The Republican tax bill is really quite breathtaking in its audacity

The Thinker by Rodin

Those of us of sufficient age will remember when W’s father, George H. W. Bush was running for president. The elder Bush’s famous words during the campaign were: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” It was infamous because after he won election in 1988 he made a deal with Democrats that modestly raised taxes.

Since that time it’s been anathema for any Republican to even think about raising taxes.

Next week the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on its version of a tax bill that will raise taxes, just like the House bill. To make this worse, they are dramatically cutting taxes on the wealthy and making the already stretched middle and lower classes generally pay more in taxes.

And it doesn’t seem to be bothering Republicans at all, which is perhaps the most amazing part. Since Ronald Reagan declared government and taxes evil, never raising taxes has been the nonstop diatribe from Republicans. Now although trying to paint their legislation as a tax cut, no one actually believes it is one. Virtually every analysis shows that it will increase the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion plus add taxes for most middle and lower income people. It’s also likely the resulting exploding deficit will give them reason to cut social services back even further.

The Republicans think that if they can get through this through Congress and into law, it’s one point for their side in an otherwise miserable legislative year when they have controlled all levers of power. They think their voters will be thrilled. Any objective person though looking at this turd of legislation will see it as an abdication of nearly forty years of Republican bedrock orthodoxy. Any Republican rank-and-file who actually believed this stuff should be dumfounded.

Just last year when Obama was still president Republicans were threatening to shut down the government if proposed spending bills were not revenue neutral. “We can’t leave our grandchildren with a mountain of debt”, we heard in many variations ad nauseum. Now, adding another $1.5T to the debt? No problemo.

It’s not news to Democrats that Republicans were not sincere about debt reduction, at least not when they were in charge. It exploded under Reagan, and again under Bush II. When Bush II’s Medicare Part D bill was voted into law, it was done at 3 AM in the House chambers so it would be less obvious how hypocritical Republicans were being. Maybe they felt a little ashamed. They might try the same strategy this time but I don’t think it will work and I doubt feeling ashamed about what they plan to do has even entered their minds.

Still, it takes amazing audacity to give huge tax cuts and inheritance windfalls to the very richest while bleeding the working class even more. This is explainable: all Republicans really care about is the moneyed class and making them even more so. They got control of the Executive and Congress. Now is the time to squeeze the system for themselves and their special moneyed interests. It’s the culmination of decades of strategy to convince Americans to act against their own self-interest. That $1.5T deficit? The only reason that’s there is because they have to get this bill through the Senate using budget reconciliation rules, i.e. Republicans-only so it could only add so much to the deficit, at least officially. Without the rule maybe there would have been no lower and middle class tax increases. To give the rich this tax windfall though and keep the deficit spending to $1.5T, they had to squeeze someone. Couldn’t be them of course, so lower and middle classes it has to be.

And Trump? The guy who ran as an outsider and promised to help the working class? To make America great again? The candidate who during one of the first debates openly admitted he traded money for favor from politicians? The charlatan that Americans elected who ran promising he’d do exactly the opposite? Why he’s all in on this tax bill, of course! His family will reap at least $1B in estate tax relief alone from its passage in its current form. What’s not to like about that? It’s pretty clear what Trump is all about. He’s about bleeding the government dry mainly to enrich himself and his empire. He goes golfing pretty much every weekend at one of his resorts to make sure the Secret Service has to pay usury rates to rent his golf carts and stay in his hotels. Much of the rest of his administration is looking out for either themselves and/or their sponsors. Education Secretary DeVos is trying to move tax dollars toward charter schools. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is downsizing national monuments so private interests can mine and frack gas on nearby lands including possibly the Grand Canyon. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin when not posing holding sheets of dollar bills with his wife is trying to loosen regulations on Wall Street, the same regulations that caused the Great Recession.

In short Trump’s voters — but really the vast majority of Americans — are being played for suckers. It’s time for Republicans to give America that high colonic of their dreams. With the oligarchy in charge, it’s time to fleece the sheep just as winter approaches instead of afterward.

Or so they think. I think a wave is building and come November 2018 Republicans are going to discover the wrath of the American voter. It’s quite similar to the late 19th century when homeless urchins roamed the streets while the Carnegies and Rockefellers lived the life of Gatsby. Back then the voters spoke and a true progressive called Teddy Roosevelt won office, along with a massive wave of Republicans (who were the modern day Democrats of their time). Too big to fail corporations were broken up. National Parks multiplied. Government represented the people again.

Granted the challenge will be harder in 2018. In the late 19th century the art of gerrymandering had not yet been perfected. Blacks and women were disenfranchised but that was the status quo; however there were enough regular folk out there with voting rights to sweep the oligarchy out of power. I’m anticipating that’s what we’ll see in 2018. It’s not really Republican vs. Democrat anymore, it’s big business against the rest of us. It will be mostly Republicans but also a lot of corporate Democrats that will pay the price this time.

No time like the present holiday season for Republicans to play the part of the Grinch. In 2018 though Republicans and their ilk are likely to find their game is over.

Donald Trump and Xanex time

The Thinker by Rodin

The political conventions are over and now the general election campaign starts in earnest. Sort of. There has certainly never been an election like this is my living memory.

There have been some crazy ones. In 1964 Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater, dogmatic like Donald Trump but without his innate nastiness. He went on to lose every state except his home state of Arizona, probably because he was publicly willing to proactively use our nuclear weapons. (You would think Donald Trump would take this as a lesson learned, but of course not.) It didn’t hurt that President Johnson was from Texas, so southerners had no reason not to vote for him.

The 1968 election was a pretty turbulent election too: riots outside the Democratic National Convention and literal fistfights inside the convention too. These were not helped by racial violence in our big cities and the assassinations of both Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The violence of that time was magnitudes worse than the mass shootings and targeted killings of police (and arguably blacks) of this and recent years. Hundreds died in these riots and whole neighborhoods burned to the ground. Richard Nixon rode a “law and order” platform to his election, in the process starting a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach to handling crime still with us today.

The 1992 election was strange because independent Ross Perot effectively siphoned off Republican votes, giving Bill Clinton the presidency. George H.W. Bush would have won reelection if it had been a normal year, even with the recession. The 2000 election was weird because it was so close and was decided by the Supreme Court.

But this 2016 election tops all of these. You literally could not make this stuff up. If a year ago you’d have suggested that the Republican nominee shortly after his nomination would be criticizing the parents of a Gold Star Muslim serviceman whose son literally gave his life protecting our troops, no one would believe it. Today, political wonks and many average Americans spend their days with their jaws agape. Trump’s ego is apparently as boundless as his knowledge of current events and our constitution is full of ignorance. How is it possible that Trump would not know that the Russian surrogates invaded eastern Ukraine? The mind just boggles.

Still, after the Republican convention national polls showed Trump and Clinton virtually tied. Do people love Trump so much in spite of his racist blather that they will excuse anything? Or is it due to loathing of Hillary Clinton? The tie seems to be disappearing with Clinton’s post convention bounce, taking her back to about where she was before either convention got underway. She is still the likely winner. In 1964 Goldwater’s willingness to proactively use nuclear weapons scared virtually all Americans making Johnson the obvious if not enthusiastic choice.

Trump’s position mirrors Goldwater’s but he’s also expressed a willingness to use torture. This doesn’t seem to bother his supporters at all. If the election were held today while he wouldn’t win he’d have a nice haul of electoral votes. This begs the question: what the hell has happened to the American voter in these 52 years? Trump is far worse than Goldwater and by 1964’s measure he should not win any states, but it’s clear that he will. There apparently is nothing he can do or say that will dissuade at least the reddest states from voting for him anyhow. I hope to be proven wrong by Election Day, but I doubt I will be.

All this invites a lot of conspiracy theories. If somehow Trump wins the likelihood is that he won’t be in office long. Both Republicans and Democrats would give him the heave ho after an impeachment and trial, once he commits an impeachable offense. This shouldn’t take long. He might do it minutes after being sworn in. For Republicans, if there is any making of lemonade from this lemon, it’s that we’d get Mike Pence as president, who would be a Republican dream president. Perhaps this is the unlikely roll of the dice that Republicans are hoping for. As hard as I try though I just don’t see how Trump can get elected. So much of the election chessboard is baked in and so few seem persuadable, so the election will be determined mostly by turnout. Even those who would prefer to sit it out probably won’t be able to. The stakes are too high. Moreover, courts recently invalidated Voter ID laws in three states further pushing the odds toward Hillary Clinton’s election.

Those of us who care about our country and the rule of law though can be forgiven for holding our breath until after the election. While Trump’s election is unlikely, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. His election would be the biggest threat to our country since the Civil War. I expect prescriptions for Valium and Xanex to climb through the election. The nervous nellies out there have every right to be nervous. Should Trump win I may need one too. I’ll also probably need a backhoe for digging my fallout shelter. Silly me, I just figured if there were going to be a nuclear war, some other country would start it.

State of the presidential race

The Thinker by Rodin

And we’re off with another of my analyses of the 2016 presidential campaign. We’ve now had a few primaries and caucuses. Super Tuesday is a week away. Its results will clarify a lot of things and may very well show that my analysis today was quite off the mark. So it goes sometimes for us pundits. But these analyses are what people seem to want. I do notice that to the extent that posts get liked or shared, it’s from these posts.

