If The Poor Must Work to Earn Every Dollar, Shouldn’t the Rich?

[I just saw the brilliant new Spielberg movie, THE POST. In the spirit of journalism that doesn’t talk down to its readers, and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power, I’m re-printing this recent opinion piece by one of its writers. As we watch the daily destruction of the social safety net by the most corrupt, greedy and punitive administration in history, these ideas need to be examined anew, discussed, and brought out into the daylight. They do, that is, unless we all want to live in a shithole country.]

*****

by Elizabeth Brewing, WASHINGTON POST

The argument over which poor people deserve aid has begun anew thanks to incipient Republican efforts to harshen work requirements attached to welfare programs. For conservatives and thus-inclined Democrats, work requirements are about making sure that people who receive federal aid aren’t lazy loafers living off the dole — “welfare queens” in Reaganite parlance.

It’s a badly mistaken point of view. Built into the claim that it’s only fair that poor people should be made to work for welfare are a few troubling assumptions: that poor people don’t or won’t work; that only compensated, market labor is real work; that society (and the state) always require work to precede income; and that each person is due to receive simply what they earn. Each of those is false.

According to 2013 congressional testimony from Lawrence Mead, who supplied much of the intellectual groundwork for our last round of welfare reform, “by requiring and promoting work, [welfare reform] integrated [recipients] into mainstream American life as never before.” In fact, though, the number of impoverished people who could work but are neither working nor seeking work is already vanishingly small. As the leftist think tank People’s Policy Project has shown, able-bodied adults who elected not to work or seek work in 2016 made up a scant 1.6 to 2.3 percent of America’s poor. (Disclosure: My husband, Matt Bruenig, is founder of the think tank.) A recent study likewise found that 87 percent of able-bodied adults covered by the Medicaid expansion are already working, in school or seeking work, and that about 75 percent of those not working are full-time caregivers.

The lion’s share of poor people are elderly, children or disabled persons; another chunk are caregivers. And while caregiving isn’t compensated as market labor, parents looking after children and people caring for elderly or sick family members are hardly shiftless layabouts. Being both a mother and a writer, I am well aware that the less compensated of my two jobs is the more demanding one.

 But what about that small number of people who could work but, for whatever reason, don’t? Shouldn’t they have to? Well, before deciding whether it’s morally right for them to receive income without working, consider a far larger group that takes in far more money without toil: the idle rich. They soak up plenty of unearned money from the economy, in the form of rent, dividends and capital income. Salaries and wages — that is, money paid for work — only make up about 15 percent of the income of Americans making $10 million per year or more; the rest is capital income from simply owning assets.

And yet rarely do politicians inveigh against the laziness of the well-off. In fact, the government shells out huge sums of money to the rich every year through tax breaks and subsidies. As Syracuse University professor Christopher Faricy points out in his book “Welfare for the Wealthy,” the federal government is hardly generous with the poor alone. In 2016, for instance, Social Security kept 26.1 million people out of poverty to the tune of $911.4 billion paid out in disability and old-age pensions; during that same year, federal tax subsidies for the pensions of the more affluent totaled $179.9 billion . Faricy observes that the same pattern holds in health care and education: While the government spent some $200 billion on Medicaid in 2012, it also spent $120 billion subsidizing employer-based health insurance; and while students whose families make under $20,000 per year are the main beneficiaries of federal Pell grants, households that earn between $100,000 and $200,000 receive roughly 50 percent of the benefits of college tuition-and-fee tax deductions.

In other words, the well-to-do already do what workfare advocates seem so nervous about: rake in money they haven’t earned through market labor and thrive off the government’s largesse. Perhaps that itself is unfair — so why duplicate it on the other end of the economy? Put simply, it seems ludicrous at best and sadistic at most to start one’s fairness policing from the bottom up. If we mean to transform our economy into one in which people earn precisely what they work for and no more, and receive nothing from the government lest their work ethic wither, it would be best to start from the top down, where nobody runs any risk of starvation or homelessness if they lose their benefits.

In fact, none of us live entirely on what we earn. We rely on the infrastructure, knowledge and technology developed by those who have come before us, and those contemporaneous with us. Instead of trying to mince each person’s life’s work into careful calculations of contribution and merit, it seems more sensible to pursue a fairer economy overall: one that directs its excesses not to the already rich, but to those who have the greatest need; one that recognizes in its distributive structure that every person is immeasurably valuable, deserving of life and dignity.

When A President Has No Empathy

[This is where we are at the beginning of 2018. An American territory, populated by American citizens, pleading for the basic necessities of survival while their President plays golf at one of his resorts and eats off gold plated dinnerware. Happy New Year, and may we be rid of this scourge before the end of this year. In Mueller we trust. Resist. Amen.]

by Mark E. Andersen, Daily Kos

The other night I watched an episode of The Profit, on CNBC. Normally this show is about Marcus Lemonis working with people in businesses that are failing. This past week’s episode was about his trips to Puerto Rico, and how much the people are suffering. This show is usually on as background noise for me while I am doing something else—this episode angered me. Not because of Lemonis and his actions, but for the lack of response to the disaster that Hurricane Maria wrought on this American territory.

During one segment of this show, there was a village that had lost the only bridge that connected them to the rest of the island. They had made up a jerry-rigged shopping cart with a cable and pulley system to bring supplies in and out of the village. In another segment the people living in another village dammed up the river so they could pour a homemade concrete mix to make a makeshift road through the river so they could come and go, albeit in four-wheel drive vehicles only. What made me so mad about this is that sitting in the United States are the resources to build temporary bridges, and do expedient road repairs—any U.S. Army combat engineer battalion has the manpower, and know how to do these repairs. In eight hours or less one platoon of engineers could have had Bailey bridges over these rivers giving these villages access to the rest of the island until a permanent structure could be built.

Potable water is another issue—people are using ingenious ways to collect water from mountain streams. Lemonis was amazed at the ingenuity used to collect this water. He did collect some and had it tested—it was contaminated with E. coli. Again, the U.S. Army has the capability to purify water:

“The 288th is a water purification unit. We have four pieces of equipment to purify 1,500 gallons an hour,” said Capt. Duane Fousie, a native of San Antonio, and 288th company commander, “If we run all our equipment, in one 24-hour period we can purify 200,000 gallons that can be used for laundry, showers, cooking, by the engineers as well as the civilian population.”

That is one company that can purify 200,000 gallons of water in a 24-hour period. There are many more of these units in the Army. Why are they not in Puerto Rico providing clean water?

I was no fan of President George W. Bush—his handling of the Katrina disaster was incompetent at best. But at least he showed some compassion toward those who were in her path.

You’ve seen the photo of Donald Trump meeting with victims of Hurricane Maria. He is tossing out paper towels as if they are T-shirts from a T-shirt gun at a minor league baseball game. That is not presidential, and sure as hell shows no empathy toward the people who survived a natural disaster.

I am not sure that the current White House occupant, or the Republican-led Congress is even aware that Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory, populated by U.S. citizens.

“The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this. This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” — Donald Trump

I have never before questioned a sitting president’s grasp on basic geography before, but, then again, there are a lot of things I never questioned about a sitting president prior to Trump. Empathy toward others and your actions toward the less fortunate are how we should be judged. Many of you reading this are just one or two missed paychecks away from disaster. In Hubert H. Humphrey’s last speech he stated,

 “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

By that test, our nation has failed. A “victory” in getting tax cuts for the rich was far more important to the Republican cabal currently running our nation, than providing adequate aid and relief to Puerto Rico, the sick and the poor.

I am not a religious man; however, I have read just about every religious text I could get my hands on. The bible, a book that I doubt many of the so-called Christians on the right have ever read, contains some wonderful writing. One of my favorite quotes is from Matthew 19:24:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

The Republican Party has sold its soul in the pursuit of wealth. The evangelical leaders who support them have forgotten the words from the very book they preach from—in many ways they have become no better than then people who are twisting the words of the Koran to fit their twisted, violent vision of the world.

Perhaps President Trump views those living in poverty in Puerto Rico as rabble, if that is the case, then maybe he should watch It’s a Wonderful Life, in particular, this scene:

Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle.

Denise Oliver Velez and Kelly Macias have done an amazing job of keeping Puerto Rico in the headlines on Daily Kos—the rest of the U.S. media, not so much, and for that they are to be commended. Now, if we could just get our nation’s leadership to pay attention to the plight of Puerto Rico, instead of crowing that they cut taxes for corporations, and the wealthy—if we had a leader who showed empathy, any empathy, our nation would be far better off than we will be with the tax cuts that will cripple our nation and cause even more people to suffer.

Why Americans Hate Paying Taxes

If Americans had larger political imagination and ambition, they would insist on getting more for their money

Aristotle defined politics as “matters relating to the city.” The Athenian philosopher used “city” as a substitute for the collective. In the United States, just as in any sophisticated society, one of the most important communal matters is the collection of money from the people, and the use, allocation and distribution of that money.

April 15 is not a day that most Americans circle on the calendar with the joy of anticipation. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes appraised taxes as “what we pay for civilized society.” It does not require much imagination or rigor to identify governmental examples of “waste, fraud and abuse,” as Republicans like to say, but Holmes’ wisdom remains resonant, even elementary.

In contemporary political discourse, any celebratory, or even nuanced, analysis of taxation would suffer a heretical inquisition. Even most liberals celebrate the nobility of “easing the tax burden” for working families, while leftists advocate escalating taxes on the rich, but refuse to acknowledge that, if America were to truly transform into a European-style social welfare state, middle-class income earners would also pay more in taxes, and rightly so.

Unlike citizens of Sweden or France, Americans feel that their taxes do not pay for much of anything, including civilized society. The conventional grievance against taxes is both legitimate and inaccurate.

Many states would not survive without federal subsidy. One of the rich and untold ironies of American life is that most of the states dependent on federal aid are Southern shades of red, full of inhabitants waving “Don’t Tread on Me” flags while they argue for local control against big government tyranny. Big government tyranny helps to fund their highway systems, infrastructure, educational systems and social assistance policies. In my home state of Indiana, residents recently collapsed into conniptions of shock and rage upon discovery that cuts to Medicaid would remove essential money from special education programs in public schools.

The federal government, despite reports to the contrary, is not Satan’s operational headquarters.

It is, however, largely detached from its individual taxpayers. When most people consider their financial status, they do not pause to reflect on the local efficacy of a highway expansion project or even the crucial existence of a fully functional educational program for children with developmental disabilities. They think in terms of losses and gains for themselves and their own family.

The Norwegian, even the Canadian, can justify relatively high tax rates with the knowledge of access to excellent health care, opportunities at tuition-free public universities, and readily available and affordable childcare. She can consider her routine use of safe, efficient and comfortable public transportation, and she can recall the joy of a culture with a vibrant public arts program. She can feel grateful for civilization.

The American watches a percentage of his income vanish on every pay stub, but still has a high health insurance premium and an even higher deductible, makes a student loan payment every month and takes into account large fees for the private daycare center at the opposite end of town.

The lack of civilization in public policy encourages crassness and crudity in private behavior and discussion. Basic etiquette should forbid public discussion of personal earnings, but America has never allowed vulgarity to prevent the exercise of its impulses. Without asking, I myself have had to endure acquaintances informing me how much, or how little, they will save due to Trump’s tax cut. Is there any conversational topic more boring?

One can rationalize Americans forever double dipping their potato chips and putting their feet on the table by associating their uncouth outbursts with the tragedy of low political expectations.

If Americans had larger political imagination and ambition, along with more comparative knowledge, they would insist on universal health care, affordable universities and complimentary childcare. Instead, they endure the condescension of Paul Ryan smugly grinning as he promises that a family of four will save $1,182 because of the GOP’s tax beneficence. If we are going to tolerate vulgarity, we might as well fully commit. Ryan’s savings, averaged out, amount to $98.50 per month. This is not nothing, but neither does it come close to covering a month of daycare for one child and the parent’s student loan payment.

The Republican tax plan is the equivalent of giving a man with a 20-mile commute to work whose car has broken down a new pair of running shoes.

Polls currently indicate that the majority of Americans are not falling for the ruse, and by some miracle, the typically pitiful Democrats are actually winning the public debate. Republicans hope and predict that attitudes will change when Americans notice that their tax returns are slightly larger than the previous years.

They are also parading various banners of cynicism from corporate lords of the manor. AT&T, Comcast and several other companies have announced bonuses for employees, making the dubious claim that they were only made possible due to tax relief. Union representatives for AT&T employees were already in the process of negotiating holiday bonus payments before the passage of tax reform.

The political expectations of many Americans have fallen so far into the sewer that one of the nation’s two major political parties is now actually arguing that the best government can do is bribe modern day merchant princes into acts of charity and mercy.

How long before they, and more important, we, decide that mercy is for the weak?

Notable Quotes from Quotable Folks

[In which yours truly provides you with a smorgasbord of lively quotes from the Known and Unknown, largely political, many quite thoughtful, many of them revealing the moral vacuum that is the Current Occupant by simply repeating things he’s said. You now know if you want to read any further. Happy New Year!]

 “Why are Trump supporters more offended by ‘happy holidays’ than by ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’?” –Jeff Richards

“How about this for an idea: no corporation or company which has even one employee on public assistance should get a tax cut. If you don’t pay your employees a living wage, you don’t get a tax cut.” –Matthew Dowd

“I had a republican source tell me quite plainly: Bob Corker and other republicans don’t care what Americans say. They are ‘cashing out.’ That’s what this GOP tax bill is about. That’s the verbatim phrase this republican used: ‘cashing…out.’ They’ll go home and reap the rewards in their personal finances and pass the lard onto their kids with no estate tax. They truly don’t care.” –Joy Reid, journalist

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit. Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.” –-noted sociopath and House Speaker Paul Ryan, laying the rhetorical groundwork to rein in Medicare, the federal health program that primarily ensures the elderly. He said this the day after passing the $1.5 trillion tax bill sold to the American people as a ‘middle-class tax cut,’ with 83% of the money going to the top 1% of the people. The’debt and the deficit’ Ryan is referring to increases a MINIMUM of a trillion dollars as a result of the tax bill.

 “Look, Paul Ryan, I am 80 years old and I’ve worked since I was 14. I did not pay into the system my entire life so you could call it an ‘entitlement’ and pull the rug out from under me when I needed it the most. Keep your damn hands off our social security.” –Tiffany Merz

 “Hey Trump fans, three questions for you: (1) If Trump is innocent, why does he keep interfering in Mueller’s investigation? (2) If no crime was committed, why do Trump’s associates keep getting arrested? And (3) If they were innocent, why did two of them plead guilty to felony charges?”— Most Americans With A Functioning Brain Stem

 “So…corporations are currently sitting on at least $2.3 trillion in cash. But they need this extra $1.5 trillion before they start ‘creating jobs’?” – Most Americans Who Can Figure Out When Someone Is Pissing On Their Leg and Telling Them It’s Raining

 “We borrowed over $1.5 trillion in your children’s names, and transferred over $3.5 trillion up from working people to the top .001%, all to give over $5 trillion to our morbidly rich Republican donors. But we also gave you a hundred bucks, so what are you whining about?” –The GOP

 “You all just got a lot richer.” –Donald Trump to his friends at Mar A Lago, after signing the tax bill he said many times was a ‘middle-class tax cut’ and was definitely not written to reward his rich friends [BLOGGER’S NOTE: right after Trump was elected, he doubled membership fees at Mar A Lago from $100 thousand to $200 thousand]

“You tell people a lie three times they will believe anything. You tell people what they want to hear, play to their fantasies, and then you close the deal.” –Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal

 “Stop calling Mar A Lago ‘the Winter White House.’ That’s a deceptive Trump branding effort. Mar A Lago is a for-profit business owned and promoted by Trump. It is not government owned and is primarily a vacation resort, whose dues Trump doubled when he took office.” –Frida Ghitis

 

GUY IN RED SUIT: “I’m giving your presents to someone else, but I’m sure he’ll give them to you later.”

KID: “Thanks, Congressional Santa.”

 

“A billionaire makes us pay over $91 million for his golf vacations on his own properties in his first year in office, and then tells us we can’t afford science, food, health, or art.” — Really Pissed Off Americans Who Recognize A Con When It’s Happening To Them

 “You’re playing Monopoly. One player is given all the property except Baltic Avenue. He’s also given 95% of the bank. You’re expected to succeed with what’s left. Of course, you lose immediately. Why? It must be because you’re lazy.” –Remarkably Perceptive Meme on the Internet

 “Trump wants us to believe that immigrants are taking our jobs. But every time I walk into a grocery store, I see an army of self-checkout machines that corporate bigwigs bought to replace people.” –Union Thugs

 “Those on Medicaid who will lose health insurance can always get jobs.”–-KellyAnne Conway “Dear Kellyanne Conway, perhaps the elderly in nursing homes can go work at all the fake coal jobs your boss keeps promising.” –Rep Ted Lieu

 “A racist pedophile suing to contest an election he lost fair and square is the most republican thing ever.” – Middle Aged Riot

 “Hey, I’m voting for Trump, we need a businessman in the White House and this country needs to be run like a business for a change.” –any number of Trump voters who didn’t bother to check, and with a few clicks could have found a cornucopia of Trump’s failures, bankruptcies, frauds and scams, such as:

Trump University – fraud ($25 million settlement)

Trump Tampa – failure and fraud

Trump Soho – bankrupt and death of worker

The Trump Network – scam

Trump Golf Aberdeen – job scam

Trump Golf Puerto Rico – bankrupt

Trump Chicago – default $40 million loan

Trump Panama – lawsuit for management corruption

Trump Baha Mexico – fraud and failure

Trump Fort Lauderdale – scam and failure

Trump Plaza – bankrupt

Trump Taj Mahal – bankrupt four times

Trump Marina/Trump Castle – bankrupt

Trump Riverboat Casino – bankrupt

Trump Atlanta – failure

Trump Charlotte – failure

Trump Jupiter – lawsuit

Trump Waikiki Hotel – scam lawsuit

Trump Air & Trump Pak – business failure

Trump Vodka – business failure

Trump Steaks – business failure

Trump Shuttle – loan default failure

Trump IPO – ticker DJT/DJTCQ/TRMP/TER     –    fail

 “There’s a sucker born every minute.” –David Hannum (quote often ascribed to P.T. Barnum, but actually belongs to David Hannum—see what happens when you do some research? You can find shit out)

AND FINALLY, A BONUS QUOTE, LONGER, BUT STILL INTERESTING ENOUGH TO BE INCLUDED

“Let’s imagine a black guy named Barack Obama had a mediocre record at a business college, had dodged the draft, had been sued by the feds twice for refusing housing to minorities, had been involved in thousands of lawsuits over his real estate career, had known NYC mob ties, had a business partner who had served prison time for multiple felonies, had no U.S. banks who would loan him money for any of his projects, had five children by three wives, had been accused of rape by one of them, had all the above business scams, failures and bankruptcies, had 19 women accusing him of sexual harassment and assaults, a 13 year old accusing him of rape, was caught on tape bragging about how he engaged in sexual assault because ‘when you’re famous, they let you do anything–grab ’em by the pussy,’ had no experience holding public office, had insulted a war hero POW and a long-serving Senator, had mocked a handicapped reporter, and had a record of loudly proclaiming his admiration for Russia’s president. And he decided, with that resume, to run for President. What kind of odds would he have been given by Las Vegas that he’d win the nomination of his party, let alone the election?” –Me, after thinking briefly about what it actually takes to become President now.

The Great American Tax Heist

by Charles Blow, NYT

[Charles M. Blow has been a New York Times Op-Ed columnist since 2008. His column appears on Monday and Thursday. Mr. Blow joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and quickly became the paper’s graphics director, a position he held for nine years. Mr. Blow is the author of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” released in September 2014. He graduated magna cum laude from Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he received a B.A. in mass communications. He lives in Brooklyn and has three children.]

With their tax bill, Donald Trump and the Republicans are raiding the Treasury in plain sight, throwing crumbs to the masses as the millionaires and billionaires make off with the cake.

America should be aghast not only at the looting but also at the brazenness of its execution.

It seems that for as long as I can remember, Republicans have been wringing their hands about deficits. And yet in this budget, they willingly, willfully exploded the deficit, not for public uplift or rebuilding America’s infrastructure but rather on the spurious argument that giving truckloads of money back to businesses will spark their benevolence.

According to the government’s own nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the tax bill will lead to “an increase in the deficit of $1,455 billion over the next 10 years.” But be sure, when this bill leads to these predicted deficits, Republicans will return to their sidelined deficit rhetoric armed with a sickle, aiming the blade at the social safety net, exacerbating the egregious imbalance of the tax bill’s original sins. That’s the strategy: Appease the rich on the front end; punish the poor on the back. Feed the weak to the strong.

The callousness of this calculation is hidden in the arguments over estimates and evidence, but it is not lost. Most Americans see through this charade. According to a CNN/SSRS poll released this week, most Americans disapprove of the tax bill. Furthermore, most believe the bill will benefit the wealthy, in general, and Trump and his family, in particular.

Make no mistake: No matter how folks try to rationalize this bill, it has nothing to do with a desire to help the middle class or the poor. This is a cash offering to the gods of the Republican donor class. This is a bill meant to benefit Republicans’ benefactors. This is a quid pro quo and the paying of a ransom.

Trump promised to drain the swamp. That was another lie among many. He and the Republicans are in fact feeding us to the gators.

Last month at a rally in Missouri, Trump said of the tax bill, “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me.” He continued: “This is not good for me. Me, it’s not so — I have some very wealthy friends. Not so happy with me, but that’s O.K. You know, I keep hearing Schumer: ‘This is for the wealthy.’ Well, if it is, my friends don’t know about it.”

That, too, was a lie.

In September, The New York Times estimated that “President Trump could cut his tax bills by more than $1.1 billion, including saving tens of millions of dollars in a single year, under his proposed tax changes.” That was before the bill was passed and reconciled, when the deal got even sweeter for Trump.

As The International Business Times reported this week: “The reconciled tax bill includes a new 20 percent deduction for so-called pass-through entities, business structures such as L.L.C.s, L.P.s and S corporations that don’t pay corporate taxes, but instead ‘pass through’ income to partners who pay individual tax rates on that money. The Senate version of the bill included safeguards that would only allow businesses to take advantage of the new break if they paid out significant wages to employees. But the new provision, which wasn’t included in either version of the bill passed by the House and Senate, and was only added during the reconciliation process, gives owners of income-producing real estate holdings a way around that safeguard, effectively creating a new tax break for large landlords and real estate moguls.”

This specifically lines the pockets of the ecosystem of corruption that Trump calls a family. It also lines the pockets of people like Senator Bob Corker, who mysteriously “coincidentally” switched his vote from a no to a yes on the bill after the language was added.

America must make an honest appraisal: Donald Trump is a plutocrat masquerading as a populist. He is a pirate on a mission to plunder. Trump is milking the American presidency for personal gain. If he can give the impression of compassion on his mission to cash out, all the better for him, but the general good, the health of the nation and the plight of the plebeians is not now nor has it ever been his focus.

His ego is too big for egalitarianism, and his heart too small for it. So he sticks closely to what he knows, the brand of Trump: promoting it, positioning it, defending it and enriching it.

Republicans in Congress rushed the bill through for other reasons: to combat the fact of their own legislative incompetence, to satisfy their donors and to honor their long-held belief that the rich are America’s true governing force.

 The middle class and the poor were never at the heart of this heartless bill. They are simply a veneer behind which a crime is occurring: the great American tax heist.

The Permanent Lie, Our Deadliest Threat

by Chris Hedges

[Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books, including the New York Times best-seller “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012), which he co-authored with the cartoonist Joe Sacco. His other books include “Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt,” (2015) “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and has sold over 400,000 copies. He writes a weekly column for the website Truthdig in Los Angeles, run by Robert Scheer, and hosts a show, On Contact, on RT America.

Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries during his work for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. This article appeared recently on his web site, truthdig.com]

The most ominous danger we face does not come from the eradication of free speech through the obliteration of net neutrality or through Google algorithms that steer people away from dissident, left-wing, progressive or anti-war sites. It does not come from a tax bill that abandons all pretense of fiscal responsibility to enrich corporations and oligarchs and prepares the way to dismantle programs such as Social Security. It does not come from the opening of public land to the mining and fossil fuel industry, the acceleration of ecocide by demolishing environmental regulations, or the destruction of public education. It does not come from the squandering of federal dollars on a bloated military as the country collapses or the use of the systems of domestic security to criminalize dissent. The most ominous danger we face comes from the marginalization and destruction of institutions, including the courts, academia, legislative bodies, cultural organizations and the press, that once ensured that civil discourse was rooted in reality and fact, helped us distinguish lies from truth and facilitated justice.

Donald Trump and today’s Republican Party represent the last stage in the emergence of corporate totalitarianism. Pillage and oppression are justified by the permanent lie. The permanent lie is different from the falsehoods and half-truths uttered by politicians such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The common political lie these politicians employed was not designed to cancel out reality. It was a form of manipulation. Clinton, when he signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, promised “NAFTA means jobs, American jobs and good-paying American jobs.” George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed weapons of mass destruction. But Clinton did not continue to pretend that NAFTA was beneficial to the working class when reality proved otherwise. Bush did not pretend that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction once none were found.

The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. Those who speak in the language of truth and fact are attacked as liars, traitors and purveyors of “fake news.” They are banished from the public sphere once totalitarian elites accrue sufficient power, a power now granted to them with the revoking of net neutrality. The iron refusal by those who engage in the permanent lie to acknowledge reality, no matter how transparent reality becomes, creates a collective psychosis.

“The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed,” Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism.”

The permanent lie turns political discourse into absurdist theater. Donald Trump, who lies about the size of his inauguration crowd despite photographic evidence, insists that in regard to his personal finances he is “going to get killed” by a tax bill that actually will save him and his heirs over $1 billion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claims he has a report that proves that the tax cuts will pay for themselves and will not increase the deficit—only there never was a report. Sen. John Cornyn assures us, countering all factual evidence, that “this is not a bill that is designed primarily to benefit the wealthy and the large businesses.”

Two million acres of public land, meanwhile, are handed over to the mining and fossil fuel industry as Trump insists the transfer means that “public lands will once again be for public use.” When environmentalists denounce the transfer as a theft, Rep. Rob Bishop calls their criticism “a false narrative.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, after ending net neutrality, effectively killing free speech on the internet, says, “[T]hose who’ve said the internet as we know it is about to end have been proven wrong. …We have a free internet going forward.” And at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, phrases such as “evidence-based” and “science-based” are banned.

The permanent lie is the apotheosis of totalitarianism. It no longer matters what is true. It matters only what is “correct.” Federal courts are being stacked with imbecilic and incompetent judges who serve the “correct” ideology of corporatism and the rigid social mores of the Christian right. They hold reality, including science and the rule of law, in contempt. They seek to banish those who live in a reality-based world defined by intellectual and moral autonomy. Totalitarian rule always elevates the brutal and the stupid. These reigning idiots have no genuine political philosophy or goals. They use clichés and slogans, most of which are absurd and contradictory, to justify their greed and lust for power. This is as true on the Christian right, which is filling the ideological vacuum of the Trump administration, as it is for the corporatists that preach neoliberalism and globalization. The merger of the corporatists with the Christian right is the marrying of Godzilla to Frankenstein.

“The venal political figures need not even comprehend the social and political consequences of their behavior,” psychiatrist Joost A.M. Meerloo wrote in “The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing.” “They are compelled not by ideological belief, no matter how much they may rationalize to convince themselves they are, but by the distortions of their own personalities. They are not motivated by their advertised urge to serve their country or mankind, but rather by an overwhelming need and compulsion to satisfy the cravings of their own pathological character structures. The ideologies they spout are not real goals; they are the cynical devices by which these sick men hope to achieve some personal sense of worth and power. Subtle inner lies seduce them into going from bad to worse. Defensive self-deception, arrested insight, evasion of emotional identification with others, degradation of empathy—the mind has many defense mechanisms with which to blind the conscience.”

When reality is replaced by the whims of opinion and expediency, what is true one day often becomes false the next. Consistency is discarded. Complexity, nuance, depth and profundity are replaced with the simpleton’s belief in threats and force. This is why the Trump administration disdains diplomacy and is dynamiting the State Department. Totalitarianism, wrote novelist and social critic Thomas Mann, is at its core the desire for a simple folktale. Once this folktale replaces reality, morality and ethics are abolished.

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” Voltaire warned.

The corporate elites, who even in the best of times stacked the deck against people of color, the poor and the working class, no longer play by any rules. Their lobbyists, bought-and-paid-for politicians, pliant academics, corrupt judges and television news celebrities run a kleptocratic state defined by legalized bribery and unchecked exploitation. The corporate elites write laws, regulations and bills to expand corporate looting and plunder while imposing a crippling debt peonage on the public, including college graduates burdened by huge loans. They ram through austerity measures that dismantle state and municipal services, often forcing them to be sold off to corporations, and slash social programs, including public education and health care. They insist, however, that when we have grievances we rely on the institutions they have debased and corrupted. They ask us to invest our energy and time in fixed political campaigns, petition elected representatives or appeal to the courts. They seek to lure us into their schizophrenic world, where rational discourse is pitted against gibberish. They demand we seek justice in a system designed to perpetuate injustice. It is a game we can never win.

“Thus all our dignity consist in thought,” wrote Pascal. “It is on thought that we must depend for our recovery, not on space and time, which we could never fill. Let us then strive to think well; that is the basic principle of morality.”

We must pit power against power. We must build parallel institutions and organizations that protect us from corporate assault and resist corporate domination. We must sever ourselves as much as possible from the vampire state. The more we can create self-contained communities, with our own currencies and infrastructures, the more we can starve and cripple the corporate beast. This means establishing worker-run cooperatives, local systems of food supply based on a vegan diet and independent artistic, cultural and political organizations. It means obstructing in every way possible the corporate assault, including the blocking of pipelines and fracking sites, and taking to the streets in sustained acts of civil disobedience against censorship and the attack on civil liberties. And it means creating sanctuary cities. All of this will have to be done the way it has always been done, by building personal, face-to-face relationships. We may not ultimately save ourselves, especially with the refusal by the elites to address the ravages of climate change, but we can create pods of resistance where truth, beauty, empathy and justice endure.

 

Time to Make Life Hard for the Rich

by Hamilton Nolan

[The new real estate loophole in the republican taxscam being voted on tonight will add $414 billion to the debt. That’s billion with a B. It will go into the pockets of people like Trump, his kids, Bob Corker, and senators and congressmen who have big investments in real estate. And their hedge fund donors. Next year the top one tenth of one percent of taxpayers will see an immediate personal average payout of $193 thousand. Currently the top 1% in this country control more wealth than the bottom 90%. The bottom 50% of taxpayers next year will see a 2% loss of income as a result of this bill. The top 20% of income earners already control over 80% of all wealth in the U.S., and income inequality is worse now than it was during the great depression that my grandparents suffered through. This bill will make it all much worse, with trillions being moved out of the national purse directly into the pockets of the already rich and the multi-national corporations that bought the senators and house members who are voting for it. This is nothing more than a broad daylight smash and grab, the Republican Party realizing that they have to get this robbery done before the elections in 2018, when the country will most likely throw them all out of office for a generation. It’s past time to start making life hard for the rich, the title of this absorbing essay that echoes the anger and frustration of the French Revolution. A good read. Enjoy. And see if you can hear, in the distance, the growing roar of the mob.]

It is time for polite, respectable, rational people to start saying what has become painfully obvious: It is time to stop respecting the rich, and start stealing from them. In earnest.

Inequality is eating America alive. It has been growing for decades. To say that “the American dream is dead” is no longer a poetic exaggeration—it is an accurate description of 40 years of wage stagnation and declining economic mobility that has produced a generation that cannot expect to live better than their parents did. Not because of devastating war or plague, but because of a very specific set of rules governing a very specific economic system that encourages the accumulation of great wealth among a tiny portion of the population, to the detriment of the vast majority of people. Our political and business leaders have chosen to embrace a system that favors capital over labor. A system in which the more you already have, the more you make, and the less you have, the harder it is to build wealth. It is a system designed to increase inequality. It is functioning exactly as designed. And now it is about to get worse.

How long are people supposed to tolerate being smacked in the face? By the rich. Who already have more than enough. It is not as though the fact that inequality is a crisis is a fact that snuck up on anyone. Economists have seen the trend for decades, and the general public has been well aware of it since at least the financial crisis. Obama called it “the defining challenge of our time.” Thomas Piketty became a rock star by writing a very dry book about it. It’s not an underground thing. It is well known and well understood by the people in control of the institutions with the power to change it. The response to this dire situation by the Republican Party, which a wholly owned subsidiary of the American capital-holding class, has been to pass a tax bill that will horribly exacerbate economic inequality in this country. It is a considered decision to make a bad situation worse. It is a deliberate choice—during a time when the rich already have too much—to take from the poor in order to give the rich (including members of Congress and the President) more. That is not a metaphor. That is the reality. That is what the Republican party is about to accomplish on behalf of the donor class, calling it “middle class tax relief” in the face of mathematical proof to the contrary. Even to my cynical ass, the sheer fuck you-ness of this action towards the majority of the country is breathtaking. This is not just a failure to solve a severe problem; it is the expenditure of vast amounts of political capital to make the severe problem worse so that a tiny handful of people will get wealthier than anyone needs to be.

Ideally, in a democracy, elected leaders reflecting the interests of the people would pass taxes and regulations to reverse the growing inequality here. For that to happen, we would need to end gerrymandering and reform campaign finance and probably abolish the Senate and the Electoral College, and that’s just for starters. It is not imminent, in other words. Our broken political system, which is designed to reward money with political power, is actually moving in the opposite direction of a solution. Who is suffering because of this? Most Americans. Certainly the bottom 50% are acutely suffering—money that would have been in their paychecks has been instead funneled upwards into the pockets of the rich. Every desperate family that has found themselves coming up short for rent or food or medicine, every American who has downgraded her dreams and aspirations because they became financially implausible, has been directly harmed by the political and economic class war perpetuated by the rich, even if they cannot see the perpetrators with their own eyes. I think that people have been more than patient in the face of this slow-moving crisis. In 2009, when the markets crashed and millions were laid off, nobody rioted and kidnapped the financiers and burned their homes. The outcome of that lack of direct action is the situation we find ourselves in today.

Violence against people is morally wrong and a bad way to solve problems. But capital is different. One thing that would help to create the political environment conducive to solving the inequality problem would be to make the cost of accumulating all that capital too high to be worth it. In other words, to create a downside to being too rich. I have personally stood in a room full of hedge fund titans and billionaire investors warning one another explicitly that inequality must be addressed lest the U.S. become a place like Latin America, where rich people are forced to live behind walls, surrounded by armed guards, because of the very real risks from the rage of the poor. Rich people in this country do not want to live like that. If they see that they must stop being so greedy in order to enjoy their own freedom, they will stop being so greedy. Those conditions have to be created by people who want justice.

Our situation is absurd. Not since the Gilded Age has it been more clear that a few people have too much. Furthermore, the people with too much are investing in political clout to give themselves more. It’s just wrong. If the government won’t help, we have to help ourselves. Sticking up a billionaire on the street for $100 is not going to do it. But one can imagine other ways that angry Americans might express their dissatisfaction with our current division of wealth: A large-scale online attack against the holdings of the very rich; yachts sunk in harbors; unoccupied vacation homes in the Hamptons mysteriously burned to the ground. Sotheby’s auctions swarmed by vandals, Art Basel attacked by spraypaint-wielding mobs, protests on the doorsteps of right-wing think tanks, venomous words directed at millionaires as they dine in fancy restaurants. People have a right to life and safety, but property does not. A life spent screwing the little people so that you can acquire lots of stuff loses its allure when you know that all that stuff will be smashed to pieces by angry little people. It is not hard to put together a list of those who should be targeted—Forbes publishes it every year. Likewise, public campaign finance records give us a pretty good idea of exactly who is funding the politicians who are perpetuating this economic war on behalf of the rich.

It is nice to imagine a grand, well-targeted computer hack that would neatly transfer billions of dollars out of the accounts of, say, the Walton family and into a charity account that would disburse the money to the poor in untraceable ways. That seems far-fetched. Realistically, what people can do now is to start thinking about ways to make it uncomfortable to be too rich. Socially uncomfortable and otherwise. When the accumulation of great wealth ceases to be a praiseworthy endeavor and instead becomes viewed as a sick, greedy pastime whose only reward is the hatred of your fellow citizens and the inability to live comfortably without fear of your excessive property being destroyed, rich people will rethink their goals. Until then, inequality will keep rising, and everything, for most people, will continue to slowly, slowly get worse.

The Worst Humans in America

by Hunter, Daily Kos

[Didn’t know they were doing this, didya? Doing another big favor for the NRA right after  passing their massive Christmas present bill to their top donors and lining up behind Moore in Alabama for the senate and continuing to support the pussy-grabbing traitor in the Oval Office. They are doing this. Merry Christmas, everybody! Gotta run, my supply of Knob Creek is running low and it looks like I’m going to need a few gallons to get through the holidays.]

The garbage fire in the White House may have his hands full stumping for a Republican child molester this week, but never doubt the rest of his party’s willingness to stump for the nation’s mass murderers.

Republicans lined up a vote this week in the House on making it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, the first gun-related legislation since mass shootings in Nevada and Texas killed more than 80 people.The bill is a top priority of the National Rifle Association, which calls it an important step to expand the right of gun owners to travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state laws or civil suits.

(You’re going to have to forgive me in advance for this one, but I am Done, and a little past Done besides, and pretending at the slightest bit of politeness towards the Worst Humans In America is not, this particular week, going to be in the cards. Not when Republicanism had to choose between a child molester and a not-child-molester and couldn’t manage the one and only obvious response.)

So there ya go. On top of deficit-exploding tax cuts for the rich on the backs of the middle class, on top of the Garbage Fire in the Oval Office admitting outright to lawyer-endorsed-and-supported obstruction of justice, on top of the whole well he may be a child molester, but he’ll vote for our tax cuts actual, real-life Worst Humans In America talking point: The only substantive legislative response to a year that’s seen two of the nation’s worst-ever lone gunman mass murders and the attempted execution of a Republican House leader is going to be a bill allowing concealed weapons holders who want to perhaps-maybe murder Americans in other states to carry their guns into those other states without having to worry about irritating lawsthose states may have passed attempting to stop them.

This is significant in areas such as, oh say, Chicago, Illinois, a violence-prone city with increasingly stringent gun laws that is just a quick jump from Mike Pence’s Gun-O-Rama Indiana. Are the gun laws in one state preventing you from your fantasies of killing someone, perhaps because they’ve deemed you unworthy of deciding such things on your own? Shop around, you little would-be hero-slash-assassin you. Other states aren’t so picky.

 It also comes in the midst of the ongoing, and baffling, war between Republicans and the District of Columbia’s own gun laws—for whatever reason, Republicans have been very put out for years over the notion that the place they have to drive through to get to the gun-free grounds of their Capitol building doesn’t have enough armed impromptu murderers. That’s been a puzzler for years.

There’s probably some garbage to be spouted here about how this goes against the hoariest of all Republican talking points, states rightz, but we won’t bother because everyone knows that states rightz was never anything but the codeword for defending racial segregation and doesn’t have a damn thing to do with actually protecting the rights of states to set their own laws on anydamnthingelse, except maybe asshole zealot bakers who don’t want to bake cakes for people of other religions. We won’t pretend otherwise. At this point the House Republican to-do list is so inconsistent, so silly, and so obviously devoted exclusively to the drafting of laws scribbled up by the nation’s most powerful lobbyist groups that we’re just going to assume Rep. Paul Ryan collects a large personal check from a lobbyist for every one of their bills he passes.

There’s really no other explanation that makes sense, so what the hell. Let’s assume Paul Ryan took a hefty bribe to put this one on the calendar and be done with it. He’s certainly not going to come up with any better justification for such a self-evidently stupid bill; you may have noticed that after the 2016 elections, Paul Ryan stopped trying to justify most of what he and his fellow House Republicans came up with. Now it’s just an unending stream of bills penned by the worst special interest groups for the worst reasons, and the caucus continues to fall all over themselves supporting every last one.

Is it better or worse than defending a president’s attempts to directly profit, in cash payments, from his office? Than defending a child molester in order to boost party tax policies? Than repeated attempts to stonewall, slow-walk, discredit, or shutter investigations into Republican-friendly Russian espionage? Than declaring that the real problem here is shiftless, jobless poor children, who could learn a thing or two from the financial success of the trust fund crowd? How do we rank these things, at this point? Should we ask Paul Ryan? Should we ask him, outright, which of these various new Republican accomplishments he himself is most and least proud of?

Cool Facts I Learned in Biology, with Commentary

A pig’s orgasm lasts 30 minutes. (OMG)

A cockroach will live nine days without its head before it starves to death. (Creepy. I’m still not over the pig)

The male praying mantis cannot copulate while its head is still attached to its body. The female initiates sex by ripping the male’s head off. (“Honey, I’m home…WHAT THE…!”)

A flea can jump 350 times its body length. That’s like a human jumping the length of a football field. (30 minutes…lucky pig. Can you imagine?)

The catfish has over 27 thousand taste buds. (What could be so tasty at the bottom of a pond?)

Some lions mate over 50 times a day. (I still can’t believe that pig. Quality over quantity)

Butterflies taste with their feet. (Something I’ve always wanted to know)

Elephants are the only animals that can’t jump. (That would be a good thing)

An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain. (We all know people like that)

Starfish have no brains. (Again, people like that show up at Trump rallies all the time)

Humans and dolphins are the only species that have sex for pleasure. (What about that pig? Do the dolphins know about the pig?)

Trump: Proxy of Racism

[If the election of Trump has produced any positive benefit to the country, it’s the rebirth of journalism. Brilliant work is being done by investigative journalists and thoughtful essayists all across the country, in newspapers and magazines large and small. Charles Blow is a NYT writer whose work is always worth a look, and today he’s even more on point than usual. He says what has to be said to speak truth to power, we can only hope that candidates arise soon who can speak and run for office with the eloquence Blow brings to the page. It may be the only thing that saves us.]

by Charles Blow, NYT

Donald Trump is completely unfit to be president of the United States.

That is not an ideological expression. That is an expression of the shock of mounting evidence that he is intellectually deficient, temperamentally unsound and morally bankrupt.

Just this week, he has once again underscored the degree to which he is openly hostile to people of color — I call that racism and bigotry — and demonstrated his lack of impulse control to conceal his contempt even when doing so would be to his benefit.

On Monday, Trump defiled a White House ceremony to honor Navajo veterans of World War II (a meeting already defiled because it was held before a portrait of Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson) by using a racial slur, pejoratively referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.”

These men deserved better, and if Trump were thinking more about them and less about himself — as almost any other American president would have been — he wouldn’t have dragged their moment down into his muck. But this is what happens when you “let Trump be Trump”: He shows up as the bestial creature that he is.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that unnamed advisers told the paper that Trump has also resurrected the racist lie of his political vivification: the question of Barack Obama’s birthplace, and by implication, his legitimacy as America’s first black president, or put another way, its only nonwhite president.

According to The Times: “In recent months, they say, Mr. Trump has used closed-door conversations to question the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.”

This unprecedented “show me your papers, boy” kook campaign of which Trump became grand wizard is deeply rooted in racial hostility. It is a castigation of assertive black masculinity, like Obama’s, which refuses to bend to traditional power or promulgate the fallacy that the legacy of historical racism is all either fantasy or forgiven.

Then, on Wednesday, Trump shared on Twitter apparently unverified, anti-Muslim videos from a right-wing extremist group in Britain. As CBS News reported, “The videos were tweeted out by the account held by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right U.K. political party ‘Britain First,’ which is known for promoting an anti-Islam, anti-immigration and nationalist agenda.”

That’s right: Not satisfied with his implicit (though obvious) endorsement of white supremacy here in America, Trump has now explicitly endorsed white supremacy in another country.

These are not mistakes. These are not coincidences. This is not mere bungling. These are revelations of the soul. This is who Trump is and who he has always been. This is who he was before he entered politics, and who he remains.

The Trump Doctrine is White Supremacy. Yes, he is also diplomatically inept, overwhelmed by avarice, thoroughly corrupt and a pathological liar, but it is to white supremacy and to hostility for everyone not white that he always returns.

When the political vise tightens on him, he just so happens to find a nonwhite target to attack.

When his tongue gets loose within him, he just so happens to find a nonwhite target to attack.

Anyone who doesn’t see this is choosing not to. They are clueless as an act of convenience, willfully blind and intentionally ignorant. Or conversely, they not only see it, but cheer it. Either way, the people who elected Trump and those who continue to support him are to blame for what they have inflicted on this country.

Republicans had a choice of 17 nominees; they chose Donald Trump. The party threw its weight behind him. Many of the candidates who had vigorously opposed Trump, including on moral grounds, endorsed him. Millions of voters who had voted for other candidates also voted for Trump.

So never let these people feed you the lie that they voted for Trump only because they didn’t have a choice and they wanted to vote against Hillary Clinton. They had a choice, and they chose the magnification of their darkest demons.

They nominated and elected a sexist, bigoted, white-supremacist sympathizer because, to them, those traits were, on the one hand, not disqualifying, and on the other hand, commendable.

Some reason that they needed a Republican, even this opportunistic Donny-Come-Lately, for the conservative judges and tax cuts that would outlast whatever bad behavior he brought to bear. Others actually wanted the anointing of their own racial animosity.

But I see only shades of difference between open racial hostility and the accommodation of racial hostility. It’s all interrelated and interdependent.

There is no way to maintain your honor when you have given Trump your blessing. There is no way to claim that your position is about conservative ideology when you support a man who keeps demonstrating that he is obsessed with an ideology of color.

Trump is your baby, Rosemary. I give no quarter to Trump or to the people who still support his demonstrated hostility to my and every other person of color’s right to live without being, as James Baldwin put it, “menaced and marked” — by the leader of my own country. I believe in diversity and tolerance. But the tolerance of a hateful ideology is not inclusiveness, but appeasement, and of that I will have no part.

If you support Trump and his racial hostility, you and I have absolutely nothing to discuss. Nothing!