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Archive for the ‘National Politics’ Category

Who is to Blame for High Gas Prices, 2023?

Sun ,26/11/2023

” There’s a tendency for politicians to assign blame or credit to the President for gas prices – when actually the President has very little to do with the price of gas.”

Prices in Wichita,11/23/2023.

The Republican strategy for the 2024 election is to try to pin the economic problems and inflation we have been facing on President Biden. The price of gasoline is something we are reminded of every time we fill up our car, so we have heard a lot about the price of gasoline during this presidential campaign.  The implication is that Pesident Biden is responsible for high gas prices, and thus for inflation. However, that is not the whole story. Oil prices respond mostly to international events and it appears that inflation is mainly caused by corporate greed. Gas prices are now dropping, so will President Biden get the credit?

Historical Gas Prices: The International Energy Agency (EIA) graph shows that historically fuel prices tend to follow international events. Average US gas prices hit a high of $4.12 per gallon in July of 2008,  while  George Bush was still president. The spike was attributed to increased demand at a time when production was stagnating. Gas prices hit a new high of almost $5.10 in 2022, mostly in response to inflation, unrest in the Middle East, and the war in Ukraine. The high prices have cut the demand for petroleum, and gas prices now average $3.28 per gallon and are dropping rapidly. Gas prices recently dropped locally to $2.62 a gallon and are likely going to drop more.

Oil Prices: If you’re looking for someone to blame for high gas prices, you might consider looking at the large oil companies. Oil companies blame high fuel prices on inflation and environmental regulations which reduce production. They wish to complete the XL pipeline and to drill on public land, in National parks, in wildlife refuges, and in environmentally sensitive areas. Those policies would be okay for the oil companies, but they would increase air pollution, increase greenhouse gas concentrations, and put a large number of environmentally fragile areas at a risk of being damaged. It is interesting that the largest oil companies made $174 billion in profits in 2021, as gas prices were going up. The United States consumed 124 billion gallons of gasoline, and the oil companies made $1.40 in profits for every gallon sold, and they also received about $0.13 per gallon in federal and state subsidies. Currently, oil costs $85 a barrel. That is $25 less than a barrel cost 10 years ago, yet the price of fuel had almost doubled by 2022.

Oil profits in 2021.

It seems that domestic oil production has  little effect on the price of gasoline. Last year our largest export was fuel, so it is likely that if we produce more fuel, we will just export more while gas prices continue to rise in the U.S. It also appears that gasoline prices do not follow the law of supply and demand, both things that Exxon/Mobil and the other oil companies should have to explain. They receive large subsidies; their products do not bear the cost of dumping large amounts of CO2 into the environment; and they have been quite profitable while many small US companies are struggling to stay afloat, in part because of the high fuel prices.

Inflation: The Cares Act injected a large amount of money into the economy because of Covid, causing some inflation. However, it appears that the continuing inflation is mainly the result of corporate greed. The main drivers of inflation are record shattering profits for oil companies and other megacorporations. Basic commodities like groceries are more expensive, partly becaused of increased transportation costs, but also because giant conglomerates, like Kroger, Cargill, Tyson, and JBS are raising prices because they see it as an opportunity to make record-setting money for their executives and shareholders. According to Bloomberg, US corporate profits are now soaring, with profit margins the highest since 1950.

Rather than blaming the President for inflation, perhaps we should blame corporate greed.

(C) 2023 – J.C. Moore

George Will Demands Clarity – Except from the Supreme Court

Wed ,28/06/2023

George Will started out his article, “The Supreme Court Votes for Clarity from Congress “ by citing a court case where the Supreme Court overruled the EPA – by muddying the water. He was referring to the case, Sacketts vs. the EPA. The Sacketts sued the EPA because it denied them a permit to, as George Will put it,” add a little sand and gravel to the land”.  The little sand and gravel he refers to would have filled in the wetlands adjacent to Priest Lake which is considered navigable water by the state of Utah.  The EPA cited their right to regulate navigable waters under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers analyzed the property and found that the EPA had jurisdiction.

The EPA successfully argued that, while the wetlands feed a non-navigable creek, that creek drains into navigable Priest Lake, and won a federal court battle in the 9th Circuit to continue blocking construction. The case was based on the Clean Water Act (CWA), which prohibits dumping pollution into “navigable waters . . . including wetlands adjacent thereto”, making it clear that the Clean Water Act includes adjacent wetlands. The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Sackett’s, but to do so they had to change the definition of adjacent.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said that to be protected, there must be a “continuous surface connection” between the wetlands and navigable water. “The Court’s ‘continuous surface connection’ test disregards the ordinary meaning of ‘adjacent,’” wrote the dissenting justices. Alito and the conservative justices divorced the law from the legislators’ intent, essentially rewriting it in a way that fits the outcome they sought and contradicting the plain text of the law. The Clean Water Act was passed in the 1970s to restore and protect our Nation’s waters. The court overturned a 50-year precedent for the way the Clean Water Act has been interpreted. And, in doing so, they’ve exposed many of our wetlands and waterways to the threat of exactly the kind of pollution we had in the past that the Clean Water Act was meant to prevent. It is now estimated that the Clean Water Act keeps 700 billion pounds of pollutants out of US waterways every year .