On the Republican side, Jeb Bush has finally dropped out. Perhaps he felt he needed to make one last attempt in South Carolina to minimize family shame. Also gone are Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie. It appears that only three are really in the running now: Trump, Cruz and Rubio. Kasich is hanging in there along with Ben Carson but at this point those two are outliers. My betting is that Trump will be the nominee. I’m actually rooting for Cruz, not because I like him but because he’d be the easiest for a Democratic candidate to beat. He is so nasty. Rubio is the Democrats’ biggest threat. I expect that the Republican establishment will rally around Rubio but like with Jeb it’s probably a lost cause. Simply speaking, the Republican establishment simply doesn’t represent the Republican voters anymore. Republican voters don’t care about conservatism as they do about personalities. (Witness Trump’s recent takedown of George W. Bush on the Iraq War. It hasn’t affected his poll numbers.) They want someone who best channels their fears. Trump seems to do this best and is adroit and fending off competition. There is a slim chance of a brokered convention but such a convention would likely be the death of the Republican Party. Trump will bring the “establishment” in his coattails, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth from them.

On the Democratic side, Martin O’Malley is gone. Clinton showed a little moxie by winning the caucuses in Nevada on Saturday, but only by five points after Sanders predictably shellacked her in the New Hampshire primary. In actual pledged delegates she and Sanders are tied at 55 each, but Clinton claims a huge superdelegate lead. Superdelegates however tend to move toward the people’s choice. Clinton should know this best as she was boasting about this eight years ago. By the time the convention rolled around the superdelegates dutifully got behind Barack Obama, their party’s choice. So don’t pay much attention to the superdelegate buzz. However, Super Tuesday does favor Clinton. Eleven states are in play plus American Samoa and Democrats abroad. My predictions:

  • Clinton wins Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas
  • Sanders wins Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont and Virginia

Of course the system is not winner take all, but the big prize is Texas (222 delegates). My guess is overall it will break 60% for Clinton and 40% for Sanders. Clinton should have some momentum coming out of Super Tuesday, but wins will be primarily a factor of the values in the states and especially the number of African Americans voting in these states. The national and state polls are mixed, but overall Sanders is catching up with Clinton. He must catch up quickly otherwise the delegate math will work against him.

Democrats need Sanders to win the nomination. This is because (like Obama in 2008) Sanders gives Democrats a reason to show up at the polls. Clinton (like Trump) is judged more unfavorably than favorably by voters and it’s unlikely that will change. However, Republicans are highly motivated in this election and they will be most motivated if Trump wins the nomination. So Democrats will need to at least match Republican motivation to win and Clinton is hardly a reason to get enthused. Polls consistently show that Sanders will win against any of the Republican candidates.

Understandably some Democrats are unenthusiastic about a Sanders nomination. Some don’t see him as a true Democrat because he only joined the party recently, having caucused with Democrats in the House and Senate. There are concerns that his socialist platform won’t sell or that he is too idealistic to be a good president, and would be a poor commander in chief. Clinton arguably addresses these concerns, but it comes at the expense of a higher probability of losing the general election. Sanders however is also likelier to have longer coattails and should bring in a new wave of younger and enthusiastic Democrats. You can’t really govern well without Congress behind you. Sanders is betting the farm on Democrats retaking the Senate and with a massive turnout in his favor Democrats could even retake the House.

One wild card is whether former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg runs for president as an independent. Should Clinton win the nomination (and particularly if Trump wins the Republican nomination) then a Bloomberg run is good for Democrats. The worst case is that Americans choose Bloomberg, which negates the worry that Trump would win. The likelier case is a repeat of the 1992 election when Ross Perot’s independent run effectively kept George H.W. Bush from being reelected, and put Bill Clinton in the White House. No independent has ever won the presidency so Bloomberg’s odds are slim at best, even with all his money, something he should know. He would also be effective in taking down Trump. It may take another billionaire to bring down Trump.

Anyhow, that’s how I read the tealeaves at the moment.

Donald Trump and the art of carnival barking

The Thinker by Rodin

Sorry about delays in postings, Razor fans. I’ve been occupied this week by a family reunion. Aside from deaths and weddings, reunions don’t happen very often in my family. The last scheduled one was in 2000. This one probably would not have happened either if I had not taken the initiative last year to find a location and to prod my siblings. Our reunion at Chenango Valley State Park was good while it lasted, but it didn’t last long. The weather at the park near Binghamton, New York (where most of us grew up) over the weekend was oppressively hot and humid, uncharacteristic of the region. It meant sleep was difficult, particularly during many extreme thunderstorms and torrential rains.

While we arrived last Saturday, siblings quickly started peeling away beginning on Tuesday. I ended up leaving early too. My wife developed an ear infection on a trip of her own, came home and started throwing up. She was weak and worried she might be developing pneumonia. So I drove back on Wednesday. My wife is improving but not without a lot of requisite suffering.

So I’m back and catching up on the news that I missed at the park while I sweated and tried to keep mosquitoes from biting me. There were no lack of interesting current events, but the media for some reason could not stop highlighting the latest crazy nonsense coming out of the mouth of Republican presidential “candidate” Donald Trump. Trump has developed a knack for sucking the oxygen out of the room, much to the consternation of his fellow Republican candidates that wanted the privilege instead. Unfortunately, their idea of doing this is to bash liberals, the poor, environmentalists and the Iranian government, which is hardly novel. Trump’s approach is to be more outrageous than any of the other candidates, and by an order of magnitude.

Trump has figured out a way to outdo them all by saying outrageous things not just about Mexican immigrants (suggesting most are rapists and criminals) but also his fellow Republicans. Most recently he suggested that Senator John McCain was not a war hero because all he did was spend five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prison. It’s all pretty crazy stuff, but it seems to be working in getting cameras and microphones to follow him. Republicans seem to like people that are outspoken to the point of being insane and foaming at the mouth. They also like candidates that make unrealistic promises, like Trump’s promise to build a wall along our entire border with Mexico, which he says wouldn’t be hard or expensive to do. At the moment Trump holds what is likely to be an ephemeral lead in the polls among self-identified Republicans.

I’m still puzzling over what Trump is really up to but I doubt it’s the presidency. It’s clear that he likes attention. He made his fortune in part by being brazen and outspoken. His crazy remarks are par for his course. This is a man after all, who at least says he believes that President Obama was not born in the United States. Wind Trump back twenty years when even then he was making motions of running for president and his policy solutions were very mainstream. Today he is wild and outrageous, which makes me suspect he is not being sincere. Perhaps he is impossible to accurately psychoanalyze, but in my mind there are two distinct explanations for what is spewing out of his mouth: he’s either running a parody campaign realizing in advance he won’t win and is just out for some kicks, or he is a secret Democratic party mole.

I personally lean toward the latter explanation, in part because Democratic administrations tend to be good for business. Much of his fortune is based on greasing the gears of government to look favorably on his skyscrapers and casinos. It’s hard to imagine that a man as successful as he is could be so blindingly stupid. For example, he needs those illegal Mexicans he rails against to wash the dishes in his restaurants and casinos, and doubtless employs plenty of them already. He’s probably not a progressive, but if he is sane then he’s more mainstream than he lets on. I say this based on his actions, not on his mouth. He may be worth the ten billion dollars he claims he is worth, but he has had many failures in his career. Indeed, he is hardly a self-made man. He got his start courtesy of his father’s fortunes. Many of his projects have proven disastrous for himself and his partners. I figure he simply doesn’t care what people think about him. His extreme wealth gives him that privilege.

But he can command the media’s attention, which means he can control the media playground. Most smart political observers think his popularity will quickly peter out and when it does to keep the camera on him he will launch a third party run for president. He has hinted at such. Since he is drawing Republicans to him instead of Democrats, a third party run would simply fracture the Republican base and the party’s chances of acquiring the White House in 2016. The outcome would look a lot like the 1992 election, when independent Ross Perot also fractured the Republican base, leading improbably to the election of Bill Clinton, when the overall dynamics would have favored George H.W. Bush’s reelection. In any event, his candidacy is not good for the Republican Party in general and for the many candidates vying for the nomination. If he is to represent the Republican brand through winning the nomination, he may be the death of the Republican Party, which first rose with the election of Abraham Lincoln.

If Trump actually believes the crap he is spewing then he is untethered to reality, which is just a polite way of saying he is mentally ill. He is not. He is crafty. He knows how to get attention. You can’t get attention by being conventional. The Republican Party of today is hardly conventional. Indeed, it is not even conservative. It is radical. It takes a certain skill to command attention in such an arena, but he has the advantage that with so many candidates the media cannot focus on any of them. He does know how to be a carnival barker. Trump has the skill and has used it successfully in his career. He has learned the art of showmanship, and it involves learning how to be heard. That requires being very loud in a tone and manner that is discordant because it draws attention. He is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Try not to hear that. This is how he sucks oxygen out of the room and draws attention to himself. It’s a marketing strategy. And in marketing you learn that any attention, even negative attention, is better than being ignored. At least you are talked about.

It works but it generally doesn’t work in achieving a lofty goal like being president of the United States. It might if the standards and expectations of the American voter have degraded as much as Trump might be hoping they have. If they have then we must really depend on God blessing America, because Trump would be a disaster of a president. It probably would not take both Republicans and Democrats long to impeach and convict him out of office.