Friday, November 17, 2017

Common Dreams -- Tax ‘Reform’: Have Americans Finally Wised Up?

Let’s hope that everyone knows by now that the Senate and House tax overhaul plans benefit rich people. That any tax cuts the rest of us receive have sunset provisions built into them.

The Republicans claim their plans to be tax reform, although it is not. It reshapes it but that’s not reform. The Republicans said their new tax plan will allow taxpayers to file their returns on a postcard, but their plans don’t make filing a tax return any simpler.

But why should we believe anything Donald Trump and the Republican Party tell us. Donald Trump doesn’t know how to tell the truth and congressional Republicans are very good at manipulation, misrepresentation, and deceit. And that’s what their tax plan essentially represents.

Author Neal Garber says Americans are seemingly more skeptical this time around.

Here’s Gabler’s story:

By Neal Gabler

Tomgram: Robert Lipsyte, Beating Back the Bad Boys

"It’s Time for the Bystanders to Challenge the Bullies"

Women for years have been looked at as existing for the pleasure of men. Since ancient times women have been the property of their fathers. When married they have been the property of their husbands. And even today, in many parts of the world, women are still viewed as property.

Property can be done with as the owner of the property wishes. It can be moved, discarded or demolished, and it can be replaced. That’s how it’s been for women for a very long time.

And it’s that culture of male dominance over the years that has allowed men to mistreat women.

Today, increasingly, women have come into their own. They are finally standing up to the bullying and mistreatment.

The most recent woman who now feels empowered to speak out is Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio host. She has accused Senator Al Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her during a 2006 USO tour.

And at the head of the pack of mistreaters is the President of the United States, Donald J Trump.

Here, in part, is the introduction by TomDispatch to an insightful story by Robert Lipsyte:

 Starting with Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly and film producer Harvey Weinstein, they’ve fallen like so many dominoes in the glare of publicity and grim public testimony from the women (and, in a few cases, men) they mistreated -- all those predators, gropers, sexual abusers of Hollywood, TV, the news, magazines, comedy, and politics, including a former president. Their films, their shows, their roles, their books have been canceled, sent to the trash bin of history. Not so long ago, they were the big dogs, the winners of our world, and now, shown up for how they misused their power and prestige, they’ve been humiliated just as they humiliated others.

Oh wait, actually not all of them. I can think of one who didn’t go down at all. He won. He made himself great again. He got away with it.

In the full knowledge of what that particular big dog had done to women, with at least 10 of his victims coming forward to offer public testimony against him, with a filmed self-confession of what sort of behavior he had considered perfectly permissible for himself as a “star” -- with all of that in plain sight practically 24/7 -- a near-majority of the American people elected Harvey Weinstein president, or at least the Harvey Weinstein of 2016. That should be sobering indeed.

Here’s Lipsyte’s story:

By Robert Lipsyte

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Guardian -- Trump Administration to Reverse Obama-Era Ban on Importing Elephant Trophies from Africa

In Trump’s continuing effort to eliminate anything that has his predecessors name on it, he plans to again allow hunters to import trophy heads of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the United States, not only reversing the Obama-era ban but also to further the administration's efforts to promote hunting.

It is also part of a wide-ranging effort by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department includes The Fish and Wildlife Service, to promote hunting.

Imports will now be allowed for elephants killed between Jan. 21, 2016 and the end of 2018.

The United States and international authorities say the African elephant is a threatened species, and the Obama administration argued that allowing trophy imports would harm the animals by encouraging killing them.

The decision, not unsurprisingly, is cheered by hunting and gun rights groups. And, off course, the National Rifle Association' praised the elephant trophy decision.

It’s another example of the barbaric nature of the NRA, Donald Trump, his sons, and hunters in general.

Fox’s Shep Smith Debunks Trump’s Accusation That Hillary Clinton Gave Uranium to Russia in Exchange for Clinton Foundation Donations (VIDEO)

The alleged Clinton Uranium One deal with Russia is false. And, Fox’s Shep Smith has step by step debunked the allegations even though the Fox News network has been consistently calling the supposed Hillary Clinton Uranium One deal a Scandal.

Smith’s remarks have sparked fury among some fox viewers.

One Twitter user commented: “Get Shepard Smith off of Fox. He's arrogant and doing his own spin. Nobody knows how deep the left's conspiracy goes and Shepherd Smith has ZERO inside info because nobody trusts him. OUT!.”

Smith said Donald Trump’s repeated allegations of a "quid pro quo" deal giving Russia ownership of one-fifth of U.S. uranium deposits in exchange for $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation are unsubstantiated, saying they are “inaccurate in a number of ways.

The story was revived this week because the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is under pressure from the president to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the old allegations. Sessions hinted in a congressional hearing on Tuesday that there was no basis to do so,” according to the Guardian.

However the real reason Trump continues with his Clinton Uranium One allegation is to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and Trump’s possible collusion with the Russian Government during the 2016 presidential election.

Here’s Fox’s Shep Smith:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Politico -- Pompeo Emerges As favorite to Succeed Tillerson

Donald Trump’s revolving Cabinet door is about to spin again. This time Donald Trump wants CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be his next Secretary of State. It has been rumored for a while now that Trump has plans to replace Rex Tillerson.

Trump undercut Tillerson on diplomacy with North Korea and the diplomatic crisis in Qatar. Their relationship soured further after it was reported that following a meeting Tillerson called Trump ‘a f--king moron.’

According to Politico:

Although the CIA declined to comment on the story, Pompeo has told people close to him that he expects to receive -- and would accept -- an offer to become secretary of state. Tillerson has reportedly told friends that he wants to stay in the Cabinet through the end of the year.

President Donald Trump has turned his daily intelligence briefing — a routine that in previous administrations has been a dry, formal affair — into a free-flowing conversation during which he peppers his CIA director, former House member Mike Pompeo, with questions about everything from national security threats to the internal dynamics of Congress.

After their 10 a.m. sessions, which Pompeo conducts in person about four mornings a week, Trump often asks Pompeo to accompany him to his next meeting — whatever it is.

The CIA director’s favored status in the West Wing has made him the odds-on choice to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, according to more than half a dozen administration officials and outside advisers familiar with the White House’s current plans. It’s not clear when Tillerson might leave — he has vigorously denied rumors that he plans to resign anytime soon — but Pompeo has told associates that he expects the president to tap him for the position and that he’d accept the job if it’s offered to him.

By Eliana Johnson And Annie Karni

CNN -- McConnell proposes Sessions as a write-in to replace Moore

As a solution to solving the Republican quandary over what to do if Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, is elected to the U.S. Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell said, it appears as if the only option would be a write-in.” 

McConnell has offered former Alabama Senator, Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a possible write-in candidate. Sessions, however, has not indicated any interest in returning to the Senate.

Professor Robert Reich writes on his Facebook page, “The Republican crackup is on full display in the case of Alabama’s Roy Moore.
On December 12, Alabama voters will send either alleged child-molester Moore or Democrat Doug Jones to the Senate. The race is roughly tied, according to polls, and it’s unclear which label is more damaging to a candidate in Alabama.

Jones is a certain no against the tax plan, and Moore is by no means a sure bet to vote with McConnell, since Republicans are already talking about expelling him.

Trump ideologue Steve Bannon believes that a Moore victory would be a stinging defeat for McConnell, whom he blames for stalling Trump’s legislative agenda and for the longer-term corrosion of ideological purity in the GOP. McConnell has been urging Jeff Sessions to resign as Attorney General in order to be a write-in candidate against Moore.

Another of Moore’s last-remaining allies, Fox News Sean Hannity, said last night that Moore has 24 hours to explain inconsistencies in his story or get out of the race.

I think Moore represents the future of the anti-establishment GOP -- racist, sexist, authoritarian, anti-democratic, and all things Trump. The question is whether the establishment GOP can stop him.


By Maegan Vazquez

NY Times -- Senate Plans to End Obamacare Mandate in Revised Tax Proposal

The Senate included repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate as part of their tax plan. Something the Republican Party has long sought. For political expediency, they want to accomplish two of their top domestic priorities in a single piece of legislation.

The individual mandate requires everyone to have health insurance that meets a minimum set of standards. Those who don’t maintain Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) compliant health insurance coverage pay a penalty.

According to the NY Times:

They also have made a calculated gamble to help speed their bill to passage on a party-line vote: Republicans revealed late Tuesday they would set all of their tax cuts for individuals to expire at the end of 2025, to comply with a procedural requirement. Their deep cut in the corporate tax rate would remain permanent.

Both the expiration decision and the move to tuck the repeal of the so-called individual mandate into the tax overhaul are attempts by Republicans to solve two problems: math and politics. Repealing the mandate would save hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.

Here’s Robert Reich’s take on the story:
Senate Republicans have stuffed so many goodies into their tax bill for big corporations and the wealthy that they need additional money to pay for it. Where have they found it? They take it from the Affordable Care Act. They repeal the individual mandate. This would cause premiums to skyrocket for the older and sicker, who therefore won't be able to afford coverage. An estimated 4 million would be gone from the rolls in the first year; 13 million after 10 years. As the Affordable Care Act shrinks, so do the taxes needed to support it -- freeing up additional money to pay for the additional goodies for corporations and the wealthy.

This is one of the most cynical and regressive ploys I've ever witnessed.

Here’s the story:


By Thomas Kaplan And Jim Tankersley

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NY Times -- Justice Dept. to Weigh Inquiry Into Clinton Foundation

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice said that prosecutors were weighing the possibility of appointing a special counsel to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

In a letter sent to the House Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department said prosecutors would examine allegations that donations to the Clinton Foundation were tied to a 2010 decision by the Obama administration to allow a Russian nuclear agency to buy Uranium One, a company that owned access to uranium in the United States, and other issues.

Any such investigation would raise questions about the independence of federal investigations under Mr. Trump. Since Watergate, the Justice Department has largely operated independently of political influence on cases related to the president’s opponents,’ according to The NY Times.

Professor Robert Reich says, “Forty years ago I was an assistant to U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork, in the Justice Department. This was soon after Nixon had resigned, and Gerald Ford was president. Nixon had unleashed the Justice Department on his political enemies, and Ford and the Department were committed to restoring integrity to our system of justice.

The Justice Department developed strict guidelines to insulate itself from the political whims and vendettas of a president. Never again, it was thought, would a president be able to use the Department to go after political opponents. Nixon woke the nation up to the dangers to our democracy of such abuses of power.

Forty years later, we are back to those treacherous times

By Michael S. Schmidt And Maggie Haberman

WaPo -- Trump’s pick to lower drug prices is a former pharma executive who raised them

Touting his nomination of Alex Azar for Health and Human Services Secretary, Donald Trump said that “He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!

There is every reason why none of us should believe Trump.

First and foremost, Trump is a liar and has no credibility.

Second, Alex Azar previously served as a high-ranking executive at Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company, and during his tenure, Eli Lilly repeatedly raised the prices of its drugs, doubling the U.S. list price of its top-selling insulin over the five years he served as a company president,” according to the Washington Post.

Supporters said that Azar's understanding of the complicated dynamics behind pharmaceuticals pricing would give him an advantage in figuring out how to make drugs more affordable. Critics, however, noted that Azar's tenure at Lilly coincided with massive list price increases on insulin and made him particularly ill-suited to lower drug prices.

Third, Azar’s loyalty is to the pharmaceutical industry and the industries stockholders -- not to consumers.

During Azar's tenure at the helm of the company's U.S. operation, the drugmaker jacked up the price on a number of medications to boost profits. For example, the list price of a vial of Humalog insulin more than doubled from $123 to $255. The increases were so egregious that a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Lily and others.

These price gouging tactics have become common-place in the pharmaceutical industry because there is virtually no federal oversight. With Azar in Trump's cabinet, you can bet that won't change. At every key post, Trump has found someone who is willing to put corporate profits ahead of the American people” -- Robert Reich.

By Carolyn Y. Johnson

The Hill -- Stock Surge Raises Pressure on GOP to Deliver

If anyone believes that the Republican tax bill doesn’t favor America’s well-to-do need only to watch the stock market.

Of course, Trump brags “The reason our stock market is so successful is because of me. I’ve always been great with money, I’ve always been great with jobs, that’s what I do.

The real reason, however, is because the stock market anticipates that the Republican Party will pass its tax bill, which Trump will sign, that will make Wall Street richer than it already is.

The Hill’s Sylvan Lane reports:

Stocks have surged since President Trump’s election, in part because investors are betting that Republicans will follow through on their promise to slash corporate tax rates.

But the rapid rise in the stock market has alarmed regulators and traders, who fear there will be a sharp downturn if the GOP’s tax legislation collapses. Even Trump administration officials have acknowledged that possibility, warning Republicans that failure is not an option.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last month, “There is no question that the rally in the stock market has baked into it reasonably high expectations of us getting tax cuts and tax reform done.”

After years of steady gains during former President Obama’s second term, U.S. stocks soared in the months after Trump’s election. The Dow Jones industrial average and the NASDAQ composite have both climbed roughly 24 percent since November 2016, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has risen roughly 20 percent.

Here’s Lane’s story:

By Sylvan Lane