Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Trump's Fairy Tale Tax Plan

Like House Republicans, Der Trumpenführer is utterly desperate to get some form of legislation passed and to change the topic of conversation away from Russiagate.  Whenever talk about his possible treason and collusion with a foreign enemy heats up, something is floated to distract the  media which continues to suffer from something akin to attention deficit disorder.  Trump's tax reform proposal is a case in point.  The fact that it is based on fairy tale claims and assumptions is not relevant so long as it changes the topic of conversation.  The "plan" also underscores that Republicans have learned nothing since 1980 when Reagan promised that tax cuts would pay for themselves.  They didn't and the deficit ballooned. An op-ed in the Washington Post by the director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 to 2005 eviscerates Trump's "tax plan."  Here are excerpts:
President Trump is correct to press for tax reform, correct to argue that corporate rates should be reduced and correct to look for policies that boost the United States’ anemic economic growth rate. But the “rough draft” of Trump’s tax plan, rolled out at the White House on Wednesday, falls short of being a real tax reform suitable to tax-cutting conservatives such as me.
Proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts and then casually asserting that such a plan would “pay for itself with growth,” as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, is detached from empirical reality. A real tax-reform plan would include specifics on how to broaden the tax base — not leave that hard work to Congress. A responsible tax plan would not ignore the threat of increasing a national debt that is already on an unsustainable course.
Accelerating the pace at which the federal budget bleeds red ink must be avoided, and building a tax plan based solely on the premise of future economic growth is dangerous. Sailing straight into a sovereign debt crisis is not a pro-growth strategy. What firm would want to headquarter in a country that is toying with financial meltdown accompanied by emergency austerity and tax hikes?
Typically, the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office analyze the economic growth potential of proposed policies through “dynamic scoring.” . . . . never has a dynamically scored analysis concluded that a proposal would “pay for itself with growth,” and no serious economist would make such a claim. At best, according to the prevailing consensus, the positive feedback effect from tax cuts would recoup in the range of 25 to 35 percent of the cost.
Real tax reform, however, takes on tough choices to broaden the base and is not built on implausible claims for the impact on growth. Congress has a rare opportunity to boost American competitiveness and productivity growth with a sensible tax-reform package. But that package must be built on realistic growth assumptions, not economic fairy tales.

GOP Senators May Yet Kill Obamacare Repeal

Word around Washington is that the fractious House Republicans may be able to cobble together a new bill to "repeal and replace" Obamacare.  Like its predecessor, this concoction would likely throw millions off of health insurance and allow premiums to soar for many even as disingenuous House members bloviate (read lie) about reducing costs, etc., etc.  Frankly, only a total fool would believe the claims since the number one goal in the House is a massive tax cut for the wealthy.  That said, anything that does manage to pass the House - likely on a pure party line vote - still faces sever obstacles in the Senate and not just from Democrats.  As a piece in Politico reports, a number of Republican Senators may be the bill's biggest obstacle.  Here are article highlights:
The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.
The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate.
“The Freedom Caucus has done a good job of trying to make the bill less bad,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the lead Senate agitators against the House health care push, said Wednesday. “For me, it’s a big stumbling block still that there’s taxpayer money that’s being given to insurance companies, and I am just not in favor of taxpayer money going to insurance companies.”
Phil Novack, a spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz , also indicated that the conservative Texas firebrand isn't sold, saying “significant work remains” in the Senate, “specifically to address Obamacare’s insurance mandates and enact major patient-centered reforms that will further reduce the cost of health care.”
Sources say it may take more than a month for any House health care bill to run through the traps in the Senate, including internal party discussions and an analysis of how the measure would affect the deficit and insurance rolls. No committee hearings are planned because Republicans don’t want to give Democrats a public forum to bash an effort they are not involved in. And similar to the Senate's dim view of the House's proposal, the lower chamber may not ultimately be able to pass whatever the Senate is able to produce on Obamacare.
Weeks after the spectacular collapse of Obamacare repeal efforts last month, MacArthur and Meadows struck a deal with new language that would allow states to opt out of several key Obamacare provisions, such as its ban on charging sick people higher premiums and the so-called essential health benefits mandate that requires insurers to provide a set of minimum benefits.
The new language was enough to earn the formal endorsement of the Freedom Caucus, but House moderates who were opposed to the previous plan remain wary of backing a proposal that could cause constituents with pre-existing conditions to lose affordable health care coverage. In fact, the new plan may be having the reverse effect on some centrists: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) had supported the initial Obamacare replacement but now says he’s a “maybe.”
Influential Senate Republicans also raised doubts about whether the new House proposal is workable. . . . Senators are likely to make Medicaid cuts less severe, deliver more money for opioid funding, make tax credits for the middle class more generous and rework the House’s waivers from Obamacare’s requirements.
In interviews with senators across a broad ideological range, there was growing irritation with attempts to ram complicated legislative language through the House and expect the Senate to clean it up. Some GOP senators suggested that a bipartisan bill may be the only way to overhaul the health care system in a lasting manner.
“I don’t know if this bill is better … the worst thing we can do is replace it with a Republican-only alternative that doesn’t drive down costs, that doesn’t improve access to care,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). 
Republicans in the House are desperate to pass a bill.  The fact that it would harm many seems to be irrelevant as long as they can say they passed something - and, of course, delivered a big tax cut to the most wealthy.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Are American Voters Actually Just Plain Stupid?

The title of this post tracks that of a piece at Salon that reacts to a new ABC News poll that shows that far too many Americans remain enamored with Donald Trump, a/k/a Der  Trumpenführer, despite the lack of any accomplishments in his first 100 days in office and his continued lining of his own pockets with taxpayer funds.  Just ending his weekly travel to the "Florida White House" over the course of a year could fund many items he seeks to cut from the federal budget.  Sadly, the take away from the poll findings is that yes, many American voters are just plain stupid and utterly uninformed, especially those who limit their news sources to scandal plagued Fox News.  Just as frightening, Trump's and the GOP's calls to racism explain much of the continued Republican support for policies that are in actuality directly against their own financial interest.  Legitimizing these people's prejudices seeming matters more than policies that would improve their economic lot. Highlights from a piece in Salon look at this disturbing picture.  Here are highlights:  
Are tens of millions of Americans really this stupid? If the findings from a new poll are any indication, then the answer is yes:
There’s no honeymoon for Donald Trump in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll but also no regrets: He approaches his 100th day in office with the lowest approval rating at this point of any other president in polls since 1945 — yet 96 percent of those who supported him in November say they’d do so again today …
Among those who report having voted for [Trump] in November, 96 percent today say it was the right thing to do; a mere 2 percent regret it. And if a rerun of the election were held today, the poll indicates even the possibility of a Trump victory in the popular vote among 2016 voters.
This is despite all the lies Donald Trump has told and all the campaign promises he has betrayed: He has not “drained the swamp” of lobbyists and corporate fat cats, has not built his “huge” and “amazing” wall along the Mexican-American border, has not returned jobs to the United States and has not repealed the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, as of day 100 of his presidency Trump has fulfilled few of his main campaign promises.
Moreover, that 96 percent of Trump’s voters would make the same decision again despite overwhelming evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in  the 2016 presidential election with the goal of installing Trump as a puppet candidate raises many troubling questions about how tens of millions of American voters were “flipped” by a foreign power to act against their own country.
The findings from this new poll are troubling. But they should not come as a surprise.
Political scientists and other researchers have repeatedly documented that the American public does not have a sophisticated knowledge of political matters. The average American also does not use a coherent and consistent political ideology to make voting decisions. As Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen demonstrate in their new book “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” Americans have identities and values that elites manipulate, which voters in turn use to process information — however incorrectly.
American voters en masse are not rational actors who seriously consider the available information, develop knowledge and expertise about their own specific political concerns, and then make political choices that would maximize those goals.
These matters are further complicated when considering right-wing voters. While Trump may have failed in most of his policy goals, he has succeeded symbolically in terms of his racist and nativist crusade against people of color and Muslims. Given the centrality of racism and white supremacy in today’s Republican Party specifically, and movement conservatism more generally, Trump’s hostility to people of color can be counted as a type of “success” by his racially resentful white voters.
American conservatives and right-leaning independents are also ensconced in an alternative news media universe that rejects empirical reality. A combination of disinformation and outright lies from the right-wing media, in combination with “fake news” circulated online by Russian operatives and others, has conditioned Trump voters and other Republicans to make decisions with no basis in fact. American conservatives do however possess a surplus of incorrect information. In that context, their political decisions may actually make sense to them: This is a version of “garbage in, garbage out.”
This is a crisis of civic literacy that threatens the foundations of American democracy. . . . This is but one more reminder that Donald Trump’s victory was not a sudden crisis or unexpected surprise. The neofascist movement that Trump represents was an iceberg of sorts — one that was a long time in the making. If this new poll is correct, many millions of Americans would make choices that would steer the ship of state into that same iceberg all over again. Such an outcome is ominous. The thought process that would rationalize such a decision is deranged.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder has argued that a democracy has approximately one year to reverse course if it has succumbed to fascism and authoritarianism. America’s civic literacy crisis may mean that the country has even less time than Snyder’s prediction suggests.

Politico: Flynn's Lobbying Payments May Have Come From Russia

Trump and Flynn - laugh over all the Russian money?
Even as the White House is refusing to turn over requested documents to Congressional investigators Politico has broken a story that suggests that payments received by former Trump BFF, Mike Flynn, ostensibly from Turkey may have in fact come from Russia.  Flynn received these payments while involved in the Trump campaign and failed to register as a foreign agent of Turkey, much less Russia. Indeed, the smoke is becoming thicker and thicker and suggesting that there indeed is a fire that could take Mike Flynn,  Der Trumpenführer, and many others down, if not put them in prison.  No wonder Flynn is seeking immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.   Here are excerpts from Politico (there is much more and the rule to remember is "follow the money back to its source"):
The Turkish man who gave Mike Flynn a $600,000 lobbying deal just before President Donald Trump picked him to be national security adviser has business ties to Russia, including a 2009 aviation financing deal negotiated with Vladimir Putin, according to court records.
The man, Ekim Alptekin, has in recent years helped to coordinate Turkish lobbying in Washington with Dmitri “David” Zaikin, a Soviet-born former executive in Russian energy and mining companies who also has had dealings with Putin’s government, according to three people with direct knowledge of the activities.
This unusual arrangement, in which Alptekin and Zaikin have helped steer Turkish lobbying through various groups since at least 2015, raises questions about both the agenda of the two men and the source of the funds used to pay the lobbyists.
the hiring of Flynn by Alptekin came at a time when Flynn was working for Trump’s campaign and Putin’s government was under investigation for interfering with the U.S. election.
Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, declined to comment. In a filing with the Justice Department, Flynn said he relied on assurances from Alptekin that he was not directly or indirectly funded by a foreign government. But shifting explanations and a web of business ties raise questions about the arrangement.
Flynn has offered evolving accounts of his lobbying work for Alptekin. In September, Flynn reported his client as a Dutch shell company owned by Alptekin. After being forced to leave the White House — reportedly because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations during the transition with the Russian ambassador — Flynn filed new paperwork in March acknowledging that his lobbying work “principally benefitted” the Turkish government.
The revelation of Russian business ties to the man who hired Flynn threatens to complicate the White House’s struggle to escape the shadow of the FBI investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian agents.
His original White House ethics disclosure failed to include payments from Kremlin propaganda network RT and two other Russian companies. The RT payment was for a paid speech Flynn gave at a Moscow gala where he sat at the same table as Putin.
A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Alptekin, in an interview, said he hired Flynn with his own money and did not coordinate any lobbying for the Turkish government.
Siberian Energy Group’s dealings under Zaikin were characteristic of the equity trades, offshore financing schemes and consulting agreements that Putin’s allies have used to protect and hide assets.

Trump Refuses to Give Key Flynn Documents to Congressional Investigators

Der Trumpenführer seemingly has never heard of the saying that if you don't have anything to hide, then don't act as if you do.   With Russiagate continuing to haunt him - and rightfully so - Trump increasingly has Congressional Republicans beginning to protest obstruction efforts by the White House.  A case in point is the White House refusal to turn over requested documents relating to former Trump BFF Mike Flynn and payments made to Flynn by Russia. Marco Rubio and Jason Chaffez have joined the chorus of those criticizing Flynn and/or the White House.  I continue to believe that there is more than just smoke surrounding the evidence suggesting possible collusion between the Russian intelligence officials and the Trump campaign.  Of course, the release of Trump's tax returns could also shed light on the role of Russian money in Trump's financial situation. Mother Jones looks at the White House's attempt to strong arm Congressional investigators.  Here are excerpts:
The White House is refusing to provide congressional investigators with some of the documents they're requesting as part of an investigation into potential Trump campaign connections to Russia, and whether former national security adviser Mike Flynn disclosed payments from Russian companies when applying for his security clearance.
The news comes as Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) announced Tuesday that Flynn might have broken the law by failing to disclose the foreign payments on official documents filed as part of the security clearance review process. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is conducting one of two congressional investigations into links between the Trump campaign and Russia. (The Senate intel committee is conducting the other.)
"I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law," Chaffetz, the chair of the committee, told reporters Tuesday.
Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the White House is refusing to provide documents related to Flynn.
"Despite all of these very troubling developments…we received a response from the White House refusing to provide any of the documents we requested," Cummings told reporters Tuesday. "So we received no internal documents relating to what Gen. Flynn reported to the White House when they vetted him to become national security adviser, and we received no documents relating to his termination as national security adviser for concealing his discussion with the Russian ambassador."
CNN reported Tuesday morning that White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short told the House committee in a letter that some of the documents originated with other agencies and therefore would have to be provided by them. He added that concerning the relevant White House documents, "we are unable to accommodate" the request.
The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Mother Jones.
I am of an age where I remember the Watergate hearings.  As now, Nixon's unraveling and eventual resignation from office likewise began with acts like these now taking place.  If Trump has nothing to hide, he should release the requested documents and his tax returns as well.  The longer he fails to do so, the more many will believe he is guilty of collusion with Russia, if not outright treason. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1