Our Hypocrisy is not like Theirs, Part 18

Ronan Farrow, that intrepid reporter and clearly the son of Frank Sinatra (because he sure as hell doesn’t look like Woody Allen) was on the case again, doing a nice piece about how President Drumpf had had another affair, this time with Playboy Playmate Karen MacDougal, about whom it must be said, that she really is a very attractive woman.

Farrow’s story isn’t just about the affair, but about how David Pecker[1], the publisher of the National Enquirer, and a personal friend of Drumpfs, bought and killed the story. Just before the election.  As reported by Ronan:

On November 4, 2016, four days before the election, the Wall Street Journal reported that American Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, had paid a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for exclusive rights to McDougal’s story, which it never ran. Purchasing a story in order to bury it is a practice that many in the tabloid industry call “catch and kill.” This is a favorite tactic of the C.E.O. and chairman of A.M.I., David Pecker, who describes the President as “a personal friend.” As part of the agreement, A.M.I. consented to publish a regular aging-and-fitness column by McDougal. After Trump won the Presidency, however, A.M.I.’s promises largely went unfulfilled, according to McDougal. Last month, the Journal reported that Trump’s personal lawyer had negotiated a separate agreement just before the election with an adult-film actress named Stephanie Clifford, whose screen name is Stormy Daniels, which barred her from discussing her own affair with Trump. Since then, A.M.I. has repeatedly approached McDougal about extending her contract.

So, let’s review Drumpf’s sexual history in brief:

  • He cheated on his first wife (Ivanna) with his second wife (Marla Maples)
  • He married his present wife (Melania) as a trophy wife, and has actually introduced her as such.
  • He cheated on Melania with porn star ‘Stormy Daniels’ while Melania was still pregnant.
  • He cheated on Melania with Playboy Playmate Karen MacDougal around the same time.
  • He has been twice divorced and has children with three different women (albeit all his wives).
  • He’s been accused of sexual assault by 19 different women.[2]

Now, with the strong exception of the women who’ve accused Drumpf of sexual assault, it really doesn’t matter to me what Drumpf does. It don’t care who he wants to marry and who he wants to cheat on, as long as it’s consensual.[3] But I am not a moralizing Christian.

Moralizing Christians have, however, for years and years, been talking about “family values,” and how they are upholding “traditional” Christian morals.[4] And they have been having a field day with Bill Clinton. (There really is much about Clinton’s behavior to despise, notwithstanding that most of Clinton’s sexual alliances were consensual.)[5]

Clinton also has not been divorced, and has not had children with more than one woman, although he hasn’t exactly been faithful to his wife.

So, my Christian friends, I hate to break the news to you, but whatever moral authority you may once have had (and honestly, I don’t think you had that much to begin with) has all been squandered on the cause of Donald Drumpf. From hereon in, no one from outside of your own little cabal is going to believe you, or is going to care, when you try to shame some future politician with their own personal misbehavior.

No one is going to care.

And that Barack Obama. Boy, he sure looks good right about now, doesn’t he? Too bad he’s not one of yours.  😉


[1] Now there is an ironic name!

[2] It was 16 the last time I checked, but  has now grown to 19. Those are just the ones we know about.

[3] I’m very “French” in this way (even though I’m actually from Germany).

[4] This mostly seems to mean that they aren’t gay, lesbian or transgendered.

[5] To be fair, Juanita Broaderick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey are the three women who have made sexual assault claims against Clinton in the past. That’s still a lot fewer than 19.

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I Don’t Even Care Anymore (Nothing Will Change)

On Wednesday, on Valentine’s Day, there was another school shooting, this time at a high school in Parkland Florida, and I find myself just not caring anymore.

It’s not anybody that I know, or anyplace that I’ve ever been. I don’t even know where Parkland is in Florida.

That’s how far we’ve come. It’s hard to even summon any outrage.

Despicable cowards like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will offer their empty “thoughts and prayers,” the NRA will explain to us how this could have been prevented if we had armed police strolling the halls, and the Congress will do nothing at all.  Or maybe try to export the gun laws in Florida to the rest of the nation.

I can see the same attitude of exasperation among many of the other posts that I’ve seen the last few days on Facebook.

I don’t care about Nikolaus Cruz, the lone gunman. I’m not interested in his life, or why he did what he did. I’m only interested in making sure that other little fuckers like him don’t continue to have access to assault rifles.

I don’t want to see all of the heartbreaking pictures of the victims, mostly attractive young men and women with their whole lives ahead of them.

This is not a discussion between liberals and conservatives, by the way. I have no problem with people wanting to own a handgun for their own protection, or a rifle for hunting, or even a pistol for competitive shooting. I do have a problem with teenagers having unlimited access to AR15 military assault rifles.

No, this is a discussion between reasonable people and completely unreasonable assholes. Sorry, but there it is.

So, nothing will happen, of course. Just waiting for the next record-breaking school shooting, or maybe a mass shooting at a nursing home. I don’t think we’ve had one of those yet.

 

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I want to feel sorry for Julie Bonenfant of Detroit

I want to feel sorry for Julie Bonenfant of Detroit, but I can’t. Not really. She appeared in a story on NPR about payday lenders and how she had gotten screwed by one particular lender. The story was really about how that cheerful headsman, Mick Mulvaney, is eviscerating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As reported by NPR, Bonenfant, who does administrative work for the city of Detroit, broke up with her boyfriend, had her car was stolen, and got behind on her rent. She went on-line and found Golden Valley Lending online and took out a $900 loan. Turns out that loan was at such a high interest rate that her scheduled payments total $3,735, or more than four times what she borrowed. The terms were buried in the fine print. Bonenfant has so far paid more than $3,000 to Golden Valley and rung up more than $1,000 in overdraft fees at her bank.

Am I not sympathetic to her? No, I am sympathetic to her, sort of, kind of, a little bit.

But, by her own admission, she voted for Donald Trump.

She voted for Donald Trump.

What did she expect would happen? Anybody with their eyes even a little bit open could see this kind of thing coming from a mile away. People who think this übernarcissist cares for ordinary working people have their head in geographically unmentionable areas at an impossible angle.

Mulvaney recently dropped a lawsuit against Golden Valley Lending, an online loan shark who illegally charges people up to 950% interest rates. It took CFPB staffers years to build the case. Many of them are devastated that all their hard work is going to naught.

Interest rates of 950%. Let that sink in people. And our federal government is defending them.

It’s the rest of us, who knew exactly that this kind of thing was coming, who have the right to be outraged.

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Congress is Finally Taking Up Immigration

It only took a mini-government shut down to force the issue, but Congress is finally taking up the immigration debate.

They’re going to use Regular Order

One wouldn’t think that this would be newsworthy, but they’re actually planning to use “regular order” for this debate. You know, amendments. Voting on amendments. Letting members read the bill. No pre-ordained outcome.

Our world has become so crazy that it’s news that they’re using regular order. It’s supposed to be news when they don’t use regular order. That’s how upside down this process has become.

What the Republicans Want

The Republicans don’t speak with one voice, but what Trump has said he wants is (of course) funding for his border wall, an end to “chain” migration, and a redo of the lottery system.

So, let’s just look at the term “chain migration” for a moment. Propaganda at its finest. This is a term for allowing legal immigrants who’ve arrived on our shores to sponsor family members to come as well. Think there might be less opposition to it if we called it “family” migration instead of “chain” migration? Yeah, I think so too.[1]

Which Parts of the Economy You can Kiss Goodbye

Now, if the Republicans could succeed in slowing immigration to a trickle and getting rid of all those nasty illegals who have been clogging up our country, guess which parts of our current economy we could kiss goodbye?

  1. The farm industry
  2. The restaurant industry
  3. Eldercare

That’s right, because all of those industries currently survive on hiring illegals, and also on paying them under-market wages under the table. I mean, it’s okay if you hate illegals, but significant parts of our economy have been built on their labor. They’re all doing jobs that Americans don’t want to do.

I’m for legal immigration. That’s how my family got here. We did it the “right” way. But I’m not a big enough hypocrite to wish away all the “illegals” – and by the way, we could have a field day with the propaganda value of that term – and screw over the American economy, which despite itself, is working okay at the moment.


[1] For anyone interested in the details of the proposed plans, NPR has put together a nice chart, which can be found here.

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Our Hypocrisy is not Like Theirs (Part 17).

It’s a miracle, but the federal Congress actually managed to pass a two-year budget deal and President Drumpf actually managed to sign it. Of course, before that they needed to have a 5½ government shutdown between midnight on Thursday and early Friday morning, when the House voted to approve the budget passed in the Senate.

As reported by NPR, the new deal suspends a 2011 budget law championed by conservatives that set hard caps on discretionary spending and included an automatic trigger known as “sequester” cuts if Congress attempted to bust those spending caps.

Now, the blowhard Republicans were yelping about how this adds to the budget deficit, to which I can only say:

Seriously Dudes?

So, let’s just remind ourselves:

  • Just before Christmas, the Party of Hypocrites passed a party-line tax cut which is likely to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit (at which point they should have permanently forfeited their right to ever talk about the deficit again).
  • Most of the increase goes to the military.
  • The “entitlements” that Republicans claim are driving budget deficits (like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare) are largely funded through trust funds into which most of us have been paying for years, and which are not technically part of the federal budget.
  • The experiments with tax cut driven economic expansion, most recently tried in Kansas and Oklahoma, have been unmitigated disasters.

Kansas and Oklahoma? Really, who pays attention to what happens there?

Well, economists do.

Kansas, under Senator Sam Brownback, cut their income taxes radically and eliminated income tax on business profits from partnerships and limited liability corporations passed through to individuals. The theory was that these decreases were going to kick-start the Kansas economy. But guess what?  It didn’t happen. Kansas had to scramble back, and reverse practically the entire package by 2017.

And Oklahoma is in a pickle now, since they passed a state Constitutional Amendment that requires a 75% supermajority vote of both houses to increase taxes. Then they lowered their taxes. Now they’re facing headlines like “Amid Budget Crunch, One In Five Oklahoma School Districts Have Gone To Four-Day Weeks.

Oops.

So, oh yeah, the Republican tax cuts are sure guaranteed to kickstart the United States economy.[1]


[1] I’ve already posted an article recently on why ‘trickle down’ doesn’t work, but another reason is that the economy only grows when there is demand for products, and that only happens when ordinary people are making a living wage, not when billionaires are storing their savings in off-shore tax havens.

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Our Hypocrisy is Not Like Theirs, Part 16 (but who’s counting?)

As most people who follow the news even a little bit know by now, the Republicans managed to twist arms and make deals to such an extent that they got 51 of their members to vote for it at 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning.

Yippee!, Republicans.

In the end John McCain voted for the bill, and so did Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Jeff Flake. The ‘mavericks’ and stalwarts that you could count on to show a little bit of backbone in the past were all co-opted.  Only ‘little’ Bob Corker voted off.[1]

Forget about the $1.5 trillion that they’re adding to the deficit, that they were still scribbling amendments by hand well past midnight, that no one had read the bill before they voted on it, that Republicans abused the budget reconciliation process to avoid a filibuster, and that they treated ‘regular order’ like they had never heard of the concept.  Forget about all that.  As part of their proposed tax overhaul, Republicans in the Senate also revived the repeal of the individual mandate, the core feature of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ‘Obamacare’).

As loyal readers of the blog already know, I have posted extensively on the Affordable Care Act, what it does and how it came into being. Let’s just review the highlights:

  • The individual mandate is a Republican idea.
  • It came out of the ‘Heritage Foundation’ in response to the failed Clinton health care effort.
  • It was pioneered in Massachusetts under Republican Governor (and later presidential candidate) Mitt Romney.
  • The Massachusetts program has been a success.
  • The federal program has also been a success, in that it has substantially reduced the approximately $16 million people who had no health insurance before its enactment.
  • Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, we (the taxpayers) already paid for the health care of the uninsured when they showed up at hospital emergency rooms with ailments that could have and should have been treated much sooner.
  • Early estimates from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office are that repealing the individual mandate would reintroduce about $13 million Americans to the rolls of the uninsured.
  • Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, unaffordable hospital bills was the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States.

Now Republicans have been telling us that they ‘only’ want to repeal the individual mandate. The more popular parts of the Affordable Care Act – like the prohibition on preventing those with pre-existing conditions from getting insurance – those they want to keep.

That’s a little bit like saying that they ‘only’ want to take the engine out of a car in order to save gas mileage.

Why is the Individual Mandate so Important?

A question that many people don’t know the answer to is, why is the individual mandate so important. And the short answer is that it requires younger and healthier people to buy insurance now so as to spread the risk around the entire population. It’s also the reason that the health insurance industry was willing to sign on to the Affordable Care Act, instead of standing in implacable opposition to any kind of universal health care package, as had been proposed by the Clinton administration, for example.

If you repeal the individual mandate, what will happen is that young and healthy people won’t buy health insurance, which means that only the middle class, middle-aged, old and sick people will contribute to health insurance. That would cause the rates to rise to such a degree that many of the elderly, and those with significant health challenges, would not longer be able to afford insurance.

It would literally kill people who don’t need to die.

What About those Rising Insurance Rates?

Republicans like Donald Trump keep assuring us that Obamacare is ‘imploding.’ But that is not true.  For sure, health care costs (and the insurance to cover them) continue to rise. But that is a problem separate and apart from the problem of getting people insured.  And it’s a tough nut to crack.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has made, and continues to make some efforts, to bring down health care costs. (Other states have probably also faced up to the challenge, but I’m mostly aware of the efforts here in Massachusetts.)  In 2012, the Commonwealth enacted Chapter 224, An Act Improving the Quality of Health Care and Reducing Costs Through Increased Transparency, Efficiency and Innovation. That Act introduced the concept of an ‘Accountable Care Organization’ (a vertical organization intended to improve coordination of care), and tried to find outlier hospitals, whose costs were out of line with other hospitals, to encourage them to reduce their costs. In particular, the bill requires health care entities that exceed a ‘cost growth benchmark’ to file and implement performance improvement plans, starting in 2015.

After several years of operation, the verdict is not in yet, but suffice it to say that much more needs to be done to bring costs down. Part of what is keeping costs up is the high prices charged for pharmaceuticals and by medical device makers.

But that’s a story for another day.

What’s the Hypocrisy Here?

The hypocrisy here is the notion that the desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act is about anything other than undermining President Obama’s legacy.

That’s what opposition to the Affordable Care Act has always been about.  I mean, consider:

  • Obama deliberately began with a bi-partisan proposal, using as the model for the Affordable Care Act the law that had been passed in Massachusetts.[2]
  • Obama went out of his way to solicit input from Republican Congressmen.
  • Not a single Republican was willing to lend him a vote, because they were all so focused on making sure that he would be a ‘one-term’ President.
  • Because they knew he would veto a repeal, the Republicans voted to repeal the ACA something like 56 times.
  • Obama is no longer in office. His legacy is what it is, and repealing the ACA now will not change his legacy.
  • And yet, our Republican friends in Congress feel duty-bound to continue on their ill-fated quest because that’s what they told their voters they would do back when he was still President.

Sheesh.  Is this a federal Congress, or a Second Grade Class?


[1] Yes, there is technically still a conference committee that the Republicans can convene, but they’re smelling and tasting their victory now. Finally something for their ‘base’ (who will get fucked but won’t know it) and their corporate overlords.

[2] When enacted in 2006, Massachusetts had a Republican Governor (Romney) and a substantially Democratic legislature. The result was a classic bipartisan effort.

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Why ‘Trickle Down’ Doesn’t Work

Some of you, those of you who are old enough to have lived through the Reagan Administration, will remember ‘trickle down’ economics. That was the notion that tax cuts for corporations and businesses (and also the wealthy) would create economic activity that would ‘trickle down’ to the middle and working classes.

The architect of that notion was David Stockman, a former Congressman and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. (Stockman has since repudiated his own theory, making him a prophet without a flock.) In any case, what is incontrovertible is that Reagan’s tax cuts increased the deficit of the federal government substantially: during his, presidency, the national debt grew from $997 billion to $2.85 trillion.

So, why doesn’t ‘trickle down’ work?

It’s really not that hard to understand.

First of all, if you’ve ever studied economics, you’ve probably heard of the ‘multiplier effect.’ The effect can be demonstrated with a simple example.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the city of Boston had a project, formally known as the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, but which everyone knew as the “Big Dig.” This project brought in literally thousands of construction workers to the Boston area to work on the project. Each one of these had to be housed, and clothed, and fed, all in the Boston area. The landlords, the restaurants, the retailers who had to house, feed and clothe these workers all had a significant uptick in business as a result.  This allowed them to do things like make home repairs, hire more waiters and waitresses, hire more retail staff, and so forth.  Each of these hired staff also had more money to spend on things, and so the economic activity ‘multiplied’ and spread throughout the Boston economy.

This works only while the economic effects stay local. That is why infrastructure projects, like road and bridge repair, are such a boon to a local economy.  All the economic activity stays local. And it’s also why trickle down doesn’t really work.

The problem is that both large corporations and the very rich are no longer confined to any geographic locality.  Big corporations, like Exxon Mobile, Apple, General Motors, or AT&T went global a long time ago. Corporate profits are already at record highs. If companies were interested in investing their profits, they already have every opportunity to do so. If they were interested in raising wages, they have already had every opportunity to do so.  Lowering corporate taxes might increase the already record high profits, but the fact is clear: lowering corporate profits does not metastasize as a large increase in economic activity.

And so with the wealth of individuals. As the Paradise Papers have already proven, the über-rich do not hold their money in investments in the United States. They hold them in places like Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Isle of Man, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Vanuatu and Cypress. Chrystia Freeland recently wrote a book  called ‘Plutocrats’ that reported on the ‘rise of the new global super-rich and the fall of everyone else.’ Her book demonstrates, without a doubt, that the super-rich are no longer bounded by any geographic borders.

The notion that the tax cuts proposed by the Republicans would “pay for themselves” is pure fantasy. It would require the United States to produce a sustained growth rate of 6% to 7%, which not even China is able to achieve right now. As the New York Times recently put it in a memorable headline, “in [the] battle over tax cuts, it’s Republicans vs. Economists.”

We fell for trickle down once.  Don’t fall for it again.

 

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