Thursday, April 19, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty


House Republicans Want More Tax Cuts for the Wealthy


With the GOP/Trump tax cuts remaining unpopular, especially given the $1.8 trillion budget deficit increase they are now projected to cause, Republicans are panicking ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.  So what do House Republicans want to do?  Lead by Paul "Reverse Robin Hood" Ryan, they want to pass an additional $650 billion in cuts by making the cuts for individuals permanent.  Never mind that those cuts disproportionately went to the very wealthy - I have seen less than $50 in difference in pay pay stubs - while average Americans were largely stiffed.  And that doesn't even get into the issue of how Ryan and company seek to slash the social safety net for average Americans.  The only positive news is that Mitch McConnell (who I suspect history will depict as a key player in the end of American democracy) is not keen on the effort since a handful of Democrat senators might vote for the bill and deprive the GOP of a perceived cudgel to use against them in November.  The GOP truly lives in a bubble/alternate universe.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post:

Heading into a contentious campaign for control of Congress, Republicans are increasingly divided over how to bolster their signature legislative achievement — a $1.5 trillion tax cut — amid signs it is not the political gift they had expected it to be last year.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) aims to pass another massive tax cut this summer, which Republicans hope will rev up the GOP base and improve the standing of Republicans at the polls.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is under pressure to block a vote, which Republican campaign strategists worry could allow red-state Democrats to vote for additional tax cuts and undermine one of the GOP’s most effective lines of attack in conservative-leaning states: that Democrats voted against a big tax cut last December.
The GOP debate shows how the tax bill, which Republicans rushed to pass in December despite the enormous complexity of overhauling the tax code, has not become the campaign booster Republicans said it would be.
Republicans had bet that increasing the take-home pay of Americans would help them defeat Democrats come November. But months after the tax cut started to affect paychecks, polling shows the legislation remains unpopular. 
That is a major problem for Republicans, who since taking control of the government last year have dealt with party infighting, high-profile retirements, multiple stalled attempts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care law and the constant swirl of controversy surrounding President Trump.
Some Republicans have even suggested that voters might not have noticed increases of $40 or $60 or so in their paychecks, partly because many workers no longer get paper pay stubs. . . . . The $1.5 trillion legislation was primarily focused on cutting taxes for companies. It also trimmed individual taxes, but those cuts were left to expire in 2026 to comply with Senate budget rules.
Democrats have seized on the unbalanced approach, which Republicans promised would be rectified.
Conservative leaders met with Ryan on Monday and expect a vote in June or July. That would give lawmakers time to discuss the issue with constituents over the August recess and ahead of Labor Day, the traditional kickoff to the election campaign season.But privately, Republicans trying to knock off Senate Democrats in states including West Virginia, Montana, Indiana and Missouri don’t want McConnell to take such a vote and are urging him against it, according to two GOP strategists knowledgeable about the conversations.
“Holding another vote would take away one of the bigger hits we have against Democrats for this fall and gives them a chance to take credit . . . . Another Republican strategist closely involved in Senate campaigns said that officials with the National Republican Senate Committee were urging McConnell not to hold a vote on individual tax cut permanence out of concern for the benefit to endangered Democrats. The strategist also requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations.
For their part, red-state Democrats appear ready to take advantage of a vote if Republicans schedule one. While enough Democrats would vote against additional tax cuts because of how much they’d add to the deficit, some such as Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia or Sen. Jon Tester of Montana could end up supporting them, thereby undercutting a major GOP line of attack against them.
Still, GOP leaders in the House and some conservative leaders argue that additional tax cuts would offer Americans another reminder that Republicans passed tax cuts in the first place and that Democrats broadly oppose them.
The struggles have led some Republicans to urge candidates to redouble their efforts to sell the tax law, which on average increased after-tax income for taxpayers in all tax groups this year, according to the Tax Foundation, while adding more than $1 trillion to the deficit.
House Republicans obviously believe that voters are idiots and can be bought for $40 per bi-monthly paycheck.  One can only hope that they are proven very, very wrong.

Catholic Church Hypocrisy on Church Sponsored Anti-LGBT Animus


One hears over and over about the supposed anti-Christian discrimination fostered by LGBT rights organizations and laws enacted to prevent anti-LGBT discrimination.  Anything that limits the ability of Christofascists and Catholic extremists to discriminate against gays - or other targets of hatred such as divorced Catholics, cohabitating unmarried couples, women using contraception, and, of course, non-Christians - is shrilly denounced as anti-Christian or anti-Catholic persecution.  Lost in the equation is that due to (in my view, improper) the tax-exempt status of churches, in reality all members of society are being forced to indirectly financially underwrite denominations that target them for hatred and discrimination.  This is NOT what the Founding Fathers contemplated when they drafted the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Indeed, it is precisely what they sought to avoid.  A piece in the Louisville Courier Journal takes to task  Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz for his blindness and hypocrisy on this issue.  Here are column excerpts:
I would like to point out in response to Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz in his recent essay published in Courier Journal that his institution and his faith do not need a “First Amendment Defense Act” to protect his ability or the ability of the Catholic Church in America to pass down their beliefs to the children. 
Not a single law in this country blocks them from doing so. And not a single person in this country can do that either. Within the Church institution, gay marriage can be forbidden and women’s reproductive choices curtailed. The Church can even work to protect pedophile priests from prosecution by moving them out of the country, as was reported in USA Today in February of 2016.
However, the Catholic Church uses government grants and tax dollars to do all of this, which means that my tax dollars are funding the Catholic Church’s internal theological prohibitions and practices. My right not to pay taxes to prop up religious beliefs, practices and opinions is violated every day. Now we see the lobbying hand is out for tax credits (vouchers) to help fund religious schools.
No, Kurtz, it is not your rights or your Church’s that are in jeopardy. The danger is that my and every taxpayer in this nation’s rights are being eroded, and this has been going on for a long time.
The major problem we all face is that the Church is not satisfied with just blocking civil rights within its walls. The Catholic Church funneled millions of tax-free dollars from dioceses, the Council of Bishops and offshoot Catholic groups like the Knights of Columbus to block gay marriage laws in various areas of the country before the Supreme Court finally ruled gay marriage as civil right. Catholic-owned hospitals, which receive millions in tax dollars, block non-Catholic women and men from receiving legal reproductive health care every day.
More than 60 percent of the budget of Catholic Charities comes from government grants. But the federal and state governments are not allowed to oversee how that money is spent. There are more than 200 tax exemption laws on the books that cover religious institutions. I’d say the Church in America is certainly experiencing government favoritism rather than discrimination.
Freedom to practice religion, to hold religious beliefs, and to pass them down to the next generation is alive and safe in this county. But "freedom of religion” does not mean that religious opinions are protected from scrutiny, doubt and even condemnation when offered in the public arena. It does not mean that bullying gays should be protected by some ridiculous “amendment’. 
It does not mean that legal medical procedures, treatments and medications should be withheld from people who do not share the same religious beliefs. It does not mean that the civil right to participate in marriage should be blocked. It does not mean that public businesses can discriminate against anyone who seeks their services or products. There is discrimination going on here, but Kurtz is not recognizing the source of it.
We should talk about the “dignity of every human being.” We should also talk about what that actually means. And, we should talk about the rampant religiously sponsored and government funded discrimination that takes place in this country every day. Is Kurtz ready for that dialogue?
 How do we fix the problem?  Tax churches and all church properties not directly and exclusively used for true charitable purposes.  If churches cannot survive without the forced subsidization from non-members, then they deserve to die.  As for the Catholic Church - which owns untold fortunes in art treasures and properties - if parishioners will not pay the bills, then sell of assets.  Just like everyone else.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

White Supremacy Is America's Achilles Heel


Many of those who have remained in the Republican party in the past have used their supposed support for "fiscal conservatism" as the fig leaf for explaining their continued ties to a political party that now is defined by right wing Christian extremists and white supremacists.  With the passage of the federal budget busting GOP/Trump tax bill last December, the fig leaf of alleged GOP fiscal conservatism has been utterly disintegrate as if it had been tossed into a raging fire or crematorium. Thus, the question that needs to be asked of these Republicans of what their real motivations are going forward for remaining in a party that has exhibited budgetary recklessness and total disregard for fiscal responsibility.  As I have noted in previous posts, in my view, many are motivated by racism even thought they would vehemently deny it if directly asked whether or not they are racists.  As a fairly lengthy piece in the Atlantic  points out, racism has a long history in American politics and Trump and today's GOP - with the help of Russian efforts - are 100% on board for using race to stir hatred and appeal to white voters.  Here are article highlights:
There are a million and one threads to the chaos currently unspooling about the Trump administration and the 2016 election. One might be forgiven for giving up on trying to navigate the intricacies of congressional Russia inquiries, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ever-widening probe, news about foreign intrusions into voting systems, investigations about Twitter bots, and the developing story about the manipulation of Facebook data.
But there’s one main thread running through all of these stories, one that should orient readers to the things that truly matter, whether the news is about Cambridge Analytica or the Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency. It’s the fact that the human brain is eminently exploitable—as are, by extension, the civic and democratic institutions the human brain has built.  And in America, a country built from its foundations on white supremacy, where identity is forged in the crucible of a centuries-old “race question,” one of the easiest and most effective ways to “hack” those institutions is the use of racism in disinformation and propaganda campaigns. Almost every single American era of widespread racial friction was buttressed by sophisticated psychological manipulation, data gathering, and propaganda, a concoction that when taken together, often helped push whites to the extremes of anti-democratic oppression and violence. It’s the oldest American trick in the book.
[O]ne vital detail is the seemingly critical role of racial foment in Cambridge Analytica’s electoral work. . . . Cambridge Analytica, owned by conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer and linked heavily to former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, began embarking on research to figure out how to mobilize white conservatives:
In focus groups arranged to test messages for the 2014 midterms, these voters responded to calls for building a new wall to block the entry of illegal immigrants, to reforms intended to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington’s entrenched political community and to thinly veiled forms of racism toward African Americans called ‘race realism,’ [Wylie] recounted.
“Race realism” is a new-ish term describing an old intellectual—or anti-intellectual—tradition using pseudoscience in the pursuit of racial dominance. It’s a new label for what’s now referred to as “scientific racism,” or research in social science, biology, and philosophy dedicated to proving the scientific inferiority of black people and other minorities, and thus validating white racial hegemony.
Scientific racism—from the earliest anthropology to the quackery of phrenology to the ongoing appeal of eugenics—became the justification for white-supremacist and herrenvolk governments the world over, including Jim Crow America, the Third Reich, and South African apartheid.
[T]he Internet Research Agency’s alleged actions were part of a set of schemes designed to leverage both the wealth of data in social media, and to use that data to exploit and manipulate people via the lever of racism.
The extent of the usefulness to the Trump campaign of these specific initiatives is still in question, but the strength of racist appeals should not be discounted out of hand. Propaganda and fear-mongering can be catalysts for underlying racist sentiment, either by confirming deeply held suspicions or encouraging others to edge past rhetorical boundaries—such as, say, prohibitions against violence, or the defense of American democracy. Such catalysts lower the activation energy for extremism.
. . . . “race realism” is a clever term designed to provide an intellectual sheen to the most base racist instincts. As such, it has a critical importance in the alt-right movement’s search for mainstream validation.
The very fact that Cambridge Analytica’s researchers stumbled upon and tested the effectiveness of “race realism” in Facebook campaigns is alarming, but it doesn’t stand alone. The president’s campaign also employed race-baiting rhetoric. Until recently, Breitbart—a site formerly run by Trump’s one-time campaign CEO and chief strategist—maintained a “Black Crime” story category. The use of racist propaganda is a startling echo of the past and could be a blueprint for the future. Such propaganda has been used before to radicalize and mobilize Americans, in opposition to the rule of law, and even in opposition to democracy.
[A]s Terry Ann Knopf argues in Rumors, Race, and Riots, fake stories about slave rebellions inflamed pro-secessionist thought in the South. The common theme is one that newspaper editors and demagogues alike used repeatedly to their advantage: White citizens were uniquely susceptible to perceived threats to their power, both nonviolent and violent, and often responded by further suspending democracy.
[B]ut it’s the specific ways in which white supremacists engaged in widespread radicalization of poor whites that seems particularly relevant today. . . . Scientific racism was critical in establishing the pretext for barring black people from democratic participation, and for inspiring them to ever more violent methods.
The indictment filed in February by special counsel Robert Mueller against 13 Russian nationals working for the Internet Research Agency illustrates how the Kremlin was interested in exploiting racial tensions on Trump’s behalf. . . . One central tactic appeared to be cribbed directly from the Jim Crow playbook: using both racist messaging against black people and fake black activism to amplify polarization and the likelihood of political violence. . . . The second prong in the racial strategy was disseminating false information about voter fraud or the potential of voter fraud, delivered by fake conservative accounts to conservative users. The third was racist fear-mongering, sometimes using the fake tweets from the first prong and reaction to them as fodder.
[I]f there’s anything to be learned from the politics of the past few decades, it’s that the margins of American democracy are often razor thin. And racism is a tried and true way to work those margins to political advantage.
Take, for example, the Internet Research Agency’s strategy involving using imposter accounts designed to look like real black, Latino, and Muslim activists.
There's much more in the article, including a review of how appeals to racism have been utilized in the past and the eagerness some white Americans have exhibited in jumping on the racist bandwagon.  Personally, I continue to believe that appeals to racism - with a dash of religious extremism - is what garnered Trump the roughly 70,000 votes need to flip three states to Trump's electoral column. Do I feel any need to be polite or sensitive to those who bought into this poison?  Definitely not. 

