Category: Issues

Your New Tax Bill at Work (Deficit to Near $1 Trillion in 2018)

Two quick takes on the new tax code. First is from the Congressional Budget Office telling us that the deficit will sky back to near $1 Trillion in 2018:

“Because the tax legislation reduced individual income taxes for most taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service released new income tax withholding tables for employers to use beginning no later than the middle of February 2018. As a result of those changes, CBO now estimates that, starting in February, withheld amounts of individual income taxes will be roughly $10 billion to $15 billion per month less than anticipated before the new law was enacted. Consequently, withheld receipts are expected to be less than the amounts paid in the comparable period last year.”

According to the Washington Post, “The U.S. Treasury expects to borrow $955 billion this fiscal year. It’s the highest amount of borrowing in six years, and a big jump from the $519 billion the federal government borrowed last year.”

So, yes, Obama did borrow heavy to address the fiscal crisis and two wars Bush handed him but had reduced the deficit during his last six years. Republicans talk a good game, but deficits always seem to rise faster under their administrations, or when cleaning up messes from their administrations.

On a much brighter note, the much-heralded tax cut, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% (saving Apple $47 billion), and gave back an average of $51,000 to those in the top 1%, did result in a certain secretary getting $1.50 more per week in her paycheck. Join me in a slow clap.

Not surprisingly, after some reflection, Paul Ryan deleted his tweet about this fabulously fortunate woman already bearing her share of the benefits of trickle-down economics. Make America Great Again.

As we’ve said all along, the tax bill will deliver more money to the wealthy by raising deficits (borrowing money to give to the rich), while delivering next to no benefits to poorer people who really need the help.

Countering Republican Debate Tactics

For better or for worse, many of us find ourselves debating Republicans on Facebook and other forums. A brilliant video from John Oliver reveals the tactics used by Trump and his followers to distract and waste our time. I’ve embedded it below, and it will improve both your efficiency and effectiveness online.

If you prefer reading about it, Rolling Stone wrote about the video in an article entitled, Watch John Oliver Break Down Trump’s Three Dangerous Manipulation Tactics, which you can read or skim my thoughts below.

The three tactics are delegitimizing the press (Fake News), Whataboutism, and trolling. Here are some examples of how they’ve been used and some ideas on how to refute them.

Delegitimizing the Press (Fake News)

Republicans criticize every source of news that they disagree with. They don’t feel the need to cite alternative sources that contradict the facts, they just cry Fake News and act like they’ve proven their case.

On Facebook, I’ve had posters question Snopes.com, the Congressional Budget Office, FactCheck.org, the Guardian, Wikipedia, and many other sources. The best policy I’ve found is to cite original sources whenever possible. So don’t cite Wikipedia, cite the source cited by Wikipedia. Same with Snopes, or the Washington Post, or CNN.

When challenged, I ask whether they have any reputable sources that they can cite to disprove the facts I’ve stated. If they don’t cite any sources, I stop responding to their claims. “I’ll be glad to address any facts that you cite with sources, but otherwise, I’ll just stick with the position that I’ve proven.” 

Whataboutism

The next tactic is “whataboutism.” One frequent use by Trump after the election was to repeat the lie about Clinton giving 20% of the US’ uranium to Russia in exchange for contributions to the Clinton Foundation, despite the fact that the claims are patently baseless, as detailed in this PolitiFact article.

The response is to steer the conversation back to the issue at hand. For example, “even assuming what you’re saying is true, which it’s not, you’re saying that it’s OK for Trump to have colluded with the Russians because Clinton did this?” The risk is that the Republican will claim a double standard, or that the media is only focused on the issue because it’s Trump.

The best thing to do here is to simply beg off. “I’m willing to talk about Trump’s many ties to Russia and the treasonous nature of the Trump Tower meetings (as Steve Bannon has pointed out), but I’m not going to respond to extraneous claims.” If you can then make an additional statement in support of your original argument, perhaps you can get the Republican back on track.

I’m not saying it’s easy, particularly when the claim is a whopper, but recognize that it’s a tactic, an attempt to divert your attention and wear you down. Don’t get sucked in.

Trolling

The final tactic is trolling, or making provocative statements just to anger you and get a reaction. Call it another distraction technique. There are dozens of Trump examples, including his tweets about President Obama wiretapping his home in Trump Tower. The answer here is to just not engage. “Even if President Obama did wiretap Trump’s apartment, which I’m sure he didn’t, I don’t see how that’s relevant to discussing how the new tax bill benefits the rich.”

My favorite example from Facebook demonstrates all three tactics. In a discussion about healthcare (healthcare?!), a poster brought up that Hillary Clinton admired Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who in 1924 spoke to a group of KKK women about birth control and once supported Eugenics. This is a clear example of both whataboutism and trolling. As you can see, I bit and found a Snopes article that refuted her claim, to which she used the first tactic, delegitimizing the press, of course citing no sources.  

The best response would have been, “Even if what you’re saying is true, which I’m sure it’s not, this has nothing to do with health care. Let’s stick to that, shall we?” Next time I’ll say that, and avoid getting pulled down the rabbit hole.

Many of us fighting the good fight have full-time jobs, and all of us have better things to do than waste time debating inefficiently. Watch for these tactics, recognize them when you see them and respond strategically.

I’m not a huge Oliver fan, but this bit is brilliant. Take five and have a look and listen.

Time to Move On From Coal

Few things in life are more distressing than losing a job or profession. But nothing is more wasteful than throwing good money after bad, or raising hopes that will never be fulfilled. So it is with coal in the VA9th.

Pictures are worth a thousand words. What the Virgina Coal Extraction image atop the page tells us is that:

  • Despite what Morgan Griffith has inaccurately labeled Obama’s war on coal, coal production in Virginia peaked in 1988 and started its precipitous decline under George H. W. Bush.
  • Coal production and the associated jobs aren’t coming back, despite claims by Griffith and Trump.
  • The best assistance we can provide to former minors is to find alternative opportunities, not make empty promises.

As confirmation, in a recent study, Indiana University researchers found that “Current federal efforts to revive the coal industry will likely do more harm than good to fragile Appalachian communities transitioning from coal as a major source of employment.”  The study’s key conclusions were:

  • Rolling back environmental regulations will not lead to a significant resurgence of the coal industry because those regulations played only a minor role relative to slowing demand for electricity and a surge in cheaper, cleaner sources of energy.
  • Promising coal communities a return of their jobs has the potential to fill them with false hope, which can threaten the very progress that has been made in launching job training programs and other transition steps.
  • Government programs should focus on helping communities find and harness new economic and human development opportunities with a focus on health and education, professional growth, and public services.

It’s natural to feel empathy towards those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. But the correct focus is on finding new jobs, not promising the return of jobs that will never come back.

Data Sources:

The chart atop the page is from David Roper, Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech.

You can find data sources for the image here.

 

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.)

Net Neutrality in 60 Seconds or Less: Why Griffith Will Vote No

Griffith has taken $198,000 in contributions from telecom companies during his time in office; if net neutrality comes to Congress, which way do you expect he will vote? 

Net neutrality sounds like one of those techie issues that companies and politicians argue about but means nothing to you. If you have a Netflix account or watch a lot of YouTube, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a short description to get you up to speed.

What is net neutrality? Here’s a snippet from CNN. “The net neutrality rules were approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015 amid an outpouring of online support. The intention was to keep the internet open and fair. Under the rules, internet service providers are required to treat all online content the same. They can’t deliberately speed up or slow down traffic from specific websites or apps, nor can they put their own content at an advantage over rivals.”

What just happened? The FCC just repealed these rules. The vote was on party lines, three Republicans voted to repeal, two Democrats voted against.

What does this mean? It means that internet service providers can prioritize traffic from their own media companies over third-party companies. This chart, from Business Insider, shows how potentially damaging that could be. For example, any of the internet service providers (ISPs) could throttle content from Netflix and YouTube, legally, so long as they disclose the practice. They could charge Netflix for fast access through their service, or charge consumers who access Netflix.

Here’s a snippet from CityBeat.

“For example, consider how ISPs in other countries that don’t recognize net neutrality protections, such as Portugal, are able to bundle popular internet services. Customers pay their ISP to access the internet and then an additional fee to access different bundles of popular content and services, such as YouTube, Hulu, Amazon or PayPal.”

So in addition to paying Netflix for Netflix, you’ll pay Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon as well. To track all of your watching data, these providers may deploy “supercookies,” without notification.

Who benefits? The large internet service providers.

How does this benefit consumers? It doesn’t. It makes the internet more intrusive, more expensive, may slow content from sites you like to watch and will increase the cost of innovation since new content sites will have to pay ISPs. Just like the Republican Congress voting to allow ISPs to sell browsing history, this benefits ISPs to the detriment of consumers.

What happens next? The FCC decision can be challenged in court or Congress. But today, it is the new normal.

What’s Morgan Griffith’s take on net neutrality? When a constituent asked about it, he quoted the Republican FCC Commissioner that the FCC was “adopting a solution that won’t work, to a problem that doesn’t exist, using legal authority it doesn’t have.” The quote proved to be wrong, as net neutrality was upheld by federal courts in 2016. More to the point, Griffith has accepted $198,000 in campaign contributions from telecom companies during his time in office. If legislation does come up, which way would you expect him to vote?

Three Takes on the New Tax Plan

The big question in everyone’s mind should be whether the new tax plan will help us in the VA9th, either directly or indirectly. Several interesting observations point to no.

These comments highlight that at some point, 9th district voters need to ignore the party line and start voting for representatives who pursue our best interests. While there may be a few wealthy individuals in the district who benefit from the new tax plan, overall it’s a huge negative.

