Author: Nancy Liebrecht

Trump Family Values (The Grift is in)

Congress is working on tax cuts, the benefits of which will largely go to the very wealthy. Some small benefits may accrue to parts of the middle class, but these will be temporary, They will sunset in no more than ten years. Other middle-class folks may find that their taxes will increase.

In eighteenth-century England at the time of the Revolution, the upper class thought it was their due that the wealth of the nation should flow primarily to them. We now have a President and a wealthy Republican donor class that seems to hold similar values. Given the massive gift Congress is about to bestow on the Trump family and other billionaires, it is an opportune time to explore how the Trumps gained their wealth.

According to Trump family biographer Gwenda Blair, Friedrich Trump, the President’s grandfather, immigrated to the US in 1886 to avoid conscription into the Germany army. He bounced around New York a few years and then headed to the gold fields of Washington State and later the Klondike. In both places, he operated restaurants, hotels, and bordellos. He sold his establishment in the Klondike just before the Mounties rode in to close the place down. Now wealthy, he returned to Bavaria for a period and married. He lost his Bavarian citizenship for evading the draft and for not paying taxes. He was then forced to return to America. Settling in Queens, he began dabbling in real estate.

Fred Trump, Friedrich’s son, and the President’s father, became a builder and real estate developer as a young man. He was successful and attained great wealth during and immediately after the Second World War. During the war he built barracks and apartments for Navy personnel and after the war federally subsidized housing for returning veterans. In the early fifties he was investigated for war profiteering. He was accused of pocketing payments earmarked for architectural and contracting services and also pocketing the excess funds from overestimating construction costs. He slickly evaded culpability by saying that keeping these funds was not strictly illegal and it was necessary to get the work done fast.

Donald Trump’s ethically challenged business practices are too numerous to fully list here, but they include lying to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission to get his gaming licenses, being fined for money laundering at his casinos, bilking investors out of their life savings for condos that were never built, and promoting dubious schemes like Trump University. He has a decade’s long history of not paying subcontractors and suppliers, some of whom were forced into bankruptcy. Unable to get loans from most American banks after several bankruptcies, he turned to Putin-connected oligarchs for financing.

On October 4, 2017, the New Yorker published the results of its probe (done with Pro Publica and WNYC) into a criminal investigation of two Trump children. From 2010 to 2012 the Major Economic Crimes Bureau of the Manhattan DA’s office built a criminal fraud case against Ivanka and Donald Jr. There was evidence that the two had conspired to use false information to lure prospective buyers into purchasing condos in the Trump Soho South project. An indictment seemed likely when the case was inexplicably dropped after Marc Kasowitz, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, visited the DA, Cyrus Vance, Jr., and made a substantial contribution to Vance’s reelection campaign.

Grifting seems to be an inherited talent in the Trump clan, and now, the biggest scam of all is being foisted on the American people. This is the proposition that there is anything good for most Americans in the proposed Republican tax cut. Independent analyses concur that huge benefits will flow to the one-percent and that the federal deficit will explode.

This is all supposed to work out because corporations and the rich will use their windfall to reinvest in the economy and spur growth. It does not, however, take a degree in economics to know that this is blather. After the Reagan tax cuts, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing enterprises moved offshore, and the Bush tax cuts led to financial speculation and the Crash of 2008. Indeed, if the Reagan and Bush tax cuts had worked, there would be no need for Trump tax cuts. That is obvious common sense. So, why are the Republicans doing this? To paraphrase Senator Lindsey Graham, they need to deliver for their wealthy donors, and as for the Trump family, millions will flow into their pockets. The grift is in.

(Editor’s note: Image is from here, another great article on how Trump is destroying the presidency.)

HARVEY, IRMA, AND US

Prices at the gas stations along Stuart Drive in Galax have jumped considerably in the past couple of weeks, and thanks to the temporary shutdown of refineries in Texas, prices may go higher.  Hurricane Harvey knocked out 25% of the nation’s gasoline refining capacity and caused the spike.

Given the extraordinary impacts of Harvey and now Hurricane Irma, impacts that have affected us in Grayson County, one wonders if Morgan Griffith has changed his views on global warming or if he is still a member of that cabal in Congress subscribing to the prehistoric, anti-science view that human activity is not changing the world’s climate.  In other words, is he still dragging his knuckles on the ground.

Global warming did not cause Hurricane Harvey, but it did greatly exacerbate its effects.  Rising sea levels coupled with warmer air and ocean temperatures resulted in the unprecedented flooding in Houston and surrounding South Texas communities.  Warmer air holds more moisture and produces more rain, which in combination with increased flood hazard from rising sea levels, produced the catastrophic inundation portrayed on the news.  The storm also stalled over the Gulf Coast for days, which may have been a consequence of changing atmospheric and ocean circulatory patterns.  Instead of moving out after a few hours, Harvey continued to dump rain days after making landfall on August 24.  The effects of Hurricane Irma were less catastrophic than feared, but still devastating.  Irma was the biggest hurricane ever, and its impacts were felt across Florida.

When catastrophes like Harvey and Irma occur, our hearts go out to the people affected, but we also feel some guilty relief that this did not happen to us.  It would be foolish, however, to think that in a world with a rapidly changing climate, we in Southwest Virginia are insulated from a natural disaster on the scale of Harvey or Irma.  A devastating hurricane landing on the Virginia coast might knock out our power for a protracted time and produce destructive winds even this far inland.  Other climate disasters include prolonged drought, which may result in a greater chance of wildfires in our heavily wooded region.  We got a taste of that last summer when 40,000 acres burned just south of us in North Carolina.   The eastern white pine and Virginia pine in our woodlands would light up like torches in dry conditions.

Climate science is complex, and it is impossible to predict where and when particular disasters might occur.  We do know, however, that the probability of human-caused climate disruptions is increasing.  We also know that the primary cause of these disruptions is global warming brought about by burning fossil fuels.  For decades, scientists have been measuring carbon in centuries-old air pockets trapped in the Antarctic ice sheet.  Beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700’s, increased carbon in these samples correlates with the increased burning of fossil fuels, concurrent rising temperatures, and now the increased probability of extreme weather events.

Despite the scientific evidence, Morgan Griffith remains a vigorous proponent of burning even more fossil fuel—especially coal.  In his weekly newsletters, he has referred to “clean coal” leading his readers to believe that there is some environmentally and economically viable means of burning coal without adding carbon to the atmosphere and increasing global warming.  In theory, this is possible through carbon sequestration, but it is an expensive process and has not been done at a meaningful scale.  It is a pipe dream.  Still, Mr. Griffith promotes the idea to give false hope to his constituents in coal-producing counties and to continue lining his pockets with donations from coal companies.

The Chinese currently plan to spend five times as much as the US on developing clean energy.  Meanwhile, while the Chinese are leaving us in their dust, Mr. Griffith wants us to look backward, burn more fossil fuels and deal with more climate disasters.  He and his cohorts in Congress need to get their heads out of that place where the sun does not shine.

People Will Die

Despite massive protests from people across the political spectrum, the Republicans in Congress are moving ahead with another cynical attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with legislation that will deprive millions of health insurance, including an estimated 839,000 Virginians. The Graham-Cassidy Bill gets rid of the individual mandate, but it also will result in increased insurance premiums and bring back lifetime caps on treatment. Once again people could be denied coverage or charged more for pre-existing conditions. Coverage for essential preventive care, such as mammograms and other tests to screen for disease, will not be guaranteed. Everybody in the country will be impacted if this bill passes— even people who have health coverage from an employer or under Medicare. Doctors, other medical professionals, hospitals, and clinics provide services because they are assured payment by insurance companies. When massive numbers of people lose coverage and cannot pay for health services, the healthcare providers go out of business. The doctor and hospital that would treat you in an emergency just might not be there. This bill is being rushed to a vote in the hope that regular people will not have time to figure out what is in it, but bottom-line, it is just another vile attempt by Republicans to prevent

Everybody in the country will be impacted if this bill passes— even people who have health coverage from an employer or under Medicare. Doctors, other medical professionals, hospitals, and clinics provide services because they are assured payment by insurance companies. When massive numbers of people lose coverage and cannot pay for health services, the healthcare providers go out of business. The doctor and hospital that would treat you in an emergency just might not be there. This bill is being rushed to a vote in the hope that regular people will not have time to figure out what is in it, but bottom-line, it is just another vile attempt by Republicans to prevent

This bill is being rushed to a vote in the hope that regular people will not have time to figure out what is in it, but bottom-line, it is just another vile attempt by Republicans to prevent government, at either the state or federal level, from providing anything like universal access to healthcare. This may be great for fat-cat Republican campaign donors, but it will cause great harm for the rest of us. People we know may die. Any candidate who supports this heinous bill or who like Ed Gillespie who says he does not support or oppose the bill is the servant of corporate interests and not the people. Indeed, Mr. Gillespie’s position is the definition of moral cowardice.

Liebrecht: Trump Lies Trickle Down to Griffith

After the inflated promises of his campaign, Mr. Trump’s presidency has largely been a spectacle of chaos and incompetence. He also has added a new batch of manufactured scandals to the circus, of which the most bizarre may be the claim that British intelligence wiretapped Trump Tower at the behest of President Obama.

Mr. Trump gained political notoriety with his accusation that President Obama was born outside U.S., a canard that he recently abandoned with the absurd excuse that he had only been trying to disprove a rumor started by the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign. Mr. Trump’s affinity for fantastical conspiracies, also known as alternative facts, is demonstrated repeatedly. We have heard his charges that Ted Cruz’s father helped kill JFK, that three million people voted illegally in the last election, and that the crowd at his inauguration was the biggest ever. Recently he opined that protesters on Tax Day must have been paid. If so, there are a lot of people who did not get their checks.

There is frequent speculation in the press about the reasons for the President’s misstatements and out-right lies. It is possible that this is a deliberate tactic to divert public attention from his administration’s failings. It is possible that Mr. Trump has been engaging successfully in hyperbole and deceit for so long that he no longer knows or cares what the truth is. He also may be just plain delusional. In 2001 when the twin towers went down, he claimed to have seen “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheering on Jersey City rooftops, a sight that nobody else saw. Whatever the reasons for the storm of falsehoods emanating from the president, his behavior seems contagious, affecting us in Virginia’s Ninth District.

Despite a Republican Congress, Mr. Trump has as yet signed no significant legislation. His biggest failure may be the recent debacle over health care. Republicans cobbled together an ill-conceived replacement for Obamacare that would have deprived millions of health insurance while giving huge tax reductions to the wealthy. They then tried to sell this to the American people as being an improvement over Obamacare and necessary due to the ACA’s imminent collapse. A most vehement apostle of this line is our own Congressman Morgan Griffith.

Mr. Griffith has repeatedly said in his weekly newsletters that Obamacare has failed and that it is “collapsing under its own weight.” He has insisted that it “diminished quality, affordability, and choice,” and he made these claims despite testimony from his constituents about how the ACA provided access to healthcare that they would not otherwise have had. Clearly, any program that enables eleven million uninsured people to buy health insurance is not an abject failure, and many of these people, residents of the Ninth District, flocked to meetings with Mr. Griffith’s aides to voice their support for Obamacare. They recognized that Morgan Griffith was engaging in gross exaggeration. They also recognized that Mr. Griffith was not being honest when he said the Republican replacement would “work for all Americans.”

Morgan Griffith did more than exaggerate the failings of Obamacare and misrepresent the benefits of the Republican replacement legislation. He directed his staff to lie about how he intended to vote on the repeal and replacement of the ACA. I called two of his offices prior to the vote to register my support for Obamacare. In both instances, his aides told me that Mr. Griffith had not decided how he would vote.

The next day the New York Times reported that Mr. Griffith intended to support the bill. After reading the Times article, I called again and was assured by an aide that Mr. Griffith had indeed not made up his mind. That afternoon, Morgan Griffith appeared on CNN supporting the new Republican health care legislation. There are only two possible conclusions to draw. Either Mr. Griffith’s aides had run amok or that he had directed them to lie to constituents.

The president is a fount of deceit, and Morgan Griffith seems to have caught the bug. Perhaps people will continue to support and vote for both men, but I hope not. Truth has to matter. We cannot tolerate or excuse away intentional lying. To do so is to make evil acceptable and the abnormal normal.

Now that the new version of the Republican health care bill has been passed by the House, it is critical for residents of the Ninth District to read the fine print. Mr. Griffith seems unable or unwilling to tell us the truth.

Liebrecht is a retired landscape architect and environmental scientist. She lives in Fries.

Liebrecht: Umm, the Affordable Care Act actually works

Congressman Morgan Griffith dedicated his Jan. 9 newsletter to excoriating Obamacare. He claims that you cannot always keep your doctor, premiums have gone up by double digits, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses have risen, and that many people are significantly underinsured.

Actually, I thought Griffith was describing the private health insurance plan that I had prior to the implementation of Obamacare. A quick search on healthcare.com revealed that in my area I could purchase a plan for $82 per month offering coverage similar to that provided by my old private insurance plan at $360 per month or better coverage at $164 per month.

There is some truth to Griffith’s statements. There are problems with Obamacare. Premiums have gone up significantly in some markets, and deductibles for the least comprehensive plans seem higher than most people can easily afford in the event of a serious illness. Still, the program does not seem to be the unqualified disaster. Griffith describes. Certainly, I would opt for better coverage at half the price of my pre-Obamacare plan.

It has been difficult to understand why Republicans have been so implacably opposed to Obamacare since it is based on proposals set forth by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Republican think tank, and on Mitt Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts. Most progressive Democrats would have preferred a single-payer system, perhaps the extension of Medicare to everybody. Yet, it seems a real stretch to describe Obamacare as a disaster despite its problems.

The most important evidence of the program’s success is that twenty million previously uninsured people now have insurance, and this has undoubtedly saved lives. When people lose health insurance, they often do not get timely medical care with deadly results. In 2009, the Harvard Gazette cited a study conducted at Harvard Medical School which found almost 45,000 deaths per year in this country associated with a lack of medical insurance. Other studies cite somewhat lower but still impressive numbers for deaths related to no medical insurance.

Common morality dictates that we must do what provides the most good for the most people, which means providing health insurance to the greatest number of people so that they can live productive, healthy lives. There are also practical components to doing so. When people die prematurely, they do not contribute to our society. They do not work, they do not start businesses, they do not volunteer, and they are not present to raise their children, who may have to go on public assistance after the loss of a breadwinner.

Given the positive aspects of providing the general public with adequate health insurance, why are Republicans like Griffith so doggedly opposed to a program they originated? There are two possible answers. One, they fundamentally do not believe everybody should have equal access to health insurance, and two, they want to reward their wealthy donors. The very richest people in the country will receive a nearly $200,000 tax cut from the repeal of Obamacare; the average person gets back maybe $180 or barely enough for two doctor’s office visits. Actually, Republican opposition may be rooted in a combination of both motives with some additional resentment that a Democratic president implemented their program.

So, Griffith is part of the Republican pack howling about the problems with Obamacare, exaggerating the plan’s failures while providing no viable fix or alternative. Instead of admitting the objective truth that the program has helped millions of Americans, he twists facts to further the goal of depriving us of access to health insurance and health care while feathering the nests of super-rich Republican donors.

If Republicans actually did come up with something better than Obamacare, we would all applaud, but they have not. Instead we have been treated to a cacophony of half-truths with the expectation that we will believe them as the Republican Congress rushes to repeal a program that really has saved lives. I was not initially an Obamacare fan, but there is no denying that the program is far better than the failed market system that we had before. I do not want to see the program repealed. I do not want to see it repealed and replaced. I want to see it reformed and strengthened. Most of all, I want to see an end to politicians twisting facts in support of an agenda that only serves their wealthy donors.

Liebrecht is a retired landscape architect and environmental scientist. She lives in Fries.

Liebrecht: Tariffs 101: Why they don’t work

During an oil change at Hines Tire in Fries, I was chatting with the guys there when one fellow, a former textile worker, remarked that tariffs will bring back manufacturing to the U.S.

This has become a popular idea in the current election. Donald Trump has most vigorously stated that he would impose tariffs of up to 45 percent on Mexico and China, but Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have also spoken of restoring tariffs, albeit more obliquely than Trump, who has made tariffs a central issue of his campaign.

His message resonates with working-class Americans who have lost jobs to outsourcing, but there is good reason to be skeptical of politicians proposing tariffs as a means of bringing industry back here. One reason is that tariffs are a simplistic solution to a complex problem, and second, historically they have not worked.

Tariffs are more likely to result in the loss of domestic manufacturing than provide a stimulus to industrial growth.

Unquestionably, American jobs have been lost to China and other low-cost countries. Also, the losses have been greatest in labor intensive industries such as furniture making and textiles, which were the industrial backbone of Southwest Virginia.

The loss of American industry was not, however, solely due to cheaper labor and production costs overseas. While important, seeking lower costs may not even be the critical reason for moving production offshore, and it is important to understand this to know that jobs will not be brought back by imposing tariffs.

From 1980 to 1990, the U.S. lost approximately 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Coincidentally, the 1980’s was also an era of deregulation and revisions to the tax code favoring financial speculation. This fostered the business take-over craze of the eighties, which persists today. With the assistance of a compliant Congress who rewrote the government rulebook to favor big business, speculators bought, sold, resold and merged companies.

With each transaction, huge profits were made, but huge debts were also incurred. Finally, even previously profitable enterprises could not operate under burdens of accrued debt. First workers were terminated to save on labor costs. Then plants were closed or moved offshore.

Simply raising tariffs will not bring manufacturing back because cheaper foreign labor and production were not the sole reasons for offshoring. Rather than tariffs, we need tax and financial reforms that encourage investment in this country and discourage excessive speculation for short term profits.

Then we need to make necessary investments in education, research, products and innovation — in both the public and private sectors. This is the only real way to remain competitive and grow the economy.

It is appealing to think that raising the prices of imported goods via tariffs will restart American manufacturing, but historically this has not been so. Opponents of tariffs often cite the effects of the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs of 1930 as evidence that tariffs are counterproductive to economic growth and job creation.

In 1930 when President Hoover signed this bill, the U.S. unemployment rate was 8 percent. Two years later as a result of world-wide retaliation against the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs, factories were closed, the U.S. GDP was half of what it was in 1930, and unemployment stood at 25 percent.

Donald Trump has touted his education at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a top business school, as one reason for his business expertise. When he proposes tariffs of 45 percent as a means of bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., I can only assume that he was cutting class when the causes of the Great Depression were being discussed.

Nancy Liebrecht | Liebrecht is a retired landscape architect and environmental scientist. She lives in Fries.