The Supreme Court ruling also the means that as much as 90 million acres of wetlands in the U.S. are no longer protected by the Clean Water Act, embracing the decades-long demands of mining companies, the fossil fuel industry, reckless developers, and other big polluters. The court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA puts our communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger. Wetlands are essential. They store water to prevent and mitigate floods, filter pollutants before they reach other bodies of water, support forestry, food and seafood production, and recreation, and more. “It doesn’t reflect reality, or the scientific understanding of how watersheds and the river networks within them function,” said Ellen Wohl, a river researcher and professor in the Geosciences Department at Colorado State University. 

She pointed out that wetlands eventually flow into navigable bodies of water, aquifers, and subterranean waterways. Allowing the pollution of those would also allow pollution of many streams, lakes, and wells we rely on for clean sources of water. It will do serious harm to the bodies of water most Americans obviously want to protect, as the Clean Water Act was designed to do. Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Sackett v. EPA is likely to hobble the law’s ability to protect several major waterways, including the Mississippi River and the Chesapeake Bay. He obviously did not allow for the fact that water runs downhill and that almost everyone lives downstream from someone.

To prevent an ecological disaster, Congress should rewrite the law to make it even clearer, although it is clear enough in its present form. And, states should beef up their own enforcement to ensure they protect their water and land. For now, that would be the best path forward, but it is not likely to happen soon, given the political makeup of Congress and many state legislatures.

As to George Will, he lacks clarity in the meaning of “conservative”. He applauded the decision by the conservative members of the Supreme Court which overturned 50 years of precedents and opened up over half of the United States’ wetlands to pollution and development. He distorted scientific work in the 1970s to discount the role of carbon dioxide in warming the earth, by claiming scientists then were predicting a New Ice Age. He seems to care little about conserving the earth and its ecosystems, and he rails about government regulations, even those meant to protect other human beings. Apparently, he doesn’t think claiming to be conservative means you support conserving the most important thing we have, the Earth.

Note: More detailed information about the value of wetlands, and this ruling are given in the High Country News: “Waterways are made up of more than what’s visible on the surface. Take Lapwai Creek, near Lewiston, Idaho: At a casual glance, it’s a ribbon of cool water, shaded by cottonwood trees and alive with steelhead and sculpin, mayfly and stonefly larvae. An adult could wade across it in a few strides without getting their knees wet. But that’s just the part people can see. Beneath the surface channel, coursing through the rounded cobbles below, is what scientists call the hyporheic zone: water flowing along underground, which can be a few inches deep, or 10 yards or more, mixing with both surface water and groundwater. Microbes that purify water live down there, and aquatic insects—food for fish and other animals—can use it as a sort of underground highway, traveling more than a mile away from a river.

A creek, in other words, is more than just the water in its channel; it’s also the water underground, and it’s connected to everything else in its watershed, including wetlands and channels upstream that might dry up during some years, or perhaps go years between getting wet. Whatever happens there—pollution or protection—happens to the entire creek. In the case of Lapwai Creek, which flows into the Clearwater River and then the Snake River, it’s a small but fundamental part of the complex ecosystem that salmon, humans and countless other creatures in the Pacific Northwest rely on.

But those ecological realities are strikingly absent from last week’s US Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA. The ruling strips federal protections from all ephemeral streams and, as reported by E&E News, more than half of the previously protected wetlands in the US. It limits Clean Water Act protections to “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water.” That includes some wetlands—those that are “indistinguishable” from protected oceans, lakes, rivers and streams “due to a continuous surface connection.”

“It doesn’t reflect reality, or the scientific understanding of how watersheds and the river networks within them function,” said Ellen Wohl, a river researcher and professor in the Geosciences Department at Colorado State University. Wohl helped review the scientific evidence used to develop an earlier, and much more expansive, Obama-era definition of which bodies of water fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh: “The Court’s ‘continuous surface connection’ test disregards the ordinary meaning of ‘adjacent.’ … As a result, the Court excludes wetlands that the text of the Clean Water Act covers—and that the Act since 1977 has always been interpreted to cover.”

Weaker protections mean that more wetlands and temporary streams will be destroyed, filled in with dirt for houses or other development. Ecosystems and people alike will lose the benefits they provide: biodiversity and abundance of species; space to absorb extra water during storms, preventing deadly floods; natural storage of that same water, so it’s available later, during dry times; the natural purification that occurs when water is filtered through the ground.

Take, for example, a desert playa in the Great Basin, which might be dry for years at a time. When rainwater falls on it or snowmelt flows into it, it acts like “a big sponge,” Wohl said. A sponge that can store water for later, and clean it, too. But if you turn it into a parking lot by filling or building on it, as the Supreme Court ruling makes it easier to do, water will pour off it, rather than soak in. And what was once a playa—part of an intricate system changing across space and time—will become simply an asphalt wasteland.”

How a Carbon Dividend Could Help Homeless Veterans

Tue ,06/12/2022

A carbon dividend results from the Carbon Fee And Dividend approach to regulating greenhouse emissions. The money collected by the fee is not a tax, as it would be distributed equally to all citizens to compensate for the rising cost of fuel. In the United States, it is proposed that a fee of $15 per ton be placed on carbon fuels at the source or port of entry, and the fee is increased by $10 per ton each year until carbon emissions are reduced to 1990 levels. The dividend would begin at about $30 a month for each citizen and would increase to about $300 a month after 10 years. The cost of the fee would add about $0.13 to a gallon of gas, and it would increase yearly by about nine cents a gallon.

As of January 1, 2023, the G-7 nations will begin placing tariffs on trading partners who do not have an adequate carbon price. The United States must put a price on carbon or begin paying tariffs on our exports. The dividend produced would not make much difference to the wealthy, however, it would be very valuable to those with low incomes. If they reduce their fossil fuel use, it will become an extra source of income. One very positive use of the dividend provided by a Carbon Fee And Dividend bill would be to help homeless veterans. The dividend could make a huge difference for the homeless, especially for homeless veterans.

There are about 50,000 homeless veterans, and many of them have health, mental health, or PDST problems. It is hard for them to receive medical help, counseling, Veteran benefits, or to find jobs if they have no permanent residence. To help their homeless population, several cities such as Austin, Kansas City, and Springfield have begun building villages of tiny homes for the homeless. Each village provides its residents with a tiny home, a garden area, and a counseling center where they can go for help. Each resident is expected to contribute to the village with pay, pensions, Social Security, or in some other way.

If carbon dividend were to be distributed to each veteran, it would provide a valuable revenue stream to maintain the village. It would also encourage other cities to build small villages for the homeless. Most importantly, it would help our homeless veterans get the homes and care they need. It would make all the difference in the world in their lives.

Partisan Politics Kills People: When Covid Came to Kansas

Tue ,18/01/2022

“Had the United States Republican leaders developed strong guidelines for dealing with Covid 19, the Kansas Legislature would probably have followed them. However, no guidelines were forthcoming, and the pandemic became a partisan political issue. “

Covid-19 first appeared in the United States in January of 2020. It spread rapidly and by early March cases began to appear in Kansas. Two legislators were required to quarantine because they had been exposed to the virus. Governor Kelly declared a state of emergency and issued a series of executive orders designed to keep the virus from spreading. When cases began to appear in Topeka, some members of the Kansas House of Representatives became alarmed. Several of them had health problems that put them at risk. They realized that if they were exposed, the virus would be carried to all parts of Kansas when the legislature adjourned. They decided to pass the budget and adjourn as soon as possible.

To make sure someone was in charge of the virus response when the Legislature was not in session, the House passed a bill giving the Governor emergency powers to manage the virus response until January 2021. The Senate, however, did not want to give that much power to the Governor, saying she might take private property or take your guns away. She could not and would not, but that set up a week of haggling before the Legislature finally passed SB 40 which limited the Governor’s emergency powers. It put a time limit on the emergency declaration and gave the Legislative Coordinating Council, (LCC), whose majority is the Republican Leadership, the right to veto any of the Governor’s emergency orders.

The LCC and the Governor were able to reach acceptable compromises on most issues. However, with Easter coming up, the LCC canceled her executive order that limited the size of gatherings to 10. The Governor sued, and the court ruled she had the power to make decisions under the emergency declaration until April 25th. That prompted the Republican Leadership to call a Special Session to pass legislation to restrict the Governor’s powers. She vetoed it, and there were not enough votes to override her veto. Later, the Governor had to call another Special Session as it was necessary to extend the disaster declaration. There, the legislature passed legislation extending the emergency declaration, but it also gave counties the control of COVID restrictions. The Governor could not veto this, as it would have ended Kansas’s emergency declaration and cost the state billions of dollars in disaster aid. Giving the counties control of the Covid response turned out to be a disaster as many counties refused to enforce public health guidelines.

The Kansas Legislature did not set a good example. Our public health experts said we could stop the spread of Covid by wearing masks, following good hygiene practices, socially distancing, and avoiding mass gatherings. The first Special Session had rules for following those health guidelines, but the Republican leadership did not enforce them. It soon ended up with over 100 legislators, with few wearing masks, packed together in the House chamber. This was in violation of the public health restrictions, but the Republican leaders seemed not to care. By bad example, bad legislation, and inflammatory rhetoric, the Legislative Leadership politicized a public health issue and destroyed Kansas‘s opportunity to contain the virus. Those who complain about damage to the economy and the mental health issues caused by isolation have only the Legislative Leadership to blame. They managed to nullify the Governor’s plan to control the virus in the state, and that has been a disaster. By giving the counties control of the COVID-19 response, Kansas ended up with a patchwork of regulations across the state with 25 counties that followed the public health guidelines and 80 counties that did not.

For example, the Sedgwick County Commissioners immediately voted to relax the health guidelines. The number of Covid cases in Sedgwick County soon grew to over 11,000 with over 130 deaths – and the toll is still increasing. It is now at 75,671 cases with 891 deaths. The virus toll soon grew in Kansas to over 75,000 cases and over 1000 deaths and is now at 500,400 cases with 6,900 deaths. Humans are the virus’ main host, so every case increases the chance of further spread – or even mutation of the virus. This did not have to happen. Our Republican Leadership has shown that they are incapable of keeping us safe.

Vaccines for Covid 19 became available in December of 2020 and were made free to everyone in the United States. Two doses of the vaccine and a booster have proven to be effective in preventing or lessening the severity of Covid 19 and its variants. Booster shots are very important, as they make the vaccines more effective against the Omicron strain of the virus. In spite of effective, free vaccines, the number of cases of Covid in Kansas is still increasing. The partisan battles undertaken by the Kansas legislature have shifted from size restrictions on meetings, mask mandates, testing, and contact tracing – to resisting vaccinations. Though effective vaccines have been available for almost 2 years, over 39% of eligible Kansans still remain unvaccinated.

The Federal government mandated that Federal employees, healthcare workers, and employees in large private businesses either be vaccinated or tested weekly. The Kansas Legislature leaders were so incensed by this that they wanted to call another Special Session in November to discuss how to end the Federal government’s overreach. It is strange that Speaker Ron Rychmann supported this as he had a serious case of Covid in July. Though he kept it a secret and made light of it when discovered, he spent ten days in the hospital and was quite sick. Still, he fought to hold the Special Session with the goal of ending vaccination mandates. The November Special Session required the signatures of two-thirds of the legislators, but with a little help from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce (KCC), they were able to get signatures from all the Republicans. How did that come about?

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act allowed corporations who hid their intellectual assets offshore to bring them back at a reduced tax rate. During the 2019 legislative session, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce thought Kansas businesses that had hidden their assets offshore, should get a Kansas tax cut as well. The bill would have cost the state about $600 million over three years. There was little justification for doing that and it failed as a number of moderate Republicans opposed it. During the 2020 election, the KCC targeted the moderate Republicans and they were purged from the legislature. In 2021, the KCC got the tax it wanted but it had unintended consequences. The purge of moderate Republicans gave a supermajority to the far-right Republican legislators who were opposed to vaccines and public health restrictions. There is little the KCC could have done that would have hurt Kansas and its businesses more.

The Special Session to end Federal vaccine mandates ended up with a compromise bill which the Governor agreed to sign. It allowed employees to opt out of vaccines and required employers to accept medical and religious exemptions without question. If an employee is terminated for refusal to be vaccinated, they may file for unemployment. Employers who deny an exemption request or terminate an employee for not being vaccinated can be fined up to $50,000 per violation. This puts businesses in a tough position as the federal and state requirements are different. This comes in spite of the Republicans’ claimed pro-business stance, and their concerns that the depletion of unemployment funds might cause a tax increase.

Several states, including Kansas, sued the federal government to stop the vaccine mandates. This should have had little chance of success as there are precedents for vaccination mandates. A 1905 Supreme Court ruling, Jacobson v Massachusetts, upheld the state’s right to require vaccinations. Although the ruling only applied to Massachusetts, it made clear that the liberty we enjoy does not give us the right to act to the detriment of others. In December of last year, the Supreme Court refused to hear cases appealing New York’s and Massachusetts’ Covid 19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. These decisions reflected a long-standing precedent for upholding the ability of the government to impose mandatory vaccination requirements.

However, in January of 2022, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases concerning vaccine mandates, one involving businesses and one involving healthcare workers. If they had followed precedents, the Court would have upheld the mandates. Even the Justices who rely upon originalism should agree. George Washington ordered the Continental Army to be vaccinated against smallpox, and the soldiers complied. However, the Supreme Court upheld mandates for healthcare workers, but not for businesses. This ruling denied OSHA, which is charged with protecting the health of workers, the best way to protect workers from the Covid virus.

Kansas is now in the midst of another surge in Covid cases as the Omicron variant of Covid is spreading in the state. The Governor has just issued another emergency declaration, along with mandates, because the states’ ICU units and emergency rooms are filling up with Covid patients. The 2022 legislative session is just beginning, and we can only hope that the Kansas Legislature and the Governor will put aside partisan politics and form a united front to keep Kansas citizens safe.

Why the Rich Are Getting Richer and the Poor Poorer

Mon ,09/08/2021

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act (TJCA) really did a job on the American people. The results were predictable. A similar tax cut in Kansas in 2012 was a disaster for Kansas. It benefited the rich, led to a stagnant economy, took money from infrastructure and schools, and put Kansas far in debt. States cannot run a deficit, so Kansas finally had to make up for it in 2017 with the largest tax increase in Kansas history.  

The TJCA was based on the trickle-down theory which, as experience has shown, increases public debt and makes the wealthy wealthier – at the expense of the middle class and low wage earners. The CBO estimated that the TJCA would increase the national debt by almost $1.9 trillion over the next 10 years. It cut the corporate tax rate from 39% to 21% and allowed companies to bring their intellectual assets (GILTI) back to the United States at an even lower tax rate. Those who profited the most were the wealthy and corporations, as it gave permanent tax cuts to corporate profits, investment income, inheritance taxes, estate taxes, and preferential tax treatment to pass-through income*. Some banks, for instance, will pay far less than the 21%. Some of the tax cuts went to the middle class, but they will sunset in 2025 while the tax breaks for businesses and corporations do not sunset.

What is better than lobbying? It is electing Legislators who the large corporations can depend on to cut their taxes. For Republicans, adding to the national debt has always been anathema. Sadly, it was a Republican President and Legislature who passed the TJCA. The chart above lists some of the corporations who donated heavily to Republicans who they could depend on to vote to cut their taxes. It also lists the amount they gained from the tax cuts. Those corporations received about a 6000% return on their investments in electing compliant politicians. Not bad, especially when your bank pays you about 2%. Not only that, but the New York Times reported that there were 55 very profitable companies, such as Nike, FedEx, and Duke Energy, that paid no taxes at all last year. Considering subsidies, some of them had an effective tax rate of as much as a -50%.

Also, the US subsidizes oil and gas companies so that investors never lose. Every year, the U.S. federal and state governments pour around $20.5 billion in subsidies into the oil and gas industry. New research, published in Environmental Research Letters, puts a value on the effect that the16 tax breaks and exemptions will have on the 1,000 U.S. oil and gas fields projected to be built before 2030. The paper found that if fossil fuel prices stay high, most of the subsidies — 96 % in oil, 87% in gas— will go directly to the pockets of investors as profit. And if prices go down, these subsidies will help 60% and 74% percent, respectively, of new oil and gas fields to remain profitable.

So there you have it. If you’re wondering why you pay so much in taxes yet receive so little back, it is because your state and federal governments give away so much money to help the wealthy and profitable companies become wealthier and more profitable. Please consider that when you vote.

*A recent study by Treasury economists found that the top 1% of Americans by income have reaped nearly 60% of the billions in tax savings created by the pass-through provision. And much of that went to the top 0.1%. 

Please Stop Stereotyping Republicans

Fri ,09/07/2021

There are a lot of articles and posts on social media lately which blame Republicans for a variety of ills in our society. The people responsible for those ills are not necessarily Republicans, and certainly not traditional Republicans. Abraham Lincoln started the Republican Party, freed the slaves, and established that all men are created equal. There been many great Republican presidents since Lincoln, up until Eisenhower. Below is Eisenhower’s Republican platform for 1956. It defines what a traditional Republican mostly supports.

After Eisenhower, with the exception of George H. W. Bush, the Republican Party has had as their presidential candidates a crook, an actor, a cheerleader, and a reality TV star. And, each of those has had a deleterious effect on the Republican Party.

We can probably blame President Johnson for planting the seed. Up until his presidency, the Democrats were mainly responsible for segregation, voter suppression, and human rights violations. Johnson championed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which angered southern Democrats, and many of them changed to the Republican Party. That may have been the reason that Nixon won. Nixon did some good things such as creating the EPA and proposing an affirmative action program for federal employees, but he also expanded the Vietnam War and resigned from office under threat of impeachment.

Presidents Reagan signed the Montréal Protocol, which limited the greenhouse gases which were damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. Reagan also brought the Moral Majority into the GOP and, by sowing distrust in the government, brought in a number of right wing groups who didn’t like Federal authority. He also brought in the oligarchs by cutting their taxes from 70% to 26%. This greatly increased the national debt and began the income inequality that has plagued our nation since. He also appointed Justice Scalia, who led the Supreme Court in gutting the Voting Rights Act and deciding Citizens United, which allows almost unlimited cash into politics. Reagan, more than anyone, was responsible for starting the GOP down a bad path.

George H. W. Bush gets a pass, as he labeled Reaganomics as voodoo economics, which it is. Though he led little to do with it, it was during term that the Tea Party came into existence at the behest of the oligarchs who didn’t like taxation. As a third party, they would have had little political party power, so they took up residence in the far right wing of the Republican Party.  

George W. Bush won the presidency with the support of the Texas oil companies and he went from being a cheerleader at Harvard to being a cheerleader for the oil companies. He won without the popular vote, due to a controversial ruling by Scalia’s Supreme Court. With the help of Cheney and Rumsfeld, Bush began to undermine environmental regulations –  which brought the anti-environmentalists into the Republican Party. When 9/11 occurred we had the support of almost all the nations in the world, and Bush could have brought them together to root out terrorism and end human rights violations. Instead, again with Cheney and Rumsfeld’s encouragement, he invaded Iraq on a pretense and started an ill-advised war in Afghanistan which has drug on for 20 years, costing over a million lives, destabilizing the Middle East, and adding $3.5 trillion to the national debt.

Donald Trump used his experience with the media and his international business connections to win the presidency, again without the popular vote. Though he was impeached twice, investigated for his ties to Russian interference in our elections, and tried to overturn the results of the last presidential election, he is still being supported by a number of Republicans who describe themselves as conservatives. They apparently are not too concerned about conserving democracy.

Some Republicans have now changed to the Democratic Party. There are still a number of traditional Republicans who support what the GOP was under Eisenhower and want to reform the party. Please try to understand how the Religious Right, the oligarchs, the Tea Partiers, the anti-environmentalists, the militants, and the self-described conservatives managed to establish themselves in the right wing of the Republican Party – and most of all, please do not stereotype traditional Republicans. All Republicans are not the same.

Mank: A Warning about Fake News

Thu ,20/05/2021

“Though Mank was about the writing of Citizen Kane in 1934, it carries a valuable lesson about fake news that is relevant today.”

Mank is a movie about the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz, who collaborated with Orson Welles to write Citizens Kane. Citizen Kane was modeled on the life of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Mank explores Hearst’s longtime friendship with one of Hollywood’s most powerful studio moguls, MGM’s Louis B. Mayer. Hearst’s newspapers helped Mayer ensure the success of his Hollywood films and stars for decades. Citizen Kane, though, was a most unflattering look at Hollywood’s powerbrokers. Before it was released, Mayer offered RKO, the studio that produced it, a million dollars if they would destroy it. Though that was a fortune in 1934 dollars, it is fortunate that RKO refused the offer. Citizens Kane has been acclaimed as one of the best movies of all time.

In his newspapers, Hearst had a reputation for going after anyone whom he wanted to target. One theme of the movie was Hearst and Mayer’s machinations to defeat Upton Sinclair in his 1934 campaign for governor of California. Sinclair had won national acclaim for his 1906 novel, The Jungle. It exposed the abuse of slaughterhouse workers and showed he was certainly no friend of the wealthy and powerful. The state’s Republican establishment, led by Hearst’s California-based papers and Mayer’s Hollywood studios, decided to do whatever it took to defeat Sinclair. They not only considered Sinclair a socialist, but they also feared his promises to raise their taxes. Back then, Mayer was the highest-salaried executive in the nation and the finance chair of the national Republican Party. Mayer was portrayed in the movie as using the Great Depression as an excuse to extort large salary cuts from the writers and actors guilds.

It was no great stretch, then, when Hearst’s California newspapers began running stories in 1934 that “reported” on Sinclair’s plans to expropriate small shops and homes – but Sinclair actually had no plans to do so. Perhaps the most consequential element of the campaign against Sinclair was a series of fake newsreels created by Hollywood film producer Irving Thalberg. These videos, featured “reporters” speaking to “people on the street,” many of whom were actually small-time Hollywood actors reciting scripted remarks. Well-dressed individuals criticized Sinclair and praised his opponent. And there was footage of men jumping from freight cars, which the newsreel narrators said were shots of dangerous “hobos” arriving in California in anticipation of a Sinclair regime that would pay them to live off the state. The “hobos” were actually from footage taken from the movie, The Wild Boys.

The videos depicted Merriam supporters as good, solid Americans and Sinclair supporters as foreign-accented Bolsheviks.  This material was bundled together and presented as regular newsreels to the millions of Californians who went to the movies every week. It was all fake, but the public bought it – there it was in the newsreels. Thus bolstered, Merriam staged a remarkable come-from-behind victory in November’s general election.

Ironically, Mankiewicz was one of the very first film industry figures to sound the alarm about fake news. He penned an anti-Hitler drama in the month following the Nazis coming to power in 1933, which predicted the murderous violence of the then-fledgling Third Reich. He wrote a script about the fake news that Josef Goebbels had produced and the anti-Semitic falsehoods that played a central role in the Nazis’ rise to power.  Mankiewicz tried to find a studio with the courage to produce it, but the studios wouldn’t as they feared the loss of their German market. Too bad, Mankiewicz’s script would certainly have made a timely movie, alerting the world to the dangers of Nazism. It should still be a warning to democracies today, about the fake news created by extremists on the far right.

Apparatuses of Justification

Fri ,05/02/2021

In his internationally renowned work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century,  Thomas Piketty says that extreme economic inequality can only be sustained by “apparatuses of justification.”  He states, “ The existence of such “apparatuses” can hardly be disputed; the notion that wealth rightly belongs to those who possess it, no matter the means by which they acquired it or the needs of others around the world, is certainly well within the mainstream of contemporary thought, especially in North America and Europe. Ideas such as this did not, however, permeate contemporary culture on their own. They are derived, developed, and distributed by corporations, government offices, “independent” think-tanks, etc.” Two apparatuses of justification that immediately came to mind are trickle-down theory and the lies created by the Cornwall Alliance.

The trickle-down theory claims that the best way to promote economic prosperity for everyone is to give tax breaks to large corporations and those already wealthy. The idea this promotes is that they will create jobs and provide opportunities for those less well off. It was tried on a large scale in the United States under Reagan, Bush ll, and Trump. Over the years, many poor and middle class citizens have voted for politicians advocating trickle down theory. It is a flawed theory, wealth actually flows upward and pools at the top.  Meanwhile, after 40 years, they are still waiting for their share of the wealth trickle-down. The wealthy have become wealthier, the poor poorer, and the economic inequality in the United States has grown to unacceptable levels, as shown in the graph below.

After all that time, many Americans still do not realize how they have been fooled, as the chart below shows.

The Cornwall Alliance was originally started to help the poorer countries adapt to climate change. When E. Calvin Beisner took over as its spokesman, he interpreted that to mean that the Third World countries needed to use more fossil fuels. Never mind that they do not have the infrastructure or wealth to acquire and use them. Under his leadership, the Cornwall Alliance has become funded by dark money, most of which can be traced to fossil fuel companies. Who else? Beisner created the Green Dragon Monster, which he uses to represent environmentalists who want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. He uses “climate alarmist” to represent the 99.5% of climate scientists who have shown that climate change is caused by man’s activity, and “climate doomsayer’ for those who agree with scientists that global warming is harming the Earth.

Beisner uses religious arguments to reach out to conservative Christians and solicit donations. There is little evidence that the money goes to the poor, being used mostly to pay himself to distribute his message. He interprets, “God giving man dominion over the earth ”, Genesis 1:26-28, to mean that God has given man the right to exploit nature as he pleases. Apparently, he has very little understanding of ecology. Pope Francis’s encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si, says that “climate change is real and mainly a result of human activity.” “The problem is urgent. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.” Beisner claims that Pope Francis was just wrong, probably news to most Catholics.

Beisner’s position is even at odds with his own Presbyterian faith. The Presbyterian Church is now recommending divestment from fossil fuels and it was one of the first churches to address global warming. The Presbyterian Church first noted its “serious concern over global warming at the 1990 General Assembly, when it warned that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems’’.

There are many other examples of apparatuses of justification. You may recognize them by their tendency to label their opponents with unflattering terms; by their opposition to scientific research; by their derision of mainstream religious leaders; and, by their distortion of the truth. Ask yourself, “Who profits from their message?”, and if it is a special interest group, recognize it for what it is. And above all else, vote for the political candidates opposed to those special interest groups.

© 2021 – J.C. Moore, All rights reserved.

Eisenhower’s Republican Platform

Fri ,30/10/2020

The National Republican Party did not adopt a new platform this year, so I thought I’d provide one from Eisenhower in 1956. The platform is rather long, but this is an accurate summary .

The modern Republican Party is an example of a party trying to hold power, rather than govern well. The party has molded itself to satisfy the religious right, the anti-science anti-intellectuals, the false conservatives, and the very wealthy. Unable to progress as the world changes, without offending those, the party leaders have taken the path of obstructionism.

It is a rather vicious cycle for Republicans. As moderates and progressives move away from the party, the extremist are more in control. That influence is seen most in the Republican primaries where the extremist and money interests can insert more influence to elect their candidates. It is tough to be an Eisenhower Republican these days.

It will never be 1956 again, but think where we might be today if the Republican Party had remained progressive. It is time for the Grand Old Party to become Grand again.

President Trump’s Tax Plan: Why Rational Republicans Should Bail

Fri ,10/11/2017

President Trump’s new tax plan looks a lot like Governor Brownback’s tax plan for Kansas, which had been disastrous for the state’s economy. Rational Republicans should realize that if an experiment fails, and fails miserably, there is no point in repeating it. That is particularly true when the economy of the entire country is at stake. Both the economic theory and Governor Brownback’s experiment with the Kansas economy show that Trump’s tax plan is doomed to fail our country. The tax bills now winding their way through Congress will lead to economic stagnation and an increased  in the national debt of $1.5 trillion, both things which are repugnant to rational Republicans.

The Theory is based on Laffer’s curve which is displayed at the right. 

The Laffer curve looks like a normal distribution curve. In theory, if the nation is on the high side of the curve with taxes around 80%, then the curve predicts that cutting taxes will cause a move to the left along the curve, increasing tax revenue. That is likely to improve economic growth.  If the nation is on the low side of the curve with taxes around 40%, then cutting taxes will also lead to the left along the curve,  decreasing tax revenue, leading to a stagnating economy, and certainly a greater public debt.

The United States is now on the low side  of the curve with the high marginal tax rate around 40% – so cutting taxes will not lead to increased revenue or spur economic growth. Laffer should know that, but he has abandoned reason and professional ethics and now just supports tax cuts without reference to his own curve. Kansas paid Laffer $75,000 in consultation fees. His advice, when the Kansas economy was tanking, the public debt was mounting, and job growth was decreasing – was to stay the course. Kansas Republicans finally realized that the experiment had failed. They increased the tax rate, and overrode Governor Brownback’s veto of the tax increase. The governor is now leaving the state before his term is up.

The failure in practice is described by Duane Goossen, who was the Kansas budget director for 12 years prior to Brownback’s experiment:

  • “Just like the Brownback tax cuts, the Trump plan makes dramatic changes to tax policy by consolidating income tax rates and reworking deductions. Most notably, the Trump plan offers an enormous tax break to individuals who receive “business pass through income.” In Kansas this feature has become known derogatorily as the “LLC loophole”, allowing business income to be sheltered from income tax while people who earn a paycheck must pay tax.
  • Given that the same economists who advised Brownback now advise Trump, it’s unsurprising that his administration uses similar arguments to sell its plan: the tax cuts will grow the economy and create millions of jobs; the tax cuts will pay for themselves; everyone will benefit. Brownback said all that, too.”

At the right is a graph showing job growth in Kansas during Brownback’s years. It is lower than the United States job growth and much lower than in California, which has a high tax rate.

  •  Mr. Goossen goes on, “But after five years of the Brownback experiment in Kansas, we know the real result. Kansas has an anemic economy and one of the lowest rates of job growth in the nation. A dramatic drop in revenue broke the state budget, wiped out reserves, significantly boosted state debt, and put public education at risk. And that part about everyone benefiting — well, it turns out that the bulk of the benefits went to the wealthiest Kansans while the tax bill to low-income Kansans went up.
  • The idea that tax cuts will ‘pay for themselves’ or that tax cuts for the wealthy will ‘trickle down’ to the middle class should be added to the list of discredited ideas that sound good but don’t work. The sell job was seductive, but Kansans have the raw experience to grasp that the experiment carried out on us was a failure.
  • Do you know how hard Kansas legislators must labor now to fix the financial disaster? Are you catching on that general fund revenue has fallen $1 billion below expenses? Can you see how all political energy goes into crisis management rather than building our future? Is that what you want for the entire country?”

There you have it.

The Eisenhower Memorial is now being built and the Kansas politicians are using it as a chance to praise Eisenhower.  Eisenhower was a great General and President because he realized that it required requisite resources to get the job done. Under Eisenhower, the top tax rate was 90%. Eisenhower used the money to pay our war debts, rebuild Europe, educate returning GIs, and build the national highway system which ensured economic growth for decades to come. We no longer need a 90% tax rate, but our tax rate is now too low, and cutting it further will deprive the country of the resources it needs.

The the current Republican tax plan is taking shape. The big winners will be corporations and those already wealthy. Though billed as a tax cut for the middle class, the biggest losers will be the middle-class taxpayers and United States economy. Under the proposed plan we will see:

  • “Up to half-a-trillion dollars cut from Medicare and Medicaid
  • Substantial increase in the national debt with no way to pay it off
  • Elimination of state and local tax deductions – designed to hit people who live in “blue” states the hardest
  • Repeal of an itemized deduction for medical expenses – hitting people who rack up large medical bills because of the inadequacies of our health insurance system
  • Repeal of the deduction for interest on student loans
  • Repeal of the deduction for teachers purchasing classroom supplies
  • Slashed incentives for wind energy and electric vehicles, while maintaining most of the permanent oil incentives and extending nuclear energy tax breaks”

Our current Republican tax plan will add over a trillion dollars to the national debt and will not provide the resources needed to take care of the needs of our country and build for the future.. The tax rate we now have is already too low as the national debt is increasing. Cutting taxes further will surely lead to economic stagnation and an increased national debt, both things which are repugnant to Republicans.

(c) 2017 J.C. Moore