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Crisis for the GOP: Trump Tax Cuts Are Still Unpopular


Yes, I am still pissed about taxes - and so are many other Americans who sadly end up paying more in taxes than those far wealthier and/or many large corporations.  The good news is that perhaps those screwed by the Trump tax cuts - the "corporate greed/billionaire relief act" might be an apt name for the bill rammed through by Republicans -  will vent their wrath come November, 2018.  The only thing humorous about the situation is that Republicans seem blindsided by the public reaction thus demonstrating the danger of living in the Fox News bubble or listening to "economists" who have proven to be consistently wrong since the 1980's.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at how and why voters are rightly realizing that the GOP sold them down the river.  Here are excerpts:

Between 1980 and 2016, the American public never met a tax cut it didn’t like. . . . on each occasion, a plurality of voters were onboard.
And then, America met the Trump Tax Cuts. When Congress passed the president’s signature legislation in December, it was the least popular tax bill in modern American history — a measure even less popular than the tax hikes passed under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
For American conservatives, this was a harrowing development. It was one thing for the public to disdain the GOP’s attempts to pare back Obamacare — retrenching the welfare state has always been the sour note in the right’s paean to “small government.” But if fiscal conservatives can no longer sell voters on across-the-board, deficit-financed tax cuts — untainted by any simultaneous attack on the safety net — what are they so supposed to sell them? Initially, Republicans took solace in the thought that their bill’s unpopularity was merely the product of Democratic duplicity. . . . Surely, Americans would love the Trump tax cuts once they got to know them. The proof would be in the paycheck — and, failing that, in a multimillion-dollar Koch-funded ad campaign. Alas: Americans have now been collecting post-tax-cut paychecks for more than two months — and they still don’t like Donald Trump’s signature legislative achievement. In fact, as Republicans fan out across the country Tuesday for “Tax Day” rallies celebrating their law, the vast majority of voters still refuse to accept that their taxes have even gone down. But don’t take my word for it — take the American Enterprise Institute’s. In a new polling analysis, the right-wing think tank concedes that “overall opinion [of the Trump Tax Cuts] is still more negative than positive,” while an overwhelming majority of Americans say that their paychecks haven’t grown conspicuously fatter. . . . while 53 percent foresee a negative impact from “higher deficits and disproportionate benefits for the wealthy and big corporations.” If voters do not believe that across-the-board tax breaks have positive economic benefits — and resent tax cuts for the rich more than they appreciate ones for themselves — then it’s going to be nigh-impossible for conservatives to realize their “small government” vision on the federal level. On Meet the Press last Sunday, Paul Ryan (unintentionally) explained why this is the case. . . . . The most obvious problem with Ryan’s response is that it’s an unabashed lie: After observing the initial effects of the Trump Tax Cuts, the Congressional Budget Office predicted last week that the legislation will single-handedly add $1.85 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.
But a more fundamental flaw in Ryan’s argument is that — to most Americans — it reads like a case against tax cuts. If an unavoidable, demographic change is making it more expensive for the government to meet its obligations to retirees, then why on Earth did Republicans make reducing revenue their top legislative priority?
Further, to the extent that Social Security’s “20th century” design “doesn’t work,” it is because the program is too austere, not too generous. The collapse of private-sector pensions — along with the failure of wage growth to keep pace with the rising costs of health care, housing, and higher education — have left Americans more dependent on Social Security benefits for their retirements, not less: As of 2016, nearly half of U.S. families had no retirement account savings at all, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Contrary to the GOP’s perennial promise, the benefits from corporate cuts aren’t trickling down. Wage growth is tepid; stock buybacks are soaring. Last spring, 61 percent of Americans told Gallup that their income-tax burden was already “fair” – while just 4 percent told Bloomberg that “tax policy” was the most important issue facing the country. Meanwhile, large majorities of the public — including, in one Morning Consult survey, a majority of self-identified conservatives — voiced support for increasing federal health-care spending. There was no popular outcry for “middle-class tax cuts” in 2017 — let alone, for giant corporate cuts financed by reductions in health-care subsidies. The GOP assumed that voters would come around to its view on “starving the beast,” once they got their share of Uncle Sam’s rations. They assumed wrong.
