Cuckoo for Tax Cuts
Republicans have been hard at work this week addressing the economic anxiety of the middle class and working poor.
They kicked off the week rolling back a regulation that allowed customers to sue their banks. Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote in the Senate. Banks will now be allowed to require customers to enter into arbitration to resolve disputes rather file or join a class-action lawsuit.
Later in the week, Trump’s Department of the Interior took aim at one of the last affordable vacations for many. The Department of the Interior announced plans to increase entrance fees at 17 National Parks to $70/car – a 180% increase. The National Park Service says the increase is necessary due to the backlog of maintenance issues. What the Park Service cannot say — funding does not exist for maintenance because Republicans are proposing to slash the Parks Service budget as part of their plan to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Speaking of which, Republicans took a huge step this week towards making their tax reform dreams come true. They approved a budget in both the House and the Senate. By passing a budget, Republicans can now pass their tax plan with just 50 votes in the Senate, meaning it’s filibuster-proof. It may not be all smooth sailing though. The House approved the budget by a vote of just 216-212, since the majority of Republican representatives from New York and New Jersey voted against it. They opposed the budget because it would allow the elimination of a federal tax deduction for state and local taxes. This punishes taxpayers from high tax states like New York, New Jersey, and California (interestingly, Republicans from California voted for the House budget). This deduction, along with a GOP proposed reduction in the amount of money workers can put into a 401k, will be key points of negotiation over the coming weeks.
As a reminder, the Republican tax plan is to give significant tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals, as well as the 5,000 families in the country who pay the estate tax. Oh and also, naturally, to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. To “pay” for these tax cuts, Republicans propose gutting Medicare and Medicaid by $1.5 trillion and increasing the national debt by $1.5 trillion. Since tax cuts are to Republicans like cocoa puffs are to Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, all former principled stands on fiscal responsibility have been thrown out the window. To give you an idea of what else $1.5 trillion could be spent on rather than breaks for the super wealthy, former chairman of the National Economic Council Jason Furman notes that $1.5 trillion would have paid for all of the Affordable Care Act plus universal Pre-K “with change to spare.”
On Friday, a federal grand jury approved the first charges from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. CNN reported that the first indictment is expected on Monday! Because there are so many shady characters around the president, we have no idea who will be indicted. While that is very troubling, it is nice to know that finally, after ruining our weekends for the past year, Trump and pals are having a terrible weekend. After seeing the ghost of the indictments future, Trump woke up on Sunday to tweet, “There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”
Trump, the GOP, and Fox News have been trying to DO SOMETHING this week to change the story from “Trump plus his usual suspects colluded with Russia” to “Hillary was really Keyser Soze all along.” They have dug up two recycled nonsensical stories, featured those stories almost 24-7 on Fox News, and in one case, even had a Congressional investigation launched. The first tall tale is that Hillary Clinton took a bribe to sell uranium to the Russians. When Trump first wished upon a star in 2016 that this story was true, The Washington Post gave him “Four Pinocchios”. This week, Newsweek took a look and concluded that the “conspiracy theory doesn’t make any sense.”
The second distraction story that got everyone in a tizzy was that the Clinton campaign was behind the Trump dossier that was floated around Washington D.C. Again, this is such an old and well-known story, that even I covered it months ago in The TrumpShaker. That the Democrats would pay someone to investigate Trump is not remotely news. Every campaign does this. The real stories should be that a) nothing in the Trump dossier has been debunked yet, and b) the Trump dossier was initially paid for by the conservative paper, the Washington Free Beacon, before Democrats took over the funding. However, much of the media continues to be unable to resist the possibility of a Clinton scandal and are spreading GOP talking points that seem to lead to the conclusion that it was actually Hillary Clinton who colluded with the Russians to ummm, I guess . . . lose the election by letting the Russians publish stolen emails and keep all sketchy Trump dealings with Russia a secret.
Curtailing luxury private jet trips for Trump administration members may have slowed down their travel, but it hasn’t slowed down their grifting of the American public. This week:
- Even after multiple revisions of her federal financial disclosure report, Ivanka Trump forgot to mention that she was a director of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which is currently under investigation for fraud.
- An energy “firm” (more like a “power couple”) in Whitefish, Montana received a $300 million no-bid contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Whitefish Energy, had two full time employees. Its largest federal contract before this was for $1.3 million. Whitefish’s agreement sets the hourly rate at $330 for a site supervisor and $227.88 for a “journeyman lineman.” The agreement also states that “In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements.” It’s not clear who approved this agreement and why Puerto Rico did not request mutual aid at a much lower cost from other power agencies as is typically done in these situations (that’s what Florida and Houston did after the hurricanes there). What is known is that another resident of the 6,300 person town of Whitefish, Montana is Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and that Whitefish Energy hired Zinke’s son for a summer job. Yep, I know I’m just throwing out innuendo here, but this administration should get no benefit of the doubt. This morning, the governor of Puerto Rico said he would try to cancel the contract with Whitefish Energy.
- The largest private prison company in the United States, GEO Group, which has donated millions to Trump, just moved its annual conference to the Trump National Doral Golf Club.
- The two Trump boys announced two new large real estate development projects in India despite the President’s pledge to “no new foreign deals” for the Trump Organization while he was in office.
Taking Sides Against the Family – This week, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) joined Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in speaking out against President Trump. In a powerful speech on the Senate floor, Flake declared, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.” Corker, for his part, continued his Twitter battle with the President by responding to a Trump tweet with, “Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff.” Now it is it time to see if Flake’s and Corker’s actions match their words. Since the first action both took was to decline to run for re-election, I’m not counting on them to keep up the good fight.
Republicans have not responded well to Flake and Corker’s declaration that the emperor has no clothes and is also insane. Senator John Thune (R-SD), the third highest ranking member of the GOP leadership, went full Don Corleone and said those two should keep their feelings about Trump “private” and “within the family.” Republican voters agree apparently. Approval of Corker is now at 37%, down from 61% just a few months ago.
GOP Wants Moore – While speaking with a conscience is apparently a no-no in Republican circles, xenophobia, racism, and homophobia continue to be all the rage. I’ve written at length about what aterrible person Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore is. NBC reporter Frank Thorp V asked Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) if he agreed with Roy Moore saying homosexual conduct should be illegal as well as Moore’s statement that Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) should not have been allowed to take the congressional oath because he’s Muslim. Cornyn answered, “I don’t have to agree with somebody to support them over the democratic nominee. I support the nominee of my party . . . I have disagreement within my own family, doesn’t mean I care for them any less, so I support the nominee of my party.”
In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Republican Ed Gillespie is also attempting to leverage the hate unearthed by Trump into victory. A former moderate, Gillespie’s ads have been focused on the threat of immigrant gangs, the danger of restoring voting rights to felons, and the protection of confederate statues. If Gillespie pulls off an upset on November 7, expect to see your airwaves filled with fear and odium in the next election.
Beware the Frozen Heart – Almost every week, I share one story from the many terrible inhumane actions of the now unleashed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Despite writing this newsletter for a year, I was not cynical enough to think we would get to the depth of depravity that we are at this week. ICE stopped an ambulance carrying 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, who has cerebral palsy and needed an emergency gall bladder surgery. Rosa Maria’s parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 3 months old, hoping to get her better health care. What parent would not have done the same? ICE followed the ambulance to the hospital. Armed border guards waited outside of her room as she underwent surgery. When Rosa Maria was released from the hospital, agents took her into custody to begin to process her for deportation. ICE then took this young child, recovering from surgery, and put her into an immigrant detention facility by herself in San Antonio, 150 miles away from her home. Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) reports that she will not be reunited with her parents for another 1 – 2 weeks. She is only allowed to talk to her mother one time per day. This is now how America uses its power and wealth; the beacon of freedom has gone out.
Now 100% Fact Free – What’s even easier than making up alternative facts? Just avoiding facts altogether. Last Sunday, the EPA canceled at the last minute a speaking engagement on climate change by three of its scientists. On Friday, the FBI issued its annual crime report, but this year’s version provides 70% fewer data tables than last year’s report. This reduction in data makes it more difficult to check whatever claim Trump or Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III make about the alleged increase in crime from MS-13 gang members roaming wildly or terrifying creatures luring people into sewers.
Bombs Over My Hammy – Nuclear bombers are getting ready to join Denny’s Pumpkin Cream Pancake Breakfast and 7-11’s hot dogs as forces of destruction available 24 hours a day. For the first time since 1991, the U.S. Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed B-52 bombers on 24-hour ready alert. Nighty night!
Not Straight Shooters – It’s been four whole weeks since over 600 people were shot in Las Vegas and we’ve already moved on as a country. Even the hopes of passing the most minimal regulation legislation possible, to ban bump stocks which allow semi-automatic guns to fire at a rate comparable to automatics, have been dashed as Republican leadership will not bring bills up for a vote.
Then She Came for the Kids with Disabilities – First, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos eliminated protections for transgender students. However, that didn’t seem to raise test scores. So then she did away with guidance to protect sexual assault survivors. However, graduation rates just didn’t seem to increase. So she thought about what is really holding back education achievement in this country and she came up with rescinding guidance on rights for disabled students. If that doesn’t do the trick, word is that she’s contemplating hiring the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to work with homeless youth.
Blinded by Science – Apparently Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 was not available to be the U.S. ambassador to Canada. Instead, Trump chose someone who made slightly less sense when interviewed. When asked about climate change, Ambassador Kelly Craft said she believes in “both sides of the science” of climate change.
Blessed Memory – Trump continued his feud with the wife of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, challenging her contention that Trump didn’t remember Johnson’s name. Trump said that he has “one of the great memories of all time.” Somehow that legendary memory failed him during his deposition in the fraud case against Trump University this past December. He told lawyers “I don’t remember” 35 times.
Peachy K(l)een – The lack of security in Georgia’s election technology is the subject of a current lawsuit. Last August, a security lapse in a server left Georgia’s 6.7 million voter records exposed to hackers. Georgia’s defense is literally “nothing to see here.” Turns out that the sever in question was wiped cleanjust 4 days after the lawsuit was filed. Georgia’s secretary of state blamed this on “undeniable ineptitude.” However, wouldn’t you know it, there was even more ineptitude when two backup servers were wiped in August, just as the case was moving to federal court.
Crumbled CHIP – Congress let the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expire on September 30 as Republicans were making one last run at repealing the Affordable Care Act. Despite both parties supporting CHIP, a deal to approve it proves elusive as House Republicans are insisting on tying it to changes to the Affordable Care Act such as cutting funding for the ACA’s public health fund and reducing the grace period for missed premiums by ACA recipients from 90 days to 30 days. By the GOP trying to win a few political points with the base, 9 million children may soon be without insurance.
Fallopian Fools – Teen pregnancy rates have been declining dramatically the past few years, so naturally the Trump administration wants to do away with the Obama administration’s successful efforts. Health and Human Services has told 81 organizations that were part of the Obama administration’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that their grants would expire in June 2018, two years early. Trump administration officials have not confirmed whether they would try to keep rates low by reverting back to abstinence-only programs or simply requiring all teenagers to picture Donald and Melania tweeting to completion
Kakistocracy Live and Uncensored
If watching a member of Trump’s cabinet squirm would bring you some joy, then I present you with HUD Secretary Ben Carson being grilled by Rep. Al Green (D-TX).
Featured Articles of the Week
Last week, I mentioned the story of a father who was detained by ICE during his visa interview. His daughter, a Yale student, shares her account in The New York Times.
The Washington Post explores the story of a mother prohibited by a Mississippi judge from seeing her newborn child for 14 of the baby’s first 18 months because she could not afford to pay overdue court fees.
I have featured Doug Jones here before, but since Roy Moore is so horrific and the latest polls show a tied race (42% a piece), I thought Doug deserved another feature. The election is December 12; consider a donation.