Thursday, December 21, 2017

Much Of America Is Sleep Walking Through The Looting Of Our Country By Trump And His Enabler Party... As Every Political Norm Is Dispensed With


The Last Supper by Nancy Ohanian

Monday, before Ryan passed his TaxScam through the House, Matty Yglesias defined what he sees as the full-scale looting of America. He wrote that "politicians are making decisions to enrich their donors-- and at times themselves personally-- with a reckless disregard for any kind of objective policy analysis or consideration of public opinion. A businessman president who promised-- repeatedly-- that he would not personally benefit from his own tax proposals is poised to sign into law a bill that’s full of provisions that benefit him and his family. Congressional Republicans who spent years insisting that 'dynamic scoring' would capture the deficit-reducing power of tax cuts are now plowing ahead with a bill so fast that they don’t have time to get one done, because it turns out they can’t be bothered to meet their own targets."

Democrat Lisa Brown, an economist, represented the Spokane-based 3rd district in the Washington House of Representatives and Washington State Senate, where she was elected Majority Leader, from 1993 to 2013 and soon after became Chancellor Washington State University Spokane. Today she is a congressional candidate for the seat held by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, technically the 4th highest ranking Republican in the House. Right after Ryan and his team got their Tax Scam passed this week, she wrote that it isn't a bill the country-- or her district-- needs. "Instead of directing relief to small businesses and the middle class, creating jobs and true economic prosperity, this is a massive windfall to those who don’t need it and a whole new set of loopholes for special interests. The vast majority of Americans oppose this bill. Reputable economists deride it. And groups that advocate for health care, education, senior citizens, and veterans are strongly against it. Yet Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers promoted this plan across the country without even a single community conversation in Eastern Washington. Instead, she scheduled a 'telephone town hall' to occur after she voted for the final bill."

She went on to tell WA-05 voters to "[i]magine if small businesses were relieved of health care costs and families didn’t need a medical expense deduction in the tax code, because anyone could buy into Medicare? What if instead of voting to eliminate the student loan interest deduction, like Rep. McMorris Rodgers did, Congress created a national student loan refinance program and helped millions of students get on the path to buying homes and starting families? What if we doubled our investment in university research, especially in sustainable agriculture and health sciences, and authorized a broadband internet 'universal service' program for rural areas? I’m an economist," she concluded, "and these are examples of economic policies that would be truly pro-growth, pro-family and pro-Eastern Washington. We can have votes on policies like these if we change the leadership in Congress."

Meanwhile, the Trump Regime is gutting the entire U.S. regulatory system, over 4 decades worth of protections. Yglesias points out that much of it is basically out of public view and much of it is "contrary to free market principles but all of it lucrative for big business and Trump cronies." No wonder he's always ready to felate Putin. He's remaking the U.S. as an autocracy-- in his case a kakistocracy-- along the Putin model. Putin is the richest man in the world; how would anyone realistically expect Trump to restrain himself? It's that rock his whole world has always been built on.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, the political class talked a lot about “norms” and how Donald Trump was violating them all. He brushed off fact-checkers, assailed the media, went on Twitter tirades against his critics, and dabbled in racism. Since taking office, his norm busting has spread. Members of Congress who under other circumstances might be constrained by shame, custom, or the will of their constituents have learned from Trump’s election that you can get away with more than we used to think.

Norm erosion is real, and it matters. Economists Daron Acemoglu and Matthew Jackson of MIT and Stanford have written about how rules are only effective when they are backed up by social norms “because detection relies, at least in part, on whistle-blowing.” Their Spanish colleague Patricia Funk emphasizes that in a variety of contexts, “the strength of the social norm of ‘not committing a crime’ is shaped by social interactions.”

These scholars are all considering deep, long-lasting differences in cultural norms, but we also know from experience that norms can sometimes shift dramatically in unusual circumstances. Sometimes a blackout or other disaster prompts a few people who would ordinarily be too cautious to break store windows in broad daylight to become more brazen. And the normal course of ordinary life flips into reverse, as those with some inclination toward bad acts recognize a moment of impunity and grab what they can, while those who would ordinarily be invested in upholding order are afraid and stay inside. The sheer quantity of bad acts makes it impossible for anyone to hold anyone accountable. Soon, a whole neighborhood can be in ruins.

Or a whole country.

...Under Trump, the reality is that neither markets nor bureaucrats are going to be doing any disciplining [of the banksters].

In the short term, of course, lax banking regulation will almost certainly pay off in the form of higher bank profits and stock valuations. The problem is when the crisis hits down the road. But that’s exactly the triumph of short-term thinking that pervades everything Trump does, from debt-financed tax cuts for the rich to disinvestment in education, rollback of environment regulations, and approaches to the telecom sector that prioritize the profitability of today’s incumbent businesses over tomorrow’s regulators.

Across the board, it’s about letting whoever’s powerful now squeeze as much out as they can without worrying too much about the consequences-- like enormous, deficit-financed tax cuts passed with no regard for budgetary or economic effects.

...Somewhere in its murky origins, “tax reform,” as conceived by is Republican authors, was supposed to be a policy-driven bill aimed at creating a simpler and fairer tax code that would generate broadly superior economic outcomes for most people-- a normal governing objective even if it was always the case that substantial disagreement would exist over the merits of marginal corporate tax rate cuts as a growth-boosting policy.

But along the way, virtually all of the high-minded aspirations were dropped and all of the normal aspects of congressional process broken-- to the point where the bill’s leading architects won’t even mention the policy changes that are at the heart of the bill. In the end, instead of taking on the special interests as promised, it gives away the store to almost every lobby shop in town-- with last-minute additions that personally enrich the Trump family and a decent chunk of the members of Congress voting for it.

Once upon a time, Republicans had a set of clear promises about what they called “tax reform.” The idea was to produce a simpler tax code, with fewer brackets and fewer deductions so that a typical individual could fill it out on a postcard.

The goal was to cut tax rates without reducing government revenue because loopholes would be closed. From the beginning, they were counting in part on economic growth to make up the difference, but they said they would rely on serious, third-party analysis of the impacts.

“Not economic growth judged by us,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the Chair of the House’s tax-writing committee, told Vox in March, “but by the independent Joint Committee on Taxation.”

And of course it wasn’t going to be a bonanza for the rich. Trump went so far as to promise that the rich wouldn’t benefit “at all” from his plan, and he certainly swore repeatedly that he would not personally benefit.

Neither the House nor the Senate came within a trillion dollars of hitting Brady’s deficit target, so the conference committee charged with reconciling the bills didn’t bother to wait for a dynamic score at all, and both houses are expected to pass the bill before the JCT can finish its analysis. The House bill slashed the top tax rate a little and the Senate bill slashed it a little more, so the conference committee compromised on a bigger rate cut than either had proposed.

Meanwhile, after all the months of work, Republicans ultimately settled on not actually eliminating any significant deductions or loopholes after all.

Why? Well it certainly seems to have had something to do with the orgy of lobbying that, according to the New York Times, led more than half of the city’s 11,000 registered lobbyists to report having worked on the tax bill. The swamp is running wild.

...Politicians have never been renowned for their honesty and have always liked to spin their policies in the most positive light possible. But not only does Trump lie a lot more than his predecessors-- a New York Times analysis found six times as many lies in Trump’s first 10 months in office as across Obama’s eight years-- but the Trump-era GOP has grown terrifyingly comfortable with a kind of large-scale misrepresentation of what their legislation says that’s totally unprecedented.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s official list of five policy highlights in the tax bill, for example, includes one point that is merely preserving the status quo on mortgage interest, and totally neglects to mention the corporate tax cut that is its centerpiece.

Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bills ultimately didn’t pass, but they also had this characteristic.

Reasonable people can disagree, for example, on whether it’s a good idea to cut Medicaid spending. But the GOP wrote a series of bills that entailed large cuts in Medicaid spending and then sent the secretary of health and human services out on television to say they weren’t proposing to cut Medicaid spending.

Not every member of the party was as brazen as that. But Trump and Ryan have completely dissolved the norm against dishonesty to the point where there are no longer any whistleblowers in the Republican caucus or the world of conservative media. You just say whatever you want, and dole out favors to your friends-- moving at such a rapid pace that the country’s ability to process what’s happening gets overwhelmed.

Back in April, Megan Wilson reported that there were 1,500 new lobbying registrations and a huge surge in lobbying revenue as firms moved to snatch up new staff with connections to Trump and key congressional Republicans in order to take advantage of a new bonanza of opportunities.

And it’s paid off enormously. While Americans are fascinated by major legislative drama, endless sexual abuse scandals, endless Trump-Russia scandals, and countless inappropriate presidential Twitter outbursts, key regulators-- almost uniformly drawn from the ranks of corporate America-- are doling out favors at a pace that boggles the mind.

Most people know about the Federal Communications Commission rescinding network neutrality rules, for example. But they’re also rescinding rules on overconcentration in the broadcast television industry, while Congress has moved to let ISPs sell their users’ private browsing data.

Trump’s Labor Department has been working overtime by making it easier for employers to steal servers’ tips but harder for workers to organize against chain restaurants. They’ve made it easier for employers to get away with not paying overtime, and while stories like Trump’s effort to destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or his unprecedented shrinkage of protected national monuments at least garnered a couple of days of coverage, most of this labor stuff has passed in the night.

Some of this is dictated by free market ideology, of course. But the coal industry bailout Rick Perry is pushing doesn’t fit that bill, nor does the Transportation Department’s drive to reduce transparency in airline fees.

And while it’s unlikely that the famously detail-averse president is actually paying attention to the nuts and bolts of DOT rulemaking, he is absolutely setting the tone from the top.

It takes a lot more than Donald Trump to orchestrate the kind of feeding frenzy that’s currently playing out in Washington. Nothing about this would work if not for the fact that hundreds of Republican Party members of Congress wake up each morning and decide anew that they are indifferent to the myriad financial conflicts of interest in which Trump and his family are enmeshed. Moral and political responsibility for the looting ultimately rests on the shoulders of the GOP members of Congress who decided that the appropriate reaction to Trump’s inauguration was to start smashing and grabbing as much as possible for themselves and their donors rather than uphold their constitutional obligations.

But it really is true that in this case, the fish rots from the head.

Trump has always operated in businesses in legal and ethical gray areas-- during the transition, he had to pay out a $20 million fraud settlement arising from a fake university he used to operate, and the fraudulent part wasn’t even that the university was fake. His all-purpose excuse for shady, greedy behavior was, to quote the man himself, “that makes me smart.”

Yet in his business career he did once undertake solemn obligations to people other than himself, as the chief executive officer of a publicly traded company, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts.

Trump never turned THCR into a profitable business. But he did profit mightily from running it, bilking shareholders by transferring his personal debts onto the corporate balance sheet, having the public company pay extravagant sums to buy Trump-branded goods from separate companies that he owned personally, and of course paying himself a lavish salary for his troubles.

This is looting on the corporate level, tunneling financial assets out of the company the shareholders control into entities controlled by the CEO. Like many things Trump did over the years, it’s probably illegal, but enforcement of white-collar criminal law is spotty. Trump was fined by the Federal Trade Commission and separately by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and then separately again by the Treasury Department’s financial crimes division, but not in ways that were serious enough to put him out of business.

And in truth, we have no clear picture of the full extent of Trump’s personal corruption, since in violation of decades’ worth of tradition he’s refused to give us a clear sense of his income streams or financial interests. It would be trivially easy for congressional Republicans to force Trump to disclose his tax returns, but instead of holding his feet to the fire, they are taking their cues from him-- even though many of them spent the 2016 campaign openly recognizing that he was unfit for office.

Trump’s victory, rather than inspiring a bipartisan movement to check the new president’s worst impulses, caused the party to snap, with as many factions as possible reaching to toss a rock and grab what they can as long as the party lasts.

The country is left only to hope that it doesn’t last too long.
How does this look in the real world? Big Pharma is leaning towards raising prices by double digits next year, explicitly because of a lack of political pressure. The Republicans don't care at all-- as long as they get a cut. The Democrats won't make too much of a fuss because they'll get a smaller cut. Last cycle direct bribes-- in the form of "contributions"-- from Pharma to congressional campaigns totaled $29,041,984, around $16 million to Republican crooks and $13 million to Democratic crooks. The most crooked half dozen, each of whom should be in prison:
Paul Ryan (R-WI)- $395,274
Erik Paulsen (R-MN)- $333,900
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)- $332,750
Todd Young (R-IN)- $312,450
John Shimkus (R-IL)- $295,940
Frank Pallone (D-NJ)- $270,875
Since 1990, Pharma has doled out $205,291,302 in legalistic bribes to congressional campaigns, $116,201,874 to Republicans and $87,851,836 to Democraps. 7 current House members have accepted over a million dollars each in bribes:
Anna Eshoo (D-CA)- $1,520,531
Fred Upton (R-MI)- $1,418,506
Paul Ryan (R-WI)- $1,218,278
Frank Pallone (D-NJ)- $1,163,655
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)- $1,054,050
Erik Paulsen (R-MN)- $1,046,829
John Shimkus (R-IL)- $1,008,215
You'll notice how they tend to stick with the same crooks over time, crooks with the power to look after their interests and willing to sell out their constituents to do so. A friend of mine in the anti-trust universe says it's time to get rid of patent protections for any drug company that charges more than $50,000 a year for a medicine (unless they can affirmatively prove that making the medicine costs that much). Also anyone who buys a patented medicine and raises the price should lose patent protection. Sounds reasonable-- but Congress will never go for it. Basically patent protections should be strong for small companies run by researchers and weak for companies that are essentially run by banksters who own a bunch of drug factories. And don't think this is pie in the sky. The government has the authority to break these patents right now; it's called "march in right," but crooked operators like Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy are there to guarantee that government just doesn't use this authority and never will.

Austin Frerick is the most exciting and inspirational candidate to run in Iowa in decades. He told us that one of his favorite quotes is from Upton Sinclair, the author of The Jungle. "I love it because it describes my opponent David Young perfectly. 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.' David Young may seem nice, but he’s corrupt and he’s not looking out for Iowans. His average donation is $1,638. Mine is $63. Do you think he’s going to address climate change when he took a $1,500 from Exxon Mobil last April? Do you think he’s going to be for raising the minimum wage when he took over $7,500 from Wal-Mart last year? Do you think he’s going to stand up for family farms when he took $5,000 from Monsanto last September? We all know the answer. No. And this is why I'm refusing these corporate bribes."

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At 10:43 AM, Anonymous ronnie mitchell said...

THIS article is a perfect example of what enables the looting of the Country, because it is the RUSSIA RUSSIA PUTIN PUTIN chorus that drowns out awareness of the looting.
A major drum beating whistle blowing pots n pans banging, Rachel 'tail-gunner Joe was a hack' Maddow, made a comment about how there was not much reporting done on the tax bill.What a shame.
No kidding maybe she should've found someone prominent in the media to get this story out there to everyone so they could be informed of what their Reps were doing and what it means to THEM.
Oh well back to the RUSSIA watch,didja know Al Franken's resignation was caused by Russia's action in the media yeah will that be next on DWT?
Here is some real prime time bs "No wonder he's always ready to felate Putin. He's remaking the U.S. as an autocracy-- in his case a kakistocracy-- along the Putin model. Putin is the richest man in the world;"
FUNNY thing Forbes doesn't have Putin at the top, in fact in a list ranking from #1 down to the 1,940th richest person PUTIN's name is NOT on the list, look for yourself. Then you can back to the PUTIN is involved in everything,focus on that not the looting but if you do a story such as this on the looting find a way to get RUSSIA/PUTIN in it somehow facts be damned. Move over Rachel.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well thank god that if the democraps retake the house (and senate and wh), they'll repeal all of this, raise taxes back to Eisenhower levels, jail criminal bankers, invoke Sherman on all TBTFs, imprison torturers, restore ethics to all levels and branches of government, guarantee the rights of everyone, give everyone affordable health care... just like they did in 2009 when they last had 60 in the senate and +60ish in the house.

over Pelosi's and scummer's and hoyer's and hundreds of others' dead bodies!

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The treasury has been looted ever since 1980. Voters refuse to do one goddamn thing about it, except to celebrate every time it is made worse.

At 10:08 PM, Blogger Steve Berke said...

I enjoyed reading this article. PLease continue publishing helpful topics like this. Regards, from


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