Democrats are already winning elections in Red America by spotlighting the GOP’s fringe fiscal priorities. In recent weeks, striking teachers have won victories of their own by the very same method. The Koch network can afford to lose such battles. But by passing the first unpopular tax cut in modern memory, Republicans have proven themselves incapable of winning the wider war. When the “rubber hits the road” — and voters are forced to choose between maintaining entitlement benefits and keeping tax rates low — there’s never been less doubt about which they’ll choose.

Gorsuch Joins Liberal Justices to Strike Down Deportation Law

Gorsuch with Justice Kagan who wrote the majority opinion.

In a move that will prompt shrieking among the racist  and misogynist GOP base and possible rants in the West Wing, Justice Neil Gorsuch - hardly my favorite justice - joined with the Supreme Court liberals and voted to strike down an arbitrary and vague anti-immigrant law.   The ruling was the second time that an overly vague anti-immigrant law has been struck down by the Supreme Court. As worded, the law that was in theory aimed at immigrants who commit violent crimes was being abused by Homeland Security and used to target immigrants committing non-violent crimes.  The New York Times looks at the welcomed ruling:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a law that allowed the government to deport some immigrants who commit serious crimes, saying it was unconstitutionally vague. The decision will limit the Trump administration’s efforts to deport people convicted of some kinds of crimes.
The vote was 5 to 4, with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch joining the court’s four more liberal members to form a bare majority, which was a first. Justice Gorsuch wrote that the law crossed a constitutional line.
“Vague laws,” he wrote in a concurring opinion, “invite arbitrary power.”
His vote in Tuesday’s case was not entirely surprising, though, as he has a skepticism of vague laws that do not give people affected by them adequate notice of what they prohibit.
Immigration advocates said the ruling could spare thousands of people from deportation.
“This decision is of enormous consequence, striking down a flawed law that applies in a vast range of criminal and immigration cases and which has resulted in many thousands of immigrants being deported for decades in violation of their due process rights,” said E. Joshua Rosenkranz, a lawyer for the immigrant at the center of the case.
The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, No. 15-1498, was first argued in January 2017 before an eight-member court left short-handed by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The justices deadlocked 4 to 4, and the case was re-argued in October after Justice Gorsuch joined the court.
The case concerned James Dimaya, a native of the Philippines who became a lawful permanent resident in 1992, when he was 13. In 2007 and 2009, he was convicted of residential burglary.
The government sought to deport him on the theory that he had committed an “aggravated felony,” which the immigration law defined to include any offense “that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”
In 2015, in Johnson v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that a similar criminal law was unconstitutionally vague. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority in Tuesday’s case, said the reasoning in the Johnson case also doomed the challenged provision of the immigration law.
She quoted at length from Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in Johnson, which said courts could not tell which crimes Congress had meant to punish.
She added that lower courts had been unable to apply the immigration law consistently.
“Does car burglary qualify as a violent felony?” she asked.
“Some courts say yes, another says no. What of statutory rape? Once again, the circuits part ways. How about evading arrest? The decisions point in different directions. Residential trespass? The same is true.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined all of Justice Kagan’s opinion, and Justice Gorsuch most of it.
Near the end of her opinion, Justice Kagan again quoted Justice Scalia. “Insanity,” he wrote in a 2011 dissent, “is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Justice Kagan said it was time to heed that advice. “We abandoned that lunatic practice in Johnson,” she wrote, “and see no reason to start it again.”

Poll: GOP Tax Cuts Increasingly Less Popular with Voters


Yesterday was tax day and as I drove to our accountant's office to drop of signed forms to permit electronic filing and drop off sizable checks made out to the IRS and the Virginia Department of Taxation (the big check was to the IRS) I happened to tune in to statements being made by the congressional  Republicans that proclaimed their massive cuts to the very rich and huge corporations as beneficial to American taxpayers.  It was enough to make me want to vomit given the rank dishonesty of the the GOP statements.   As I spoke with our accountant about how out of whack our estimated tax payments for 2017 turned out to be - hence the need to write big checks - I received the additional news that the Trump/GOP tax law "reform" would make our tax situation even worse in 2018.  Little mention has been made to all of the small business deductions being eliminated or capped.   The results of a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll suggests that more and more Americans are increasingly coming to realize that the GOP/Trump tax "reform" was a massive screw job for most taxpayers, especially small business owners, which only lavished substantial benefits on the 1%.   Here are highlights from CNBC on the poll findings:
As congressional Republicans fight to preserve their majorities, they may need to find a weapon more powerful than the big December tax cuts.
The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the tax-cut law, never broadly popular, has sagged in public esteem lately. Just 27 percent of Americans call it a good idea, down from 30 percent in January. A 36 percent plurality call it a bad idea, while the rest have no opinion.
Moreover, a majority gives thumbs-down on the plan when asked to consider its potential effects. Just 39 percent foresee a positive impact from a stronger economy, more jobs and more money in their pockets; 53 percent foresee a negative impact from higher deficits and disproportionate benefits for the wealthy and big corporations.
"Not a great starting point" for the fall campaign, said Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster who conducted the survey with Republican counterpart Bill McInturff.
Republicans began learning that lesson last month during a special House election in Pennsylvania. GOP strategists found the tax cuts an ineffective message against the Democratic candidates and dropped the issue as Election Day approached.
The Democratic victory in a district President Donald Trump had won by 20 percentage points in 2016 showed that tax cuts are "a political loser," says David Wasserman, a House analyst at the Cook Political Report.
[W]orking-class, middle-class and upper-class Americans all hold negative views of the tax-cut law. Women who have graduated from college call the tax cuts a bad idea by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.
Overall, the NBC/WSJ Poll shows Democrats with a seven-point edge over Republicans, 47 percent to 40 percent, on which party Americans want to win control of Congress this fall. Just 39 percent of Americans approve of Trump's job performance, while 57 percent disapprove.
One can only hope that the full realization of how badly Republicans betrayed the vast majority of Americans sets in before election day in November, 2018.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty