. Did that growth cover the full cost of those tax cuts? No... 
Historically, tax cuts have tended to generate some economic growth that in turn helps cover part of the cost of the cut itself. But to my knowledge, no major tax cut has ever generated enough growth to pay for itself completely.
But what I’m really curious about is how much Republicans believe that a bill that cuts middle class taxes in the short run and helps rich people and corporations in the long run — especially one that seems to be tremendously unpopular with most Americans because of those things — will really help America in spite of its massive unpopularity. Yes, economists don’t like the bill, but economists are “experts", and in fact, it certainly doesn’t help that more of them are liberal than aren’t.

But I guess the idea is that, after we (Republicans) get past the vote and all this crap becomes law, the people will eventually learn that they (economists and citizens) were wrong and we (Republicans) were right, and that someday they’ll — what, maybe thank us? Maybe America will apologize to Trump and the Republican party for not believing in them?

I don’t really know what silliness is going on in their brains. Maybe somebody should ask them if they can explain what they're doing.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Response to Taking Things Too Far

(See: Just Above Sunset: Taking Things Too Far)

 We should all be thankful that America’s version of The Enlightenment didn’t mimic the French version, even their PRE "Reign-of-Terror” version, with committees of so-called “citizens” running the country instead of elected presidents and representatives — the “too MUCH democracy” that our founders wisely avoided — and not to forget the mob rule and terror that followed, and eventually, even an emperor, of all things!

But is it because we’re now living in our own bizarre "Reign-of-Trump", where mob-think seems to carry more weight than facts and reason and justice, that a whole bunch of senators can force a possibly-innocent senator to voluntarily put his head in the guillotine?

Yesterday, before his announcement, I was agnostic about whether Franken should resign, but afterward, I decided he should not have — not just on moral grounds but also political ones. (And wouldn’t it be nice if America got back to a time when the “moral” and the “political” shared the same grounds?)

In fact, even as Minnesota’s Democratic governor Mark Dayton expressed his "deepest regrets to the women, who have had to endure their unwanted experiences with Senator Franken” in his statement yesterday, he added this:
"Al Franken has been an outstanding Senator. He has been, as Senator Paul Wellstone used to say, ‘A Senator from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.’ He is very smart, very hard-working, and very committed to Minnesota.”
Let’s face it, whoever replaces Franken is unlikely to do as much for the Democratic national cause as Franken has proven he is capable of doing, and his staying, in the long run, will have done a lot more good for our side than whatever questionable short-term political advantage, if any, the party gets from his leaving.

So now I’m wondering if, in the next few days, when the time comes for governor Dayton to announce Al Franken’s replacement, how nice it might be if he announces that his choice is Al Franken.