President Trump plans to begin talking about his tax overhaul today. It will, not surprisingly, be a giveaway to the wealthy. Based on what we know:
There is no upside to this. And the sales pitch which will try to make you believe otherwise is a scam.
The centerpiece of the plan is to slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. This despite the fact that corporate profits are soaring, corporate tax revenues are at record lows and workers are seeing little if any of the benefit. This unnecessary giveaway to businesses is estimated to cost two trillion dollars. This at a time when the federal deficit is already over $500 billion a year.
Trump and the Republicans will claim that the tax cuts will pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth. This is a lie, pure and simple. An old one, actually, as Republicans have been promising such things from tax cuts for decades as part of their "trickle-down" economic theory. It's a theory, however, which has been consistently refuted by experience.
There is zero correlation between tax cuts and economic growth. Indeed, economic growth in the United States since World War II has been greater in times with relatively high top marginal tax rates, such as in the 1950s and 1990s, which we all know and remember as boom times. This does not mean that higher tax rates lead to economic growth, of course, but it does mean that they do not impede it. In reality, there is no strong relationship between the two things at all, no matter what Republicans tell you.
Trump and Republicans in Congress will likewise claim that the tax cuts will cause businesses to use their savings to hire more workers. While, theoretically, yes, companies with more cash on hand could use it to hire more workers or invest in new facilities in the United States, we have seen that, in practice, they are far more likely to hold on to the money as cash reserves, benefitting no one, or to distribute it to their wealthy stockholders. As is the case with overall economic growth, low tax rates for the wealthy and for corporations have rarely correlated with employment growth.
The plan will also call for a massive cut in the top tax rate on “pass-through” companies, such as sole proprietorships, S corporations, and partnerships which pay their taxes through the individual income tax code rather than through the corporate code. While this will be sold as a break for mom-and-pop businesses, the benefits of such a plan will not be realized by the guy who owns the corner store.
Pass-through businesses are often huge, sophisticated and wealthy companies. They generate over half of all business income in the country and employ more than half of the private sector workforce. A great example of a pass-through business: The Bechtel Corporation, the largest engineering company in the country, which has over $30 billion in annual revenues. Other examples: hedge fund managers, doctors and lawyers who own their own practices and people who earn income from motivational and promotional speaking. Another example of a pass-through business: The Trump Organization. Indeed, Donald Trump personally stands to save tens of millions of dollars a year under his tax plan. The pass-through tax cut will be portrayed as a benefit for businessmen who struggle to get by. In reality, it's little more than a gift to the wealthy.
No matter what specific part you look at, Trump's tax plan and similar tax plans proposed by Republicans in Congress have one unifying theory: cuts to the tax rates paid by the wealthy and pain inflicted on the poor and the middle class.
An analysis of Paul Ryan’s proposed tax plan found that a whopping 99.6 percent of the tax-cut money would go to the top 1 percent of income earners. In turn, budget proposals floated by Republicans contain massive cuts to infrastructure spending, education, medical and scientific research, child care, job training, the arts, our national parks and public lands and a host of safety net programs that help families make ends meet in tough times. This is not just theoretical: the two states which have rolled out tax plans like Trump's -- Kansas and Louisiana -- have been thrown into economic and budgetary chaos.
The priorities of Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are exactly backwards.
To the extent Donald Trump had any mandate, it was a mandate to help working people and ordinary Americans who have been left behind by a quickly-evolving global economy. That's what people who voted for him desperately wanted and desperately need. His tax plan is a slap in the face to those people and a windfall for him and his wealthy friends. It should be rejected out of hand.
Last night I saw Brian Wilson perform at the Palace Theater for his “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances” tour. It’s amazing enough that Wilson is touring given his history of mental illness, drug abuse and now, as he's approaching 75 years-old, physical decline, but he's still doing it. And doing it well.
His voice is still recognizably his voice. He's not like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits or someone who has had to become a fundamentally different kind of singer than he once was due to ravaged vocal cords. The same old tone and timbre of 1960s Brian Wilson is there. He may not tear into the second verse of "I'm waiting for the day" with that aggressive edge so evident on the album version, he doesn't sustain notes like he did when he was young and, yes, he occasionally hits a clunker, but he's still unmistakably Brian Wilson.
If anything, the flaws in his singing enhance the experience of seeing him live. He's not a jukebox full of oldies like some other artists are. And the mere act of him being on that stage singing those songs elevated his performance above that of his increasingly vanishing contemporaries and vanishingly few artistic peers.
I don't begrudge The Rolling Stones, the Who or Paul McCartney going on the road and playing concerts into their 70s. They're legends, people love them and their music, they put on great shows and, of course, they're more than entitled to make money off of the art they created. But there is something . . . off about it. There is something off about Mick Jagger singing about how he can't get satisfaction when we know he's rarely had anything but satisfaction for the past 50 years. There's something silly about Roger Daltrey singing that he hopes he dies before he gets old when he's already old. There's something downright creepy about a wrinkly-faced Paul McCartney telling us that we know what he means about that girl who's just 17.
One might think this problem would be even greater for Wilson doing "Pet Sounds," actually. The album he once famously called "a teenage symphony to God" is about young romance. About that moment when teenage love changes from butterflies in one's stomach to one's first feelings of melancholy. It evokes emotions common to anyone who has ever experienced love, but they're feelings unique to a certain time and place in our lives that we never again recapture. That's not the stuff one would expect to wear well when sung by a 70-something year old man. Despite his age, however, there is something poignant about Wilson singing from the point of view of his younger self that is absent when others do it.
Ideally art stands on its own, without the audience bringing their own knowledge about the artist with them, but that's next to impossible when it comes to Wilson. We know what his life was like at the time "Pet Sounds" was recorded. We know how much more difficult it would become in the two decades-plus after it came out and how damaged Wilson came out on the other end. Jagger, McCartney and Daltrey all had personal ups and downs of course, but compared to Wilson they've lived pretty happy and contented lives. In light of this, their taking to the road seems like a pleasant but somewhat superfluous and undoubtedly commercial act.
Wilson didn't have the same sort of happy and contended second and third public acts as those guys. He's never gotten the chance to connect with his old songs and his old fans in the same way they have. And given that his former bandmates Mike Love and Bruce Johnston have long toured as The Beach Boys, playing the biggest Beach Boys hits in theaters, state fairs and other venues with relatively low ticket prices, a lot of his old fans might not even care too much anymore. They've seen what they wanted to see for the most part. As such, Wilson's act of singing his old songs -- these particular old songs, which were never as commercially successful as the stuff Love and Johnston perform -- seems more personal to him. More important and significant.
While I'm likely projecting to some degree, as Wilson sang through "Pet Sounds," it seemed as if he was reaching back through time for something necessary. Something he didn't get to fully enjoy and explore at the time and something he finally can now as opposed to simply putting on a show. He may have played these songs or things like them over and over again in his home, but on this tour he's getting to play them with a full band -- he had ten backing musicians and singers, including original Beach Boy Al Jardine and one-time Beach Boy contributor Blondie Chaplin -- forming those harmonies he's on record as saying are his favorite parts of his songs.
It was a great show for us, but you can't help but feel it's a rewarding and perhaps necessary act for Wilson to play these songs. Necessary in ways it's simply not necessary for others to play their old songs. This may have been most evident in the opening and closing of the show when, as a warmup/encore, he played some of the more popular Beach Boys songs like "Help me Rhonda" and "California Girls," with Jardine doing an admirable job with the Mike Love vocals. They were fine, but somewhat rote. The crowd stood, cheered and sang along, but Wilson seemed to be going through the motions with them to some degree. The big hits don't seem particularly important to Wilson.
The "Pet Sounds" songs, which were played in order, in their entirety after an intermission, felt more moving and stirring. And not just because they’re better songs. It's because, with the possible exceptions of "Wouldn't it be nice?" and "Sloop John B," a lot of people don't know all the words to a lot of them. And even if they do, they're not exactly jukebox singalongs. They provided an opportunity for Wilson to sing and perform for us in ways that McCartney and the Stones can't without resorting to an obscure R&B cover. People know "Pet Sounds," of course, but it's not back-of-their-hand stuff like "Maybe I'm Amazed" or "Brown Sugar." Wilson was reacquainting many in the crowd with those songs just as he was revisiting them himself and the net effect of it was stirring.
Stirring in and of itself, but also stirring because the man singing the songs is, in 2017, still here. Against all odds, he's still here. Reaching back for something one gets the sense he loves and needs just as much if not more than any of us.
The past 36 hours have been interesting. A tweet and then a post I wrote about patriotism and flag-waving at sporting events went viral. And not in a good way.
This post over at NBC contains and explains my original tweet and otherwise speaks for itself, but certain elements of the conservative media decided to mischaracterize my comments as anti-American, anti-flag and anti-military. With the help of a few strategically-placed firehoses, my social media accounts have been flooded by thousands upon thousands doing the same. I've received multiple legitimate, specific death threats. People have told me that they hope I get cancer and that my loved ones die in accidents. The less odious among the mob merely wished that I'd leave the country never to return. I respectfully declined.
I'm a big boy and I -- and law enforcement, who I have contacted about the threats-- can handle that stuff. But I will not stand by and allow myself to be slandered in this fashion.
I come from a family which has served in foreign wars for the past three generations. My brother is a veteran of the first Gulf War who suffers from a disability and relies on V.A. benefits for his healthcare. My father served on board the U.S.S. Okinawa during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and my paternal grandfather was a tank sergeant under General Patton during the liberation of Western Europe. In light of that, to suggest, for one moment, that I do not respect the service of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is an insult and a lie. A knowing one for those who have read this.
I likewise consider myself a patriot and a proud American. One who understands that America is exceptional, not only in the freedoms and opportunity it provides, but for the dissent, protest and critique it allows. Just as an athlete must endure training to excel in competition and a writer must undergo editing and critique to improve, our country is stronger thanks in part to the efforts of those who have found fault with it at times and have worked to make it a better place. Our Constitution begins with a reference to a "more perfect union," anticipating that the work of the American Experiment is never done and establishing that any claims to American perfection are specious.
I have criticized and will always criticize that which I see from our government and in our society with which I take issue. I view that as part of my duty as an American. People don't often care for such criticism, obviously, and when one criticizes the country, the government or society, there will always be blowback. Like I said, though, I'm a big boy and I can take it.
I will not, however, sit idly by and allow people to mischaracterize that which I have said, that which I have written and that which I stand for. And I will certainly not allow them to lie about it.
This is delicious.
A far right political action committee, Club for Growth, is running an ad targeting Pat Tiberi for "standing in the way" of Obamacare repeal. Watch:
The best part of this, of course, is that not only did Tiberi support the failed bill which would've repealed Obamacare, he was one of its biggest champions. Paul Ryan called him the "Quarterback of Obamacare Repeal." On a recent visit to central Ohio Vice President Pence personally thanked Tiberi for his efforts to repeal the ACA and his attempt to enact AHCA.
Yet here Tiberi is, getting attacked by conservatives who want what he wants. It's one thing to not pass a bill you wanted to pass, but it's another thing to fail so miserably in doing so that you get attacked for being an impediment to it passing. Not an easy trick!
Of course, Pat Tiberi could stand up to this ad and call it out for its disingenuousness. He could issue a loud, clear and unambiguous statement saying just how hard he worked to pass the AHCA. He could likewise give a full-throated endorsement to the AHCA itself and vow not to rest until it passes.
But he can't. He can't because the AHCA is a bad bill, his constituents hate it and he knows it. His support of Obamacare repeal and the AHCA is political poison. Poison he thought he could survive if he swallowed it quickly, but he couldn't and now he's stuck. His district hates the AHCA and will pound him if he tries again to pass it. The conservative PACs hate that it didn't pass before and will pound him if it doesn't sometime soon.
This all could've been avoided, of course. All Pat Tiberi would've had to do was listen to the people in his district and ask us what we wanted. To address the real issues with the ACA and work to fix it. To work for us instead of for Paul Ryan and Donald Trump. He didn't do that. He hitched his wagon to a couple of guys who do not have the best interests of the people of this district in mind and now he's getting hammered.
I'm not sure what political pundits call whatever it is Pat Tiberi did to get himself into this mess, but it's certainly not leadership.
James Thompson came within five points of winning a Kansas congressional seat in a district that went for Trump by 27 points. He did so by getting almost no support from the national Democratic establishment. His success -- and given the odds stacked against him, the success was considerable -- was based on him articulating a clear message in support of policies that would help the people in his district and against policies which would harm them.
In this interview with ThinkProgress, he implores the Democratic establishment not to ignore Democratic candidates in seemingly safe Republican districts because every district -- every single one -- can be won by a strong candidate sending a clear message.
The district in which I live, currently represented by Pat Tiberi, was seemingly tailor made for him and is likely considered "safe" for Republicans. But Donald Trump certainly did not win the 12th by 27 points and Pat Tiberi has decided that falling in with Trump's agenda is, somehow, a great idea. He has decided to promote policies which are bad for people in his district. Policies which will do them harm.
Pat Tiberi can be beat. Any congressman in any district, no matter how seemingly safe the district is, can be beat. Do not write their challengers off and do not let the Democratic Party do so either.
As everyone knows by now, a man was dragged off of a United Airlines flight by police yesterday and was injured in the process. The reason: United wanted to place a couple of its employees on the flight and kick off paying passengers to do it. I wasn't aware that a private business had the right to manhandle you when they messed up, but here we are.
While the condemnation of United over this event has been considerable, today the media has decided that the victim of this act of excessive force is the one owed scrutiny.
From the Louisville Courier-Journal:
From a news anchor at WJLA TV in Washington D.C.:
From the gossip site TMZ
Some of this might've been relevant if anything Dr. Dao did contributed to yesterday's incident. If he had been an unruly passenger or if he had assaulted someone or if he had broken some law. Looking at the past of someone who commits a transgression is often instructive and illuminating. It makes sense to do that sometimes.
But, of course, Dao committed no transgression here. He was roughed up in the name of bad corporate policy made worse by it being carried out incompetently. His past is of no consequence or relevance to what happened yesterday. So why is the media digging into it so eagerly?
Part of it is mere sensationalism. The United story has captured the attention of the nation and anything that can keep it going is in the best interests of certain segments of the media. If it bleeds, it leads, and Dao bled. If there's sex or drugs or a crime involved, all the better. One may have to dig years into Dao's past to find that, and it may not have anything to do with the news story itself, but beggars can't be choosers as they chase ratings and page views, so whatever dirt anyone can find on the guy is, apparently, fair game. This sort of muckraking is a story as old as newspapers themselves.
There's a deeper motivation at work here, however. It may be an unconscious motive on the part of any one member of the media pushing this kind of smear job, but it's a motive aimed at giving us something we, as a society, crave in these sorts of situations. The need to believe that a person who had something bad happen to him had it coming to him. And that, in turn, nothing bad like this could ever happen to us.
In the past 24 hours I've seen countless people -- otherwise disinterested individuals, -- rush to United's defense to talk about the fine print on tickets or the need to overbook flights or how, in general, people forfeit their rights once they get on a plane. People coming, almost reflexively, to the defense of authority, lest anyone suggest that authority was abused. If you're the sort of person who doesn't feel comfortable challenging the status quo and take much greater comfort in defending it, this line of reasoning is tailor made for you.
Not everyone is like that, of course. Some people are super upset with what United did regardless of the underlying policy but are desperate to minimize the ugliness of the incident because confronting ugliness is not a pleasant thing for many. To that end we see the media dig into Dao's past which will, almost certainly, result in Dao being considered "controversial" or worse by the public, causing them to see his ejection from the United plane in a more ambiguous, less ugly light. "Sure, he was roughed up," they'll say, "but he's no angel."
It's all about people wanting to feel better about the incident. To make them believe that it was not as arbitrary as it seemed. To make them think this was a special case, in which the victim was partially to blame. To make them less likely to question how and why it happened. To make them less likely to ask themselves whether they have ever done something, actively or passively, to enable this particular sort of horror. If a truly innocent man has something terrible happen to him, it shakes our faith in the system. If a sketchy individual with a sordid past does, well, everything is just fine. And maybe he even had it coming.
We all sleep better if we think the world is just. The world is more just if the people who do bad things have bad things happen to them and the people who have bad things happen to them turn out to be bad. We all want to sleep better, so sometimes we'll work extra hard to make sure that state of affairs exists.
Even if we have to delude ourselves into believing it does. Even if we have to smear a victim to make it so.
Today the president's son told reporters that last week's decision to fire 59 missiles at a Syrian air base was influenced by a "heartbroken and outraged" Ivanka Trump. "Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence," Eric Trump said, "I'm sure she said, 'Listen, this is horrible stuff.' My father will act in times like that."
Eric Trump added, "If there was anything that the strike on Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie."
Perhaps Eric Trump is completely deluded and knows not of what he speaks, but I think it's at least worth inquiring whether our president committed an act of war to assuage his daughter's feelings and to cover up a political scandal.
If we had a Congress that cared about anything apart from cutting taxes for rich people and gutting the social safety net, there would at least be a couple of hearings about it.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has the latest of what seems like dozens of stories in which people who supported Trump find themselves in trouble precisely because of the policies Trump plans to enact.
There are a lot of things that can be said about these "Trump remorse" articles. The first impulse of many is to point and laugh or to call the subjects of these stories "suckers." I understand why that is, but I can't get on board with that. Sadness and suffering is sadness and suffering even if it's self-inflicted and it's nothing I want to celebrate.
My takeaway: this is a result of politics' transformation into team sports and base tribalism.
The business of policy and governance has, over the past decade or two, been turned into an exercise in self-image, group identification and, above all else, a grand loyalty test. Them or us. Our side and the other side, defined in the most superficial ways, dealing with attitudes and fashion more than substance. The defining of one's tribe by contrasting it with those one opposes for the broadest and, ultimately, least consequential of reasons. People aren't voting against their interests as such. With respect to government, their very interests have been transformed from those dealing with policies and outcomes to basic fandom and a base disposition to be conservative or liberal as a matter of style as opposed to politics.
It boils down to team colors. Just as I still watch the Atlanta Braves even if they suck and do things I hate, an alarmingly large number of people support their party -- or their rogue offshoot of their party -- regardless of what it means for governance. "Hey, Trump may enact policies which will ruin my life, but at least he's not a libtard or a social justice warrior!" And yes, there are similar examples on the left -- many dealing with labor -- though they're less obvious now that Democrats are out of power.
This cycle will continue until people stop looking at politicians and parties as personal avatars or lifestyle brands and begin looking at them as merely the means via which a bundle of policy choices are implemented. I'm not sure how we get to that place, but until we do, we'll see more and more stories like these.