All district voters should be asking themselves, “what’s in this bill for me?” The honest answer is very little, if not nothing at all.

OK, on to the comments.

The first is from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. Here’s what the EPI said.

“After spending most of the year promising a tax cut for the middle class, Republicans in the Senate have joined their colleagues from the House of Representatives in reneging on this pledge. The bill passed today is nothing more than a giveaway to the richest households and corporations, period. It will raise taxes on many low- and moderate-income households, and the deficits it will leave in its wake will be used to attack Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—a strategy clearly telegraphed by both the Republican budget resolution from last month as well as by Senator Rubio more recently.

Besides lying about who would benefit most directly from the tax cut, defenders of today’s bill have also lied about the trickle-down benefits that will accrue to workers in the form of higher wages. Simply put, this bill will not raise wages for typical workers—but it will deny health insurance to 13 million workers, a measure Senate Republicans included to help contain the overall cost of giving large tax cuts to rich households and corporations. This bill is a scam through-and-through.”

The second is from the ChangeWave Investing newsletter which before now, has been very apolitical. In the December 5 newletter, author Josh Levine states (sorry, it’s a private newsletter, so I can’t provide a link,

“Growth is the key word for those promoting the tax plan. Proponents argue that by reducing the corporate income tax rate to 20% from the current 35% – along with a provision that allows some companies to bring back hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign profits at a lower rate than they otherwise would’ve paid – will translate to higher capital investment and wages. In other words, if the government taxes the rich less, the wealthy will save more, grow US capital stock and investment, and make workers more productive.

While such a tax scheme will ensure higher profits in the short run, thus giving a further tailwind to share prices, there is little evidence to support the case for trickle-down economics.

Fact is the share of national income going to the top 1% has doubled from 10% to more than 20%, while income accrued by the bottom 50% has been almost halved, from 20% percent to 12.5%. There has been no growth at all in the average pretax income of the bottom half of the population over the past 40 years – during which trickle-down enthusiasts promised just the opposite.

Today corporate profits and cash balances are already near historic records, and the business cycle is in the latter stages with interest rates and unemployment at long-term lows. If anything, such a tax plan would be far better suited for an economy at its trough, rather than closer to a peak.”

The third is from a letter to the editor from Rebecca Jones in the Roanoke Times which adds a local bent.

“The TCJA is full of gimmicks which will negatively affect southwest Virginians. Any small tax cuts benefiting the middle-class will be temporary: most of us will see our taxes rise within a few years, and those earning the least will see the biggest tax increase. Tax cuts for large corporations will be permanent, with no guarantees whatsoever that these billions in tax cuts will be used to create jobs or increase wages. Recent history suggests these corporations instead will direct their windfall to stockholders, CEO pay increases, and stock buybacks.

The wealthiest Americans will benefit mightily from tax cuts and the estate tax repeal, while the middle class, small businesses, and colleges and universities will bear the brunt of the noxious effects of a plan crafted to satisfy GOP mega-donors.

For families with children, college and graduate students, and those with student loans, the TCJA repeals vital deductions, making it harder to afford college tuition and significantly increasing student debt. TCJA harms colleges and universities directly in ways which will make higher education much more costly and less accessible.

Shame on Morgan Griffith! Call him today and tell him we are too smart to fall for this con game!”

 

David Stockman on Fox News – Why Trump’s Tax Plan Won’t Work

Stockman was budget director for Reagan, and he brilliantly details why Trump’s tax plan won’t create jobs or stimulate the economy, holding off five Fox News “experts.” If you have only ten minutes to learn about the Tax Plan, watch this video.

Global Warming is Real (and the Earth is Round)

In the 1970’s, Gordon Moore accurately predicted the speed of computers would double every two years.  As a retired research scientist, I believe his principle can be applied to many areas of science and technology. Just look at how fast technology advances. Our cars and cell phones now talk to us and I’ve noticed it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, the technology works the same.

Just behold the developments in medical science and the many diseases that are now being cured. Once again I’ve noticed both Republicans and Democrats embrace these cures and offer thanks to God for the wonderful scientists who discover them.

In fact, I marvel at the ability of the brilliant scientists who were able to determine the time, to the exact microsecond, of the solar eclipse on August 21. Republicans and Democrats alike believed the scientists and spent gobs of money on special glasses and lenses to observe this rare phenomenon. Because of the expertise of modern day science, the Republican President knew exactly when to look skyward and witness the eclipse.

Yet when these same brilliant scientists conclude that human activities cause global warming, so many Republicans, including the sky-gazing President, decide they don’t believe so much in science after all. No, they seem only to believe in science when it’s convenient, like the treatment of an illness or viewing of a once-in-a-lifetime eclipse.

Kim Baughman
Elk Creek

Photo courtesy: Greg McCown

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.