Dec 07

Spy vs Spy May Become Reality

It’s been fairly evident that Donald Trump loves conspiracy theories. His claims about the existence of a “deep state” of longtime government officials to undermine him and his administration has come up frequently in his statements. Of course, there is no evidence that this “deep state” even exists except in Trump’s paranoid mind. Unfortunately, he has surrounded himself with people who cater to his delusions. Two such people are CIA Director Mike Pompeo and former Blackwater founder Erik Prince, a former CIA officer and famous Iran-Contra scandal figure Oliver North. As was reported in The Intercept by Jeremy Scahill and Matthew Cole.

The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.

The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”

North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.

The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran. [..]

According to two former senior intelligence officials, Pompeo has embraced the plan and lobbied the White House to approve the contract. Asked for comment, a CIA spokesperson said, “You have been provided wildly inaccurate information by people peddling an agenda.”

At the heart of the scheme being considered by the White House are Blackwater founder Erik Prince and his longtime associate, CIA veteran John R. Maguire, who currently works for the intelligence contractor Amyntor Group. Maguire also served on Trump’s transition team. Amyntor’s role was first reported by BuzzFeed News.

Michael Barry, who was recently named NSC senior director for intelligence programs, worked closely with Prince on a CIA assassination program during the Bush administration.

Prince and Maguire deny they are working together. Those assertions, however, are challenged by current and former U.S. officials and Trump donors who say the two men were collaborating. [..]

Among the capabilities Prince offers is a network of deniable assets — spies, fixers, foreign intelligence agents — spread across the globe that could be used by the White House. “You pick any country in the world Erik’s been in, and it’s there,” said a longtime Prince associate. “They’re a network of very dark individuals.” The associate, who has worked extensively with Prince, then began rattling off places where the private spies and paramilitaries already operate — Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, “all across North Africa.”

Opaque contracting arrangements are typical for Prince, who became a lightning rod in his Blackwater days and now prefers to minimize controversy by operating in the shadows, disguising his involvement in sensitive operations with layers of subcontractors and elaborately crafted legal structures. “That’s his exact MO,” said the longtime Prince associate, adding that Prince consistently attempts to ensure plausible deniability of his role in U.S. and foreign government contracts.

The whole article is an eye popping read into what would constitute a private Black Ops ring of spies and paramilitaries solely under the control of Trump and Pompeo, funded by private donors an accountable to no one.

Investigative reporter Matthew Cole and former CIA analyst Ned Price join MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss the plan to create a “spy vs spy” network of unaccountable actors.

Dec 07

The Breakfast Club (Life’s Circle)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:00am (ET) (or whenever we get around to it) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

On this date in 1941, Japanese forces attack the home base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii – prompting America under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to enter World War II.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.

Noam Chomsky

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Dec 06

The Russian Connection: Money Laundering 101

It was reported yesterday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed the bank records of the Trump family from Deutsche Bank. Duetsche Bank has a rather dubious history of laundering money for everyone from drug lords to arms dealers to oligarchs. Just this psst January, the bank was fined $620 million for its part in $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme that involved the bank’s Moscow, New York, and London branches. The Trump family has had to rely on the bank for loans since they have been blackballed for their underhanded policy of suing the institutes to whom they owe money and declaring multiple bankruptcies. The Trump organization has also been involving in money laundering through its now defunct casinos

The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement. [..]

The casino repeatedly failed to properly report gamblers who cashed out $10,000 or more in a single day, the government said.

Trump’s casino ended up paying the Treasury Department a $477,000 fine in 1998 without admitting any liability under the Bank Secrecy Act.

The violations date back to a time when the Taj Mahal was the preferred gambling spot for Russian mobsters living in Brooklyn, according to federal investigators who tracked organized crime in New York City. They also occurred at a time when the Taj Mahal casino was short on cash and on the verge of bankruptcy.

More Russians. Who would have guessed?

One of the charges against Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is money laundering.

According to the CNN artcle there are two kinds of money laundering, international and domestic. Manofort and his partner, Robert Gates, are charged with both.

Citing the international money laundering provision, the indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates conspired to transfer money into or out of the United States with the intent to promote the crime of failing to register as a foreign agent.

Citing the domestic money laundering provision, it alleges that Manafort and Gates conspired to conduct transactions involving the proceeds of the FARA violation with knowledge that the transactions were designed either to conceal or disguise the source of the money or to evade taxes.

The domestic and international money laundering provisions operate differently. Whereas the domestic provision looks rearward — focusing on the source of the money being laundered, in other words, the proceeds of illegal activity (otherwise known as “dirty money”) — the international one looks forward, making it an offense to use money derived from any source, legal or illegal, to promote a specified crime in the future.

Under the international provision, the money can be perfectly “clean;” the crime is in using it to break the law down the road.

Renovations on a Brooklyn, New York brownstone owned by Manfort has been shut down by the NYC Buildings Department.

City officials slapped a stop-work order on Manafort’s Brooklyn brownstone — a property that federal prosecutors have alleged is one way Manafort was able to launder millions of dollars he earned overseas.

The order isn’t related to the money-laundering allegations — it was issued after somebody complained to 311 that there was no DOB work permit posted outside the property at 377 Union Street. When city inspectors responded on Nov. 28, they discovered that contractors did not have an approved plan for work they were doing to the home, and that they had installed a fire suppression sprinkler system without the proper permits. The department issued two violations and full stop work order.

A nearby resident told neighborhood blog Pardon Me For Asking, which first reported the stop-work order, that it hasn’t actually led to work stopping.

“The Sheriff drove up and they shut lights off,” the neighbor told the blog. “Sheriff drove away, they resumed work.”

So how does money laundering work? MSNBC host Rachel Maddow explains just how a Russian criminal would launder $10 million.

Dec 06

The 1%

While we are debating changes to the Tax Code that will provide 90% of their benefits to the wealthiest 1% and raises the Taxes of everyone else who makes less than $75,000 a year (in addition to taking away critical benefits to pay for it, not that it needs paying for mind you) it is useful to note the inequality that already exists.

The top 1% own more wealth than the bottom 90% combined.

They own 40% of the entire wealth of the United States.

The richest 1 percent now owns more of the country’s wealth than at any time in the past 50 years
By Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post
December 6 2017

The wealthiest 1 percent of American households own 40 percent of the country’s wealth, according to a new paper by economist Edward N. Woolf. That share is higher than it has been at any point since at least 1962, according to Woolf’s data, which comes from the federal Survey of Consumer Finances.

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the 1 percent shot up by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent, meanwhile, fell over the same period. Today, the top 1 percent of households own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. That gap, between the ultrawealthy and everyone else, has only become wider in the past several decades.

Let’s talk a bit about that wealth gap. Wealth, often described as net worth, describes how much stuff you actually have: It’s the value of your assets minus the value of your debts. If you have a $250,000 house but you still owe $200,000 to the bank on it, and you have no other debts or financial assets, that means your net worth is $50,000.

In the United States, the distribution of that wealth is even more skewed toward the top than the distribution of income.

Now he goes on to use a rather trite pie metaphor and for the sake of clarity I’m just going to edit that part out.

The top 20 percent of households actually own a whopping 90 percent of the stuff in America… Their average net worth? $3 million.

That leaves just 10 percent for the remaining 80 percent of the populace. The next 20 percent of households (average net worth: $273,600) help themselves to (8%), while the middle 20 percent ($81,700 net worth, on average) (2%).

The fourth quintile of households gets literally nothing. (T)hey’re still doing better than the bottom 20 percent of households, who are actually in a state of debt: Their net worth is underwater, meaning they owe more than they have. Combined, the average net worth of the bottom 40 percent of households is -$8,900.

Yes, that is a minus sign you see. The bottom 40% owes slightly less than $10,000.

Concentrating on just the top 20% (you know, those people who own 90% of everything)-

  • The top 1% == 40% of wealth
  • Those below 1% to 5% == 27% of wealth
  • Those below 5% to 10% == 12% of wealth
  • Those below 10% to 20% == 11% of wealth

Now that group between 10 and 20% is larger than the others put together so their individual net worth is relatively low but they have an average of $740,800 each.

Ingraham finishes with this-

If you were designing a tax plan to reduce the extreme inequality in the United States, you’d probably try to find ways to redistribute some of the wealth from the richest households to the poorest ones. But the Senate GOP tax plan does precisely the opposite of that, according to the CBO: In the short term the richest households get the biggest tax cuts, while longer term the taxes of the poorest households actually increase.

Estate tax? Cut. Income tax rate for millionaires? Cut (at least in the Senate bill). Corporate tax rate? Biggest rate cut ever.

In the long term that probably means more for the super-rich, and less for everyone else.

Dec 06

The Breakfast Club (Progress Of Rivers)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:00am (ET) (or whenever we get around to it) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Jefferson Davis dies in New Orleans; Four people die at a free Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway in Livermore, California; America’s first attempt to put a satellite into orbit fails; Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck is born.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

The progress of rivers to the ocean is not so rapid as that of man to error.

Voltaire

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Dec 05

Why There Will Be 2 More Votes On Taxes

The short answer is that when Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republican Misleadership put back the Alternative Minimum Tax for Corporations (which they had to do to pay for other bribes to their caucus) they didn’t lower the rate and it remains at 20%, exactly the same as the base rate!

What this means for the Multinational Megacorporation Monopolies is they can’t use any of their carefully crafted loopholes and carve outs to reduce their taxes!

Needless to say the very same donors demanding they do this vastly unpopular bill at all are unpleased with their feckless stupidity.

Before I give you some more information about that colossal cock up, here’s some late night musings on the broader subject.

The Laffer Curve from Samantha Bee

America’s Neediest Millionaires from Trevor Noah

Flynn and Taxes from Seth Myers

It’s a little unfocused, the Tax stuff is at the end.

Just Taxes from Stephen Colbert

Here’s how Lewis Black describes “Trickle Down Economics”- “Take a cup. Tape it to your ankle. Now drink 20 beers and piss your pants and tell me how long it takes the cup to fill.”

Reinforcing my main point, which is that there will be at least 2 more votes on the Cut Cut Cut Bill, one in the House, one in the Senate, this piece by Eric Levitz-

The Senate GOP Accidentally Killed Some of Its Donors’ Favorite Tax Breaks
By Eric Levitz, New York Magazine
December 4, 2017

This screwup — like most of the tax plan’s oddest features — was born of a math problem. Due to arcane Senate rules, the Trump tax cuts can only add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. Last Thursday, the Senate tax bill already cost about that sum, and then McConnell started making expensive promises to his few holdouts. Susan Collins wanted a $10,000 property tax deduction for Americans in high-tax states; Ron Johnson wanted a 23 percent business-income deduction for the company that his family owns. This left the Senate Majority Leader searching under the tax code’s couch cushions for new sources of revenue.

Eventually, he came upon the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT). At present, most corporations face a 35 percent (statutory) rate on their income. But by availing themselves of various tax credits and deductions, most companies can get their actual rates down far below that figure. To put a limit on just how far, the corporate AMT prevents companies from paying any less than 20 percent on their profits (or, more precisely, on the profits that they fail to hide overseas).

The GOP had originally intended to abolish the AMT. But on Friday, with the clock running out — and money running short — Senate Republicans put the AMT back into their bill. Unfortunately for McConnell, they forgot to lower the AMT after doing so.

This is a big problem. The Senate bill brings the normal corporate rate down to 20 percent — while leaving the alternative minimum rate at … 20 percent. The legislation would still allow corporations to claim a wide variety of tax credits and deductions — it just renders all them completely worthless. Companies can either take no deductions, and pay a 20 percent rate — or take lots of deductions … and pay a 20 percent rate.

With this blunder, Senate Republicans have achieved the unthinkable: They’ve written a giant corporate tax cut that many of their corporate donors do not like.

McConnell’s mistake has two big implications. First and foremost, it means the Senate will almost certainly have to vote on a tax bill again before one goes into law. Previously, it looked as though Paul Ryan had enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill as is. This took pressure off the party’s conference committee (the House and Senate leaders tasked with reconciling each chamber’s bills). Worst-case scenario, the House could just rubber-stamp the Senate’s work. Now, that option is deeply undesirable. It remains overwhelmingly likely that Republicans will pass a giant tax cut. But their task is now a bit more difficult.

The second implication is that McConnell is going to need new revenue. In all probability, Republicans are going to drop the alternative-minimum tax rate well below 20 percent. That will put the bill’s price tag over $1.5 trillion.

As it turns out, House Republicans are already making passage difficult. They threatened (but did not follow through on) to vote against appointing members to the Conference Committee.

Then there is this-

House Republicans Already Shooting Down Tax Bill’s Promises
by Andrew Desiderio, Daily Beast
12.04.17

House conservatives are already indicating that they’re prepared to block some of the key legislative promises that Senate Republicans demanded in exchange for their votes on tax reform legislation.

Those promises materialized in the frantic final hours of the tax debate last week, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) assurances that some of their personal legislative priorities would be dealt with in exchange for their votes.

Collins said she received a promise that the Senate would consider two bipartisan pieces of legislation that would ostensibly mitigate the negative effects that could come from the tax bill’s repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate. Flake said he received a “firm commitment from Senate Leadership and the administration” to work on a permanent protections for the soon-to-be-ended Obama-era program that shields children of undocumented immigrants.

Both senators ended up voting for the tax bill, giving it the 51 “yes” votes it needed to pass. Within days, however, reality began setting in that those promises might have been flimsy at best.

Moving the Collins and Flake deals through the House was always going to be an uphill climb, with a conservative bloc sharply opposed to both measures, having dubbed DACA a de facto form of amnesty and arguing that the health insurance market stabilization bills that Collins supports are tantamount to a bailout for health insurers and what they view as a broken system. On Monday, those conservatives railed against McConnell for making promises on legislation that they have long opposed.

“We still have the same issues. Nothing has changed in the last two months just because we’re fulfilling our promise on delivering on tax reform,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Daily Beast. “I find it problematic to be promising something that the House has shunned from very early on.”

Andrew Desiderio missed the fact that there will have to be another vote by suggesting it was a viable alternative to just pass the Senate Bill (see above) and while he lists several issues he doesn’t include what may be the biggest one of all.

The Senate Bill doesn’t include deductions for State and Local Taxes. For House members voting Yes on a Bill like that would be political suicide and not all Republicans hail from a Dead Red State but they all stand for election in 2018.

And Paul Krugman (who I don’t always agree with) reminds us what the real goal is-

Republicans Are Coming for Your Benefits
by Paul Krugman, The New York Times
DEC. 4, 2017

Republicans don’t care about budget deficits, and never did. They only pretend to care about deficits when one of two things is true: a Democrat is in the White House, and deficit rhetoric can be used to block his agenda, or they see an opportunity to slash social programs that help needy Americans, and can invoke deficits as an excuse. All of this has been obvious for years to anyone paying attention.

So it’s not at all surprising that they were willing to enact a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy even though all independent estimates said this would add more than $1 trillion to the national debt. And it was also predictable that they would return to deficit posturing as soon as the deed was done, citing the red ink they themselves produced as a reason to cut social spending.

Yet even the most cynical among us are startled both by how quickly the bait-and-switch is proceeding and by the contempt Republicans are showing for the public’s intelligence.

In fact, the switch began even before the marks swallowed the bait.

During the Senate debate over the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Senator Orrin Hatch was challenged over support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers nine million U.S. children — but whose funding lapsed two months ago, and has not been renewed. Hatch declared his support for the program, but insisted that “the reason CHIP’s having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore” — just before voting for a trillion-and-a-half-dollar tax cut that will deliver the bulk of its benefits to the richest few percent of the population.

He then went on to say, “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”

Now, to be fair, there are some people in America who get lots of money they didn’t lift a finger to earn — namely, inheritors of large estates. Strange to say, however, Republican legislation would give these people much more — indeed, billions and billions of dollars — without requiring any additional effort on their part.

The House version of the big tax cut would eliminate the estate tax entirely; the Senate version would double the level of wealth exempted from the tax, to $22.4 million for a couple. How can this be justified if it’s supposedly hard to find money for children’s health care?

Well, Senator Chuck Grassley explained it all last week: “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Hmm. Somehow, I don’t think limiting spending on booze, women, and movies (movies?) is going to be sufficient for the median American household — which had an income of $59,000 last year — to end up with a $22 million estate. And if you think of people who really will benefit from eliminating taxes on inheritance — people like, say, Donald Trump Jr. — one is not immediately struck by the notion that this is a reward for their fathers’ abstemious lifestyles.

The important thing to realize, however, is that the hypocrisy and contempt for the public we’ve seen in the past few days is just the beginning.

It has been widely noted that the tax bills enacted by the House and Senate are remarkably unfriendly to the middle class — in fact, the Senate bill, once fully phased in, would actually raise taxes on a majority of middle-class families. But that observation captures only a small part of what is about to happen to ordinary, hard-working Americans.

For budget deficits are going to soar thanks to Republican legislation — probably by even more than the official scorekeepers say, because the legislation creates so many new loopholes. And offsetting those deficits will require going after the true big-ticket programs, namely Medicare and Social Security.

Oh, they’ll find euphemisms to describe what they’re doing, talking solemnly about the need for “entitlement reform” as an act of fiscal responsibility — while their huge budget-busting tax cut for the rich gets shoved down the memory hole. But whatever words they use to cloak the reality of the situation, Republicans have given their donors what they wanted — and now they’re coming for your benefits.

Dec 05

The Russian Connection: Shoes are Dropping Fast

The Special Counsel Robert Mueller is moving right along. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Maanfort had come to a bail deal that acceptable to the court and Mueller’s office. Problem is that these guys have such huge egos they think they can flout the rules:

Former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was, as recently as last week, ghostwriting with a colleague, who has ties to Russian intelligence, an editorial about his past political work in Ukraine, federal prosecutors said.

The development sunk a deal Manafort had struck to be released from house arrest, to which he has been confined for five weeks.

In court documents released on Monday, prosecutors argued that Manafort should not be freed from house arrest because he had been working on the English-language editorial with a longtime colleague “who is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service”.

If the court sides with the special counsel request, Manafort could be under house arrest until his trial next year. He should be thankful he if he isn’t remanded to a prison cell.

Remember when Donald Trump said that Mueller shouldn’t cross the red line of looking into hi and his family’s finances? Well Mueller crossed that line:

A U.S. federal investigator probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election asked Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) for data on accounts held by President Donald Trump and his family, a person close to the matter said on Tuesday.

Germany’s largest bank received a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller several weeks ago to provide information on certain money and credit transactions, the person said, without giving details, adding that key documents had been handed over in the meantime.

Deutsche Bank has lent the Trump Organization hundreds of millions of dollars for real estate ventures and is one of the few major lenders that has given large amounts of credit to Trump in the past decade. A string of bankruptcies at his hotel and casino businesses during the 1990s made most of Wall Street wary of extending him credit. [..]

A U.S. official with knowledge of Mueller’s probe said one reason for the subpoenas was to find out whether Deutsche Bank may have sold some of Trump’s mortgage or other loans to Russian state development bank VEB or other Russian banks that now are under U.S. and European Union sanctions.

Holding such debt, particularly if some of it was or is coming due, could potentially give Russian banks some leverage over Trump, especially if they are state-owned, said a second U.S. official familiar with Russian intelligence methods.

Follow the money.

Dec 05

The Breakfast Club (The Money Cage)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:00am (ET) (or whenever we get around to it) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Prohibition ends in the United States; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart dies; Walt Disney and Little Richard are born.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.

H. L. Mencken

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Dec 04

The New Revolution

Never let it be said I don’t post anything positive.

GOP Tax Bill Would Reorder Society & Create “Hereditary Aristocracy” for Rich

What the Republican Tax Bill Portends for the Future
by Ian Welsh
2017 December 2

The idea that it will “pay for itself” is ludicrous, and no one with a shred of intellectual integrity believes it.

It is six trillion in tax cuts, with 4.5 trillion in tax raises, including not taxing private education, but taxing public education.

(note: That is my link, not Ian’s, but Paul Waldman at the Wapo agrees)

A lot of Americans will suffer greatly as a result and a smaller number will do very well.

There will be an attempt to gut Medicare and Social Security next year, and it will be argued as necessary on budgetary grounds, after decades of deliberate acts like this tax bill, which hurt the budget. (And is basically bullshit even on budget grounds, but that’s a different article.)

As for the corporate tax cut from 35 percent to 20 percent, well, the 35 percent was paid by very few large companies–if any, but the last thing the US needs is corporate tax cuts: Corporations are sitting on vast quantities of cash, and they are not investing it. They should be taxed punitively on any non-reinvested profits, and that money should be spent by the government, if corporations don’t. This is common sense stuff.

Taxing overseas profits at a lower rate than domestic profits is a special sort of insanity.

None of this is likely to stand.

A lot of people in the US will suffer because of this. Some will die. All of it will most likely be repealed within eight years, because, as with the Tories in Britain completely destroying the economy for ordinary people, this will lead to a huge backlash.

It will stand only if “centrists” succeed in making sure that genuine left-wing principles are locked out of the Democratic party, as Blairites tried to do with Labour, only barely failing.

However, a genuine left-wing candidate on the Democratic ticket, with policies similar to Corbyn’s, will win in a landslide, because the youngs will vote for them in massive majorities (and, as Corbyn showed, the rule “young people don’t vote” isn’t true when someone champions their causes).

By 2024 at the latest, there will be enough of a generational shift, and enough people hurt badly enough and unable to pretend that the status quo ante was every good, that the Left, if not prevented by internal party politics, will win.

And they will win with a fairly radical agenda.

There are alternative scenarios, of course, nothing is 100 percent. But the feared fascism is unlikely to stick in the US, because the youngs aren’t onside with it (unlike the youngs in Eastern Europe). The people who want fascism in the US are mostly old and getting older (and dying).

Every time fascists come out for a march, Antifa outnumber them vastly.

What is more likely, if the possibility of a large shift to the left is stifled, is cyberpunk dystopia (sadly, so far, minus the cyberwear). Surveillance police state, vast slums abandoned by corporations and governments, corporate syndicalist towns and enclaves (already happening, as tech companies start building housing for their employees), and so on.

Those are the two most likely scenarios for the US. Those who think they can go back to the (illusory) Clintonian prosperity are deluded. The present marches into the future, and the neoliberal era is dying. The question is not if it will be replaced, but by what.

Choose your sides.

If anything good happened in 2016 – 2017 it was the beat down of the Tory-lite, Blairist, Neo Liberal Quislings by Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party and the widespread rejection of the Conservatives at the polls and their subsequent implosion.

We need to do that to Democrats.

Dec 04

Too True

I am at a loss for words. Fortunately Charlie Pierce has some.

Trump Is Not to Blame for the Devastating Republican Tax Bill
By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire
Dec 2, 2017

I confess. I gave up on the whole exercise Friday night around midnight when the Republican majority in the Senate passed an amendment to its Abomination of Desolation tax bill that was proposed by that remarkably friendless character, Tailgunner Ted Cruz. (I like to think that it was Cruz’s essential friendlessness that accounted for the fact that they needed Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie on the Cruz amendment.) The amendment would allow families to use money from 529 savings plans to send their kids to private and/or religious schools, or to homeschool their children themselves. Considering that this was in the context of passing a retrograde bill that would wipe out the deduction for state and local taxes, a move that would hit hardest the American families who send their children to public schools, this was too much even for my strong political stomach. The Republicans had the votes to make war on the very idea of the commons, and they were using them, and, shortly before two in the morning, they won, and the commons lost, and we awoke Saturday morning to a meaner, grubbier country.

It is still possible that the Republican members of the House of Representatives will don their animal skins, sharpen their bone knives, paint their faces blue, and go screaming off to war when this thing goes to conference, befouling Mitch McConnell’s delicate magical math with poo flung from all directions, but, as the Romans learned centuries ago, you shouldn’t try to bargain with barbarians, and I doubt the Republicans will make that mistake again, not after what happened with their attempts to kill the Affordable Care Act.

No, there will be some howling and wailing for show, but the barbarians are not going to save the country. All they’ll do is make a greasy operator like Mitch McConnell look reasonable. (And make vainglorious senators like Susan Collins and John McCain look more useless.) And, besides, with this foul bag of rags they passed on Friday night, the one that eliminates the individual mandate that is the engine behind the Affordable Care Act, they won that battle, too. I think the Senate conferees will agree to some adjustments from their colleagues in the House, all of which will make things worse. However, alas, I don’t think the country can count on the Republicans fumbling on the goal line this time around.

No, they got what they wanted, and they’re going to be quite happy with it. Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, knows he’s a giant step closer to his lifelong goal of demolishing the social safety net. All he has to do is wait for the inevitable explosion of the deficit, at which point he will screw on his sad-basset face and tell us that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are just things we can’t afford anymore. The members of the House will quickly agree that the Senate bill is OK by them and pass it quickly on to a half-mad Republican president who won’t understand a word of what he’s signing but … so much winning!

(By the way, you can feel free to skip any story over the next week that discusses the passage of this sack of cholera in terms of who won and who lost, as though it were a ballgame. It is in measuring the scope of what has been wrought on the country here where elite political journalism will continue to fail utterly.)

In fact, it is important to keep in mind that, all things being equal, this is a bill that would have been proposed and passed even if the Tailgunner, or Marco Rubio, or Chris Christie, or John Kasich had been elected president last November. If the president* had been impeached by the end of business on Inauguration Day, this bill, and the sad carnival of how it was passed, wouldn’t have changed a bit. For such a huge and consequential assault on the political commonwealth, the president*’s fingerprints are remarkably absent from this bill, not because the president* is smart, because he’s not, but because the Senate Republicans didn’t need him.

This was not a Trump bill. This was a Republican bill, a kind of culmination of everything the party has stood for since Ronald Reagan fed it the monkeybrains in 1981 and the prion disease began slowly devouring the party’s higher functions. It is purely supply-side in its economics, purely retrograde in its attitude toward the political commons, and purely heedless in its concern for anyone except the donor class who keep the party alive. This is why the Republican party chose to ally itself 50 years ago with the sad detritus of American apartheid. This is why the Republican party set itself against the expansion of the franchise. This is why the Republican party set itself against any form of campaign-finance reform, and cheered the decision in Citizens United. All of these dynamics were in play long ago, back in the days when Donald Trump was a Democrat. The assault on the idea of a political commonwealth began back then and it rarely has abated.

My experience was exactly the same.

Charles was wrong about some things. The lesson to be learned from the Romans is that if you make a bargain with barbarians you damn well better keep it (Goths). Be careful what you promise. This country is one step closer to a new Revolution and those are dicey times to live in.

This particular quote by William Rivers Pitt from my Friday piece bears repeating-

There are 52 individual Republican senators who traveled 52 different paths to arrive in that chamber this morning, but all of them came for the same single reason: to pass some version of this bill and deliver a payday to their paymasters. That sorry goal has been accomplished.

They didn’t care about the deficit, the country, freedom, you, me or anything else. This was their magnum opus, their purpose in life. Like salmon swimming upstream to spawn, they were prepared to die in the shallows or be eaten by bears to get this done. Perhaps worse, they have spent the last year coddling and protecting Donald Trump so they could get his signature on this disgrace. That’s how important this was to them — and to those who hold their strings.

Dec 04

The Breakfast Club (Weight)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:00am (ET) (or whenever we get around to it) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Associated Press Correspondent Terry Anderson is released from captivity; American troops head to Somalia; General George Washington says farewell to his officers in New York; Frank Zappa dies.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.

Thomas Jefferson

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Dec 03

Rant of the Week: Trevor Noah – Everything Goes Back To Trump

Donald Trump boasts about the GOP tax bill at a campaign rally, and Trevor explains how the president’s attacks on journalism have had an impact on slavery in Libya.

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