Let's Fix This Country
national security

One Finger on the Button? Are We Crazy?

The question of Donald Trump's fitness to be president again lit up the Internet and cable news when the two schoolyard bullies tweeted about who has the bigger nuclear button. How humiliating that we the people find ourselves in such a state of impotence, with no alternative other than to wait to see what two volatile men of wobbly stability might
do. We have left in place a law meant for another time and saner men that permits the current occupant of the White House to wake up cranky at 5:00 AM some morning, stewing over some juvenile insult, and decide to unleash a shower of nuclear missiles. That we have left in our generals' hands an order to dumbly obey a mere law that would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands or millions makes us as insane as Trump and Kim, were either of them to take that action.

Congress finally began to consider making changes to the law — the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 — that puts the sole control of nuclear launches in the president's hands. But that was in November. This is a threat that exists beginning at dawn every day. Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut,…

governing

Taking Protection Out of Environmental Protection


Scott Pruitt has strong religious convictions, according to his pastor in home town Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where he was a deacon and taught Sunday school. In Washington he has been known to attend Bible study sessions with like-minded government officials.

How that explains his policies as Trump's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comes clear when he talks about Biblical principles, as on a road trip in Iowa with a National Review writer taking notes:

"One side says we exist to serve creation. The other side says creation is there for us to use and manage to the benefit of mankind…If you are on the side that says we exist to serve creation, then you have no trouble putting up a fence and saying 'Do Not Use'. Even though people may starve, may freeze…and I think that's wrongheaded".

It is not clear why Pruitt considers the Obama years' regulations he is in the process of overturning as starving or freezing people, but he is referring to the Biblical question of stewardship or dominion — whether as the dominant species it is humanity's responsibility to care for the planet and its…

emoluments

Mar-a-Lago’s Search for American Workers

But deport the rest

An attempt to hire Americans, Trump's Mar-a-Lago club got U.S. Labor Department permission to hire 70 foreign works as cooks, waiters, and housekeepers to work over the winter. They had first followed the rules to advertise the jobs to all comers, but inexplicably no one responded to the tiny ad in a Palm Beach newspaper that had no phone number or e-mail address and asked that people "apply by fax".

tax breaks

Senate Under the Influence

Payoff in free booze?

The tax plan needs money so why do beer, wine, and spirit companies — including foreign producers — get a special tax cut costing $4.2 billion over 10 years. As it is, taxes on booze haven't changed since 1991, and with no indexing to inflation are already 45% lower in adjusted dollars. Will everyone get cases for Christmas?

wild blue yonder

What the Mnuchins Owe You

Good luck collecting

Certain cabinet members qualify to use military aircraft for overseas flights for security reasons. Then there's Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his Scotch actress wife who commandeered military aircraft domestically over last summer until they were found out. They cost us taxpayers $172,283. They would have cost $3,402 had they flown commercial, says this analysis.

Tim Geithner, Obama’s first Treasury secretary, flew commercially, always in coach, when traveling domestically, says his assistant secretary for public affairs.

the presidency

Will the Rule of Law Survive Donald Trump?

He treats the law as a hindrance that shouldn't apply to him

Within 24 hours came the guilty plea of Michael Flynn, President Trump's momentary National Security Adviser, and the disclosure by the New York Times that over the
summer Trump had repeatedly contacted Senate Republicans urging that they halt the intelligence committee's probe into Russia's election interference.

Flynn's sole charge of lying to the FBI disregards his involvement in a portfolio of questionable activities most notably with the Turkish government, suggesting that in return he has much to tell the special counsel about Russian connections during the Trump campaign and transition. The president's attempt to persuade the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, to end their investigation and then his going around Burr to other senators, says that Trump is greatly worried about what is coming to light.

The question is, what is he likely to do? This is a president like no other, including Richard Nixon, in his dismissal of legal norms. As the dragnet draws tighter, will Trump take the long expected and inflammatory step of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller? A look at his past conduct and what it reveals about his attitude toward the law says he will.

Mueller is clearly developing an obstruction of justice case against the president, whose lack of self-restraint in attempting to get Congress to shut down an investigation that may…

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taxes

Last Minute Tax Looting Revives Trump’s Biggest Lie

A clandestine gift to real estate owners

"It's the largest tax cut in the history of our country", President Trump is repeatedly telling us. In fact, Reagan's in 1986 was bigger, as were five other cuts since, even Obama's in 2013 when he extended and made permanent the Bush tax cuts. The president artfully chose not to use inflation-adjusted dollars.

tax notes

Stealing from Obamacare

In order to force the bill through the Senate with only the simple majority of 51 votes, Senate rules required that it not at the end of its 10-year lifespan result in a continuing deficit. Congressional Republicans had given themselves a lavish allowance of $1.5 trillion to play with, but as one after another eliminated deduction was restored in whole or part, reducing revenue and overdrawing the allowance, the legislators looked about and found… Read More »

tax notes

Trump Would Rather We Forget This Promise

"I would take carried interest out and I would let people that are making hundreds of millions of dollars a year pay tax, because right now they are paying very little tax and I think it's outrageous".

That was Donald Trump in 2015 when he hadn't quite become a Republican.

Carried interest is a preferential tax treatment that approximately cuts in half the taxes those who run the likes of hedge funds and… Read More »

tax notes

Drill, Baby, Drill the Wildlife Refuge

Unlike everywhere else in the U.S., every Alaskan gets a royalty for oil produced (the term for bringing it to the surface) from the state's wells. Citizens needn't do a thing, yet each has in the past received as much as a few thousand dollars annually.

Production has declined in recent years, so in early November, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a heroine for voting against Obamacare… Read More »

tax notes

One That Didn’t Make It, Amen

Yet another of President Trump's promises to his base, not that it was requested, was to "totally destroy" the 1954 Johnson Amendment that forbids churches and other non-profits from promoting or opposing political candidates on penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.

The House pulled a fast one by obligingly putting repeal of the amendment in its tax bill, as if it by some twisted logic church sermons met… Read More »

Trump says he signed the most pieces of legislation of any president in recent history. He's actually signed the fewest bills since any president dating back to Eisenhower. But Mr. Trump has the strange and unwell compulsion of having to tell himself, to the point of internalizing the belief, that everything he does is more grand than anything that has gone before.

the whopper

But those examples are not what we mean as his biggest lie. It's what he said about the tax plan in September:

"Tax reform will protect low income and middle income households, not the wealthy and well-connected...And it's not good for me, believe me".

That, of course, reeked of falsehood. He said this at a time when the House plan was to eliminate the estate tax altogether, do away with the alternative minimum tax entirely, and cut the tax on income from pass-through businesses from as much as 39.6% to 25%. Not good for the Trumps? It was a bonanza that we outlined in "A Bespoke Tax Plan for the Trump Family".

He was still making the claim at the end of November before a crowd in St. Charles, Missouri:

"In all fairness, it's going to cost me a fortune, this thing. Believe me. Belief…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 OK".

Except for a new limit on state, local, and property tax deductions that will expose more income to taxes in high tax states, the tax bill was designed for the wealthy. Denials by Republicans, contradicted so obviously by the math, hopes to hoodwink the public that the bill is about the middle class. As late as October, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was still saying, "The objective of the president is that rich people don’t get tax cuts". How did that turn out? A family of four earning $1 million will pay $32,000 less in taxes. The windfall rises as income rises. A family earning $5 million would pay $136,000 less in taxes, almost twice the gross income of the median American family. If the tax plan did not intend major benefits for the wealthy, why was the top rate dropped from 39.6% to 37% and why does it not kick in until income rises above $600,000 instead of the current $470,700? Had they really meant for the rich not to get tax cuts, they would have just left the original bracket untouched.

At Mar-a-Lago over the Christmas weekend, Trump was overheard telling friends dining at his club, "you just got a lot richer".

Paul Ryan energetically sold the theme that the tax cuts will rescue middle class Americans:

“For all those millions of Americans struggling paycheck to paycheck, help is on the way…More than half the people in this country are living paycheck to paycheck. Almost another half are people that are telling us that they're about one paycheck away from living paycheck to paycheck."

(Doesn't that add up to almost everyone?) Not mentioned by him is that all of the reduced tax rates fizzle out beginning in 2025 and what remains by 2027 gives 82.8% of the gains… Read More »

governing

Exiting the World: Trump Gutting the State Department »


“There is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution and to the global leadership that depends on us”, writes Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, a career diplomat with the U.S. State Department for over 30 years, in a letter to a foreign service publication:

"The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent, but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight. The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events.”

When Rex Tillerson took the reins at the State Department, the first order of business was clearly the threats the world presents — nuclear missiles from North Korea, the growing belligerence of Russia and China, the perpetual turmoil of…

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