All the Snowflake King’s Men

On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, California US Senator Dianne Feinstein released a full transcript of Fusion GPS Glenn Simpson’s extensive 21-hour testimony before 3 Congressional committees. According to her, “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.” The move follows a decision by Republican Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham, who after months of testimony, issued a criminal referral for Steele, alleging the committee had reason to believe the former spy has lied to the authorities about his conversations with the press regarding the dossier. His spokesman, Taylor Foy called it, “confounding” that Feinstein released the transcript “unilaterally” over the Republican majority’s objections. Well, of course, she did because she knew the Republicans were cover up that testimony to protect Trump’s ass. But according to Foy, “Feinstein’s unilateral decision was made as the committee is still trying to secure testimony from other witnesses, including Jared Kushner. Her action undermines the integrity of the committee’s oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses.” By releasing the transcripts against objections from Republican colleagues, Feinstein didn’t cause much harm. She broke no law. Though Simpson testified in a closed session, he wasn’t a government official. Nor did he discuss classified information or anything about anyone’s private life. Besides, Simpson had already called for his testimony’s full release. What Feinstein violated was the normal rules of Senate decorum, which Republicans had been using to cover up a key point that debunks some of their own talking points about this matter.

Simpson’s testimony contains many revelations. He touches upon how the Trump Organization handles taxes saying, Donald Trump’s relationship with gangster Felix Sater, how his country clubs aren’t making any money and that someone might’ve been killed as a result of the dossier. But most importantly, his testimony revealed that the FBI was already investigating potential links between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government before they even heard anything about Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier on the matter. During the hearing, Simpson stated when Steele spoke to the FBI about his findings, the bureau, “believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump Organization.” That along with a report from the New York Times suggests that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos who during a night of heavy drinking in May 2016, accidentally kicked off the Trump-Russia investigation by telling an Australian diplomat that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

We must not forget that Feinstein released this transcript over her Republican colleagues’ objections. Recently, conservatives had been pushing a theory that the basis for the FBI investigation was an opposition document compiled at the Clinton campaign’s behest. On January 3, key House conservative Rep. Jim Jordan rolled out a tweetstorm of 18 questions about the FBI and Russia, many of which centered on the Steele dossier. Along with another leading House conservative Rep. Mark Meadows, Jordan is calling for Trump to fire Jeff Sessions and put in a new attorney general to oversee and possibly quash the Russia investigation. This is part of a broader effort to discredit the Robert Mueller investigation which in turn is part of the conservative counternarrative on the whole Russian scandal. The dossier plays a key role in this conspiracy theory. By putting the dossier on trial, they have tried to impeach the basic case that people in Trump’s circle may have coordinated with the Russians who attacked the election. Trump allies have also used the dossier to go on offense against the FBI and the Justice Department, charging that “biased” federal investigators used what Republicans call partisan, Democratic-funded propaganda as the basis for the whole Russian investigation. However, the reality is that while intelligence circles hold Steele in high regard, there’s no evidence that the FBI has ever used his work as the basis of its Russia investigation. Besides, the case for collusion goes beyond the dossier and includes outreach by Russian agents to the Trump campaign as well as meetings between Trump associates and Russians.

Now who is this Glenn Simpson and what is Fusion GPS? Simpson is one of the co-founders of Fusion GPS which is a “strategic influence” firm first hired by the conservative publication called the Washington Free Beacon in 2015 to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee contracted the firm once Trump’s Republican nomination became more imminent. In turn, Fusion hired former MI-6 Russian specialist Christopher Steele to specifically look at Trump and Russia. The former British agent used his Russian contacts to compile a dossier describing efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cultivate a relationship with Trump and his entourage and to gather material to blackmail the candidate if necessary. He did not pay sources for the information. His investigation ended with a several allegations including that Russian security services are blackmailing Trump with a recording of him paying prostitutes to pee on his bed at the Moscow Ritz Carlton presidential suite. And that Trump’s campaign was the beneficiary of a multifaceted Kremlin plot to interfere in the 2016 US election. Obviously, Steele felt his findings went beyond political campaign fodder and made him worry that there was a genuine threat to US national security. So he took the info to the FBI who was already getting tips and reports something was going on. Steele’s information just confirmed the seriousness of the situation. Buzzfeed published Steele’s dossier in January 2017 which set off a firestorm of controversy and intrigue which neither man intended to happen. But in recent months, it had taken new life as the centerpiece of a conservative counter-conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies cooked up the whole Trump-Russia investigation. Simpson’s testimony primarily debunks the conservative narrative placing the infamous dossier at the center of the story and confirms the Times account of a drunk Papadopoulos kickstarting the Trump-Russian investigation.

But how could a drunk Papadopoulos be the start of the Trump-Russian investigation? Let’s just say that it all boils Papadopoulos having a drunk conversation with Australia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton. Downer, of course, shared the details with other Australian officials who ultimately passed word of it to their American counterparts once the hacking of Democratic email accounts became a big deal. And thus the FBI investigation ensued that July. All because Papadopoulos said the wrong thing to the wrong guy while under the influence. They listened to Steele because they already had an investigation into the Trump-Russia question underway. While the investigation hasn’t yet proven the existence of anything like the vast conspiracy Steele alleges, it certainly has uncovered a real evidence of wrongdoing. This consists of a Papadopoulos guilty plea along with serious criminal charges against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. We’ve also learned that key Trumpworld figures like Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. were at least eager to potentially collaborate with the Russian government into revealing anti-Clinton “dirt.” Rather than taking a cue from Downer in alerting the authorities to the existence of the of an active Russian intelligence effort aimed at the United States. There also continues to be an ongoing investigation that might yet reveal other criminal activity. Or it might not. Either way, Simpson’s testimony is more evidence that law enforcement took the Trump-Russian collusion question seriously for reasons that had nothing to do with the Steele dossier.

Steele may have overreacted as well as got things wrong. Yet, fundamentally, it doesn’t matter since the investigation doesn’t rise or fall on his credibility. Even so, he turned the dossier to the FBI for no obvious reason other than his allegiance to our closest ally. Despite what the Republicans think, the Steele dossier was not a purely political document paid for by Democrats to hurt Donald Trump. Else Steele wouldn’t have reported such information to the FBI. In fact, the Democrats hardly made a concerted effort to hit Trump where it hurts during the 2016 election and they didn’t need a dossier suggesting treason to do it. For Trump’s history of corruption of dubious business practices is simply mindboggling. Also, he’s a narcissistic sociopath who has consistently abused any position of power he’s had to enