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.

Posted in Media, Politics | Leave a comment

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.


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.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Our Hypocrisy is Not Like Theirs, Part 15: The Deficit

Loyal readers of the Blog will have noticed that I haven’t posted anything in weeks. Honestly, in this day and age, I don’t really know what to say anymore. We are living in such an alternate reality at this moment in time, and there doesn’t seem to be much to say that hasn’t been said better by other commentators.

Even so, the Republican party’s latest efforts to ram a tax plan through Congress before Christmas, does deserve some comment.

As anybody who follows politics even vaguely knows, the Republicans have struck out several times this year in their promised effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’). They’ve now moved on to Tax ‘reform’ in an effort to prove that they can actually pass legislation, and thereby ‘govern.’  They are desperate to have at least one major legislative victory this year, so that they can tell their loyal base that they’ve actually accomplished something.

In order to hustle their tax plan through Congress in record time – the same thing they tried to do with their Affordable Care Act repeals – Congress has abandoned something known as ‘regular order.’  This is the normal process for how bills get enacted. They go to various committees and subcommittees. They have public hearings. The committee members get to proposed amendments. The bills get voted on in committee. Then they go successively through both branches, at which stage there are more opportunities for members to proposed amendments before the bills are ultimately engrossed and then enacted in each branch.

All of that has been abandoned, and with it has gone the Republican’s ability to ever object to a Democratic ‘abuse of process’ in the future.  The Republicans have proven, without a doubt, that they are only interested in the results, and not how they get there.

Contributing to this cynicism is also their abuse of the budget reconciliation process in the Senate, which is designed to avoid the power of the minority party to filibuster a budget.[1] So, in brief, the budget reconciliation process is one designed to make sure that budgets are able to pass, even in an era of high partisanship, and even when other bills can be blocked. That’s because if Congress cannot pass their budgets, then eventually the government will run out of money and not be able to function. So, once a bill is designated as a budget, special rules apply, including, in particular, that the bill cannot be filibustered.

The problem is that neither the Republican Tax proposals nor their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are budgets. They had elements of budgeting, enough to allow the Senate to fit the bills under the reconciliation rules, but only by stretching the rules.

Of course.

So onward to what’s happening now. In order to fasts-track their tax ‘reform’ project, the Republicans introduced tax bills simultaneously in the House and the Senate, so each branch could pass through their chambers before Thanksgiving.[2] (The Senate missed the deadline but will try again in this week.)

Now the Republicans have made two promises to sell their tax plan. The first was to simplify taxes so much that you’d be able to “file them on a post-card.”[3] That promise of simplification has already been abandoned. While the Republican tax plan eliminates certain deductions, it wouldn’t be anywhere close to postcard like simplicity. In fact, all indications are that our taxes would remain as complicated as ever before.

The second promise, of course, was tax relief for the middle class. And that ain’t happening either. What’s in the two tax bills is complicated, and it’s too complicated for this blog post. The Washington Post examined the House bill and the Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institute examined the current Senate proposal, and you can link to the articles if you’re interested in the details.  Suffice it to say that these bills cut a lot of taxes for large corporations and the wealthy, but cut very little in taxes for the middle class. Most notably, the tax cuts for corporations are permanent, while those for the middle class are temporary, expiring in 2023 (House) and 2027 (Senate).[4]

Paul Krugman recently wrote an interesting article in which he posited that “many Republicans now see themselves and their party in such dire straits [as a consequence of the Trump election] that they’re no longer even trying to improve their future electoral position; instead, it’s all about grabbing as much for their big donors while they still can.” So, therefore, the corporate tax cuts.

But here’s the big hypocrisy: for years, while Obama (or before him Bill Clinton) was in office, the Republicans were furious about the deficit. We needed spending cuts, and drastic ones, they claimed, because the budget was out of balance. In fact, they were willing to shut down the government – more than once – so as not to have to raise the debt ceiling.

And now?

The Republican tax cut plan would add $1.7 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years, according to an estimate from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. I guess those deficits aren’t so important anymore.[5]

The Republicans are claiming, as they have in the past, that ‘economic growth’ will take care of those pesky deficits because the economy will grow at such an astounding rate that tax revenues from that increased activity will be enough to offset the decrease in rates.

Don’t you believe it.

That’s the same argument that Sam Brownback made in Kansas, and he almost bankrupted the Kansas economy. You would think that at least the good people of Kansas now know better.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the question of why ‘trickle down’ doesn’t work. (And it’s not that hard to understand.)

[1] I have been plenty critical of the Congress use of the filibuster in the past. But if they’re going to use it, then they should at least use it correctly and in the same way, regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans have control of the Senate.

[2] The normal order of things is that a bill would be introduced in a chamber – either the House or Senate – and then pass through that chamber before being considered by the other chamber. But, you know, that takes more time.

[3] There are countries, such as Sweden, where this is actually possible. In those countries tax agency figures out what they think you owe, send you the information, and if you agree, you can check it off, and you’re done.  (If you disagree, the process would be longer, of course.)

[4] Those dates would be well after the 2020 elections, and that, of course, is no accident.

[5] Part of the idea is also that if Republicans can bring the budget substantially out of balance, then even when Democrats get back the levers of power, they won’t be able to do much because they will have to spend all their efforts on bringing the budget back in to balance.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

It’s not about the Racism, it’s about the Narcissim

At yesterday’s news conference the real and unscripted Donald Trump came out and said what he really believed. As anyone who has observed Trump even a little bit should know by now, there is no containing Donald Trump. No one (including new Chief of Staff General John F. Kelly) can manage Donald Trump. No one can speak for him, no one can manage him. He’s a one-man band, and always has been (as virtually all of his biographers have attested to).

So, yesterday Trump revived his ‘many sides’ accusation about violence at the Charlotteville incident.  In particular, he said this:

What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right’? Let me ask you this: What about the fact they came charging — that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

Let’s, for the moment, skip over the fact that there is no such thing as the ‘alt-left.’ That’s an invention of the Donald’s imagination. There is however, such a thing as ‘Antifa,’ which Wikipedia describes in this way:

Antifa is a far-left political movement of autonomous anti-fascist groups in the United States. . . [T]he word ‘Antifa’ has its roots in Anti-Fascist Action, a name taken up by European political movements in the 1930s, and which was revived in the 1990s, particularly in Germany (Antifaschistische Aktion). [In the United States] Antifa is composed of autonomous groups, not a formal organization. Activists typically organize protests via social media and through websites and list-serves. . . [I]t is an organizing strategy, not a group of people, and is commonly associated with a willingness to engage in a show of force. Antifa groups have most notably protested the 2016 election of Donald Trump. . . . Antifa protesters participated in the 2017 Berkeley protests where they gained mainstream media attention, throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing windows.

We should all be able to agree that to the extent that it is a movement, Antifa is not a non-violent movement. We can’t all be Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther King. For sure, there were people from the left who were looking to rock and roll that night in Charlottesville, just as much as there were people from the right. To that extent, Trump is not incorrect. The difference maker, obviously, is James Fields, who drove a car into a group of marchers heading away from the confrontation (it must be emphasized), killing Heather Heyer and injuring approximately 19 others. Some were injured critically, so they may still end up in the morgue.

From the beginning, it’s been clear that President Kumquat has been vexed by all of these protestors, all of us who have been protesting against him from day 1. Let’s not forget that (according to the British Independent) this is a man who is ‘handed folder of positive news clippings twice a day by White House staff.’

Trump is a clinical runaway Narcissist. He is probably the most extreme narcissist who has ever become a major public figure, at least in recent memory in the United States. This drumbeat of never-ending protests clearly incenses him to no end. Whether Trump is a racist – and at this point it’s pretty hard to argue that he’s not – is completely secondary to the fact that he’s a narcissist. A clinical, extreme, over-the-top narcissist. That is the defining character trait that drives this man. He was clearly outraged that militant counter-demonstrators showed up for the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, at which so many of his hard-core supporters were getting together.

That Trump was not going to be enthused about disowning his supporters, not matter how white supremacist or neo-Nazi they proved to be, should not be a surprise to anyone who has observed President Kumquat for any period of time. Yesterday he doubled down and stayed true to form.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

The problem with Southerners advocating for Confederate monuments

As anybody who follows the news knows, the incident in Charlottesville VA last weekend started with the objection of white supremacists (and some others) to taking down a statute of Robert E. Lee.  Some southerners argue that the confederate flag and statutes like the ones of Lee are emblematic of southern pride. And there may be some truth to that. But here is the problem:

If modern Germany were populated with statutes of Hitler, and Göbbels, and Himmler, and Göring; if Germans were still singing the “Horst-Wessel-Lied” in the streets; if individual households were still flying the NAZI flag from their stoops, millions of Americans, including southern Americans would be outraged.

“What did we fight this bloody war for if these idiots could still be allowed to have their statutes, and their songs, and their flags?”, incensed Americans all over the South would be asking themselves. And they would be right.

While it’s not a perfect analogy – no analogies are perfect – that is essentially what many Southerners are arguing for when they are arguing for their flags and their statutes and their monuments. Because while the war was geographically between the southern and northern states, it was conceptually about the right to own slaves.

And the right to own slaves is not morally a whole lot better than the right to gas Jews.

The South lost the war. That ended in 1865. That was 152 years ago. As some comedians have recently noted,  there is some irony in Trump supporters waving confederate flags and shouting to the rest of us, ‘you lost, get over it.’

Uh huh.

It would be a good thing if at least some of the advocates for Confederate symbols and monuments could be a little bit more introspective about what it is that they are actually advocating for. And why much of the rest of the country objects.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment