President Trump and Republicans in Congress plan to give a massive tax break to the rich but polling shows an overwhelming majority of Americans favor raising taxes on the wealthy. The disconnect could complicate Republican efforts to pass tax legislation this year, Melanie Schmitz reported for ThinkProgress (8/21).

“As progressives strategize for the tax fight coming this fall, they open the debate with a clear advantage: public opinion is on their side,” researchers from the Mellman Group, the Global Strategy Group, Hart Research Associates, and the progressive Not One Penny Campaign noted in a release (8/14). “Not only do a majority of Americans believe the wealthy and corporations pay less than their fair share in taxes, but they think that their taxes should be raised – not lowered. This view is in direct contradiction to the tax plan being assembled by Republicans in Washington.”

A poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic in September 2016, showed that 72% of registered voters favored “increasing taxes on Americans earning more than $250,000 a year”; 4% “strongly favor[ed]” raising taxes for the wealthy. Only 27% of registered voters were opposed. Nine percent said they were “in strong opposition.”

A Mellman Group survey last October reflected similar findings: among registered voters, 69% — including 42% of Republicans — supported raising taxes for the wealthy. A poll conducted by the Global Strategy Group in April showed even higher numbers, with 88% of registered voters saying that “making sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes will help grow the economy.”

Trump’s tax plan, which he outlined earlier this year, would cut the corporate tax rate to 15% and would lower taxes for high-income earners from 39.6% to 35%. According to the New York Times, Trump’s plan would also “eliminate a 3.8% tax, used to help fund Obamacare, that applies to investment income over $250,000 for a couple.” It would also eliminate the estate tax — which applies to those with estates valued at $5.5 mln or more — allowing millionaires to pass their fortunes onto their heirs tax-free. Upper-middle class earners would lose the federal tax deduction, significantly impacting those in high-tax states.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something really big,” Trump’s Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn said at the time. In an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson later, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin added, “Effectively, the effective tax rate will not be a reduction for the rich. … This is really about a middle-income tax cut.”

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, however, the president’s proposal would save the top 1% of earners around 14.1% a year (approximately $317,000); the top one-tenth of 1% would receive a cut of around $638,000. Middle-income households, by contrast, would save only 1.5% — around $1,100. According to CNBC, “fewer than 5% of households in the middle quintile of the income distribution would see a reduction, averaging about $370.”

“Regardless of what state you live in, the Trump tax proposals were not created to benefit you unless you are really well-off,” Steve Wamhoff, senior fellow for federal tax policy at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, wrote in July. “In fact, low- and middle-income people would inevitably face a net loss after cuts to health care, education, nutrition and other public investments that would inevitably follow.”

The more that voters learn about the impact of Trump’s proposals on the large corporations and the wealthy, the less they like it. “As voters become more aware of the degree to which the wealthiest Americans and large corporations will benefit from tax cuts, they become intensely unfavorable to the plans of President Trump and the Republican Congress,” the researchers stated.

The Republican tax reform plan assumes hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicaid cuts, plus an additional $114 bln in cuts over 10 years, in another swipe at the Affordable Care Act. The budget resolution adopted by the House Budget Committee (7/19) also assumes Medicare will reduce spending by $487 bln from 2018 to 2027, Mara Lee reported at ModernHealthcare.com. The savings would come from raising the Medicare eligibility age from the current 65 to 67 for people who are now 51 or younger.

The House budget resolution also proposes a “fast track” to “reform” Social Security if Social Security Trustees report that that the Trust Fund does not meet a 75 year actuarial balance. According to several sources, the budget bill would make significant cuts in Supplemental Security Income for low income persons and Supplemental Security Disability Income for persons with disabilities, the National Council of Gray Panthers Networks reported.

TRUMP MUDDIES SELF IN CHARLOTTESVILLE COMMENTS. Donald Trump showed the world what he stands for when he told America that there were some “very fine people” among the white nationalists who rallied at Charlottesville, Va. He said those who showed up to protest white supremacy shared blame for the melee that resulted.

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

But anti-fascist activists, known as Antifa, some carrying clubs, also are credited with protecting other anti-racist activists who were attacked by white supremacists with shields, batons and bats. Antifa were credited with defending activists at First United Methodist Church, across the street from Emancipation Park, chasing off white supremacists with sticks.

Trump displays, at best, a reckless disregard for the truth. On 8/15, he said the Unite the Right marchers in Charlottesville “were people protesting very quietly the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee.” Some were “rough, bad people, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest,” he said. “Because I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.”

In fact, the Washington Post reported, the counter-protesters had acquired an official permit for Saturday (8/12), when the Unite the Right march was scheduled. Neither side had a permit for Friday night, when documentary footage by Vice News shows clearly that marchers shouted “blood and soil” — a slogan from Nazi Germany — and “Jews will not replace us.” PolitiFact noted, “That’s not a case of ‘people protesting very quietly,’ as Trump said.” The non-partisan fact-checker ruled Trump’s statement a “Pants on Fire” lie, one of 69 he has told since 2011, or 16% of statements PolitiFact has checked in that period. Another 144, or 33%, were completely false and 92, or 21%, mostly false. That is, 70% of Trump’s statements proved at least mostly false. Only 21, or 5%, were completely true, a rate that has held steady since his election, so there is a one in 20 chance that anything Trump says is true.

W.H. AIDES RATIONALIZE THAT THEY KEEP TRUMP FROM DOING CRAZIER THINGS. Some White House officials who are concerned about President Trump’s stability tell reporters that they resist the urge to resign because they’re performing a valuable public service in keeping Trump from doing crazy things. Axios reported (8/20), ”We talked to a half-dozen senior administration officials, who range from dismayed but certain to stay, to disgusted and likely soon to leave. They all work closely with Trump and his senior team so, of course, wouldn’t talk on the record. Instead, they agreed to let us distill their thinking/rationale:

“You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill”: The most common response centers on the urgent importance of having smart, sane people around Trump to fight his worst impulses. If they weren’t there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall.”

Steve Benen at MaddowBlog.com noted that we’ve heard similar quotes before.

In mid-April, Politico had a report on the internal challenges facing this White House, and it included this paragraph:

“As Trump is beginning to better understand the challenges – and the limits – of the presidency, his aides are understanding better how to manage perhaps the most improvisational and free-wheeling president in history. “If you’re an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins,” said one Trump confidante. ‘To talk him out of doing crazy things.’”

Four months later, Benen noted, there’s that word again: “crazy.” It appears that America’s first amateur president, according to people close to him, consistently has to be talked out of taking outlandish steps that his instincts tell him to consider.

And how do they do that? From the Politico piece:

“White House aides have figured out that it’s best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be – and especially how it will play in the press.”

“You don’t walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t consume information that way,” said one senior administration official. “You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like.”

So White House aides have apparently discovered that in order to get Trump to make the best possible decision, they have to present him with one choice, so he can’t screw it up, all while emphasizing expected media reaction, which shouldn’t be any president’s principal concern, Benen noted.

“In effect, officials in the West Wing find it necessary to trick the Leader of the Free World into doing what they think he should be doing – because the alternative would be his own ‘crazy’ decision.

“Behold, the fine-tuned machine of Donald J. Trump’s White House, where aides aren’t sure the president is fit for office, so they stick around to protect Americans from their boss’ impulses.”

REPUBLICAN GROUPS PAY NEARLY $1.3M TO TRUMP PROPERTIES. Republican committees already have sunk nearly $1.3 mln into Trump-owned businesses this year, the Washington Post reported (8/21). The Republican National Committee paid the Trump International Hotel in Washington $122,000 in July after the party held a lavish fundraiser at the venue in June, the latest example of how GOP political committees are generating a steady income stream for President Trump’s private business, new Federal Election Commission records show.

At least 25 congressional campaigns, state parties and the Republican Governors Association have together spent more than $473,000 at Trump hotels or golf resorts this year, according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign finance filings. Trump’s companies collected an additional $793,000 from the RNC and the president’s campaign committee, some of which included payments for rent and legal consulting.

The nearly $1.3 mln spent by Republican political committees at Trump entities in 2017 has helped boost his company at a time when business is falling off at some core properties. Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., lost at least 10 of the 16 galas or dinner events it had been scheduled to host next winter in the wake of Trump’s controversial response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

TRUMP TRAVEL DRAINS SECRET SERVICE BUDGET, AGENTS GO WITHOUT PAY. Providing protection for Donald Trump’s frequent trips, his New York home, and an unprecedented number of people in his extended family, has been a huge drain on the Secret Service. Agents have hit overtime limits, and annual budgets have been burned through in only seven months, leaving no funds to pay agents following Trump on his extended vacation, USA Today reported (8/21)

Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles told USA Today more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year.

Under Trump, 42 people have protection, a number that includes 18 members of his family. The agency covers not just every golf outing for Trump, but the travels of Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, Ivanka, Tiffany and others. Following the Trump family around is soaking up the Secret Service budget at a breakneck pace. But the biggest cost covers the president’s frequent jaunts to Mar-a-Lago, Fla., which are estimated to cost at least $3 mln each, based on a General Accounting Office estimate for similar travel by former President Obama. The Secret Service has spent some $60,000 on golf cart rentals alone this year to protect Trump at both Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster, in New Jersey.

Now, Congress has to act to expand the agency, up the budget, and authorize additional pay for agents who are now working overtime for free.

US WIND AND SOLAR POWER PREVENTED UP TO 12,700 DEATHS. A new study from the University of California at Berkeley found the US wind and solar power boom helped prevent the premature deaths of thousands of people and saved the country billions of dollars in healthcare and climate-related costs from 2005 to 2017.

“We find cumulative wind and solar air-quality benefits of 2015 US $29.7–112.8 billion mostly from 3,000 to 12,700 avoided premature mortalities,” according to the paper authored by Dev Millstein of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and his team. The research was sponsored by the Department of Energy and published in the journal Nature Energy.

Unregulated and poorly regulated energy production and use, as well as inefficient fuel combustion, are the “most important man-made sources of key air pollutant emissions,” a 2016 International Energy Agency study found. Of particulate matter—which can contain acids, metals, soil and dust particles, and almost all sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, 85% can be linked back to those sources.

Unhealthful levels of air pollution can put people at risk for premature death and other serious health effects like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. But unlike fossil fuels, wind and solar power systems have no associated air pollution emissions.

The British Independent noted from the study, major air pollutants have declined between 2007 and 2015. Carbon dioxide fell by 20%, sulphur dioxide by 72%, nitrogen oxide by 50% and tiny particles known as PM2.5 by 46%.

This decline is due to fossil fuels being replaced by renewable energy — solar and wind capacity increased from about 10 gigawatts in 2007 to roughly 100GW in 2015 — as well as tougher emissions regulations.

DEMS WIN ANOTHER RED DISTRICT IN IOWA STATEHOUSE ELECTION. Democrats won their 14th special election since Donald Trump’s election—this time in Iowa, in a state House district that went 58% for Trump last November. In the special election (8/8), Democrat (and large animal veterinarian) Phil Miller defeated his Republican opponent 54-44 percent, Carolyn Fiddler reported at DailyKos.com.

The hotly contested race took an ugly turn in July when the Republican candidate, Travis Harris, started airing ads attacking Miller for his vote as school board president to preserve a policy allowing transgender students to use the bathroom for the gender with which they identify. Miller voted to uphold the policy (in accordance with both state and federal law).

“The Republican began airing the ads just a month after a local transgender teen committed suicide. So it’s nice to see such a disgusting tactic backfire on the GOP. If tonight and last year’s North Carolina gubernatorial contest taught us anything, it’s that anti-transgender potty policing doesn’t win elections,” Fiddler noted.

TRUMP ANNOUNCES NEW AFGHAN STRATEGY, NO DETAILS. Donald Trump, fresh off the golf course, gave a rare speech to the nation (8/21) to reveal his new plan for Afghanistan. In a half hour teleprompter plod, through text Trump gave every sign of never seeing before, he revealed no troop numbers, no dates, no goals, no … anything, Mark Sumner noted at DailyKos.com (8/22). Trump did say that the troops would be fighting “to win,” because Trump apparently believes that previous administrations told the troops that losing would be peachy. He also spent quite a bit of time saying, without really saying, that he was backing out of all the promises he made previously about pulling troops from the area.

“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like to follow my instincts,” Trump said. “I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk of the Oval Office.”

What the person who nicely wrote this up for Trump really means is that everything he said before was BS without a hint of reason behind it. Oops sorry, America. The entire “strategy” offered up by Trump was that he would stop “nation building” and get down to “terrorist fighting.” Though beyond throwing out these terms he provided not a single detail of what this would mean.

Earlier, Trump had said he would leave Afghanistan to the generals, but the plan that they returned to him was clearly not something he liked.

President Trump was frustrated and fuming. Again and again, in the windowless Situation Room at the White House, he lashed out at his national security team over the Afghanistan war, and the paucity of appealing options gnawed at him.

Trump considered options, including firing the leadership and installing Erik Princes’ mercenary army solution. But in the end, Trump came around to … doing as he was told.

UT-AUSTIN REMOVES 3 CONFEDERATE STATUES OVERNIGHT. The University of Texas at Austin removed three Confederate statues from the university’s main plaza late Sunday (8/20). UT President Greg Fenves wrote in an email to the campus community just before 11 p.m., that the monuments depicted parts of US history that “run counter to the university’s core values.” Another statue, one of former Texas Gov. James Stephen Hogg, whose only Civil War connection was that his father fought in it, was also taken down because his statue was part of the exhibit.

“We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus,” Fenves wrote, adding that recent unrest in Charlottesville, Va., “make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” A statue of George Washington remains.

A UT-Austin spokesperson told the Texas Tribune that the university decided to take down the statues in the middle of the night “for public safety and to minimize disruption to the community.” Per Fenves’ email, the three Confederate statues are headed to the Briscoe Center for American History, while the statue of Hogg “will be considered for re-installation at another campus site.”

NEW STUDY MINIMIZES EFFECT OF WAGE INCREASE ON BLUE-COLLAR JOBS. The minimum wage debate has settled into a dreary format, Kevin Drum noted at (8/18) “You can pretty much guess what a paper concludes just by reading the author’s name on the title page. The latest entry is from Grace Lordan and David Neumark, and since Neumark has never met a minimum wage he liked, it’s a pretty good guess that his latest paper describes job losses from increases in the minimum wage. Sure enough, it does.”

Lordan and Neumark found that minimum wage increases cause a statistically significant reallocation of labor away from automatable tasks. “We find that a $1 increase in the minimum wage leads to a 0.43 percentage point decrease in the share of automatable jobs done by low-skilled workers.”

Drum noted, “If I’m reading Table 1 correctly, “automatable” tasks make up 30% of the total. This means that among all blue-collar workers, a $1 increase in the minimum wage leads to a 0.13 percentage point decrease in total employment. However, the authors also report that only 12% of these workers become unemployed (the rest move into other jobs). That implies a 0.016 percentage point decrease in actual employment.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate is 4.5% among workers with only a high school degree. Raising the minimum wage by a whopping $6 would increase that to 4.6%, Drum noted. This is probably why the authors focus less on unemployment and more on how minimum wage increases could lead to job changes:

“Our work suggests that sharp minimum wage increases in the United States in coming years will shape the types of jobs held by low-skilled workers, and create employment challenges for some of them … Given data limitations, we cannot address the permanence of the effects.”

Drum concluded, “The effects they find are higher for some groups than others (old and young vs. middle aged), and higher in some industries than others (manufacturing vs. transportation). And the reallocation of labor is likely to increase in the future as automation becomes more and more capable. At the moment, however, the effect is pretty small.”

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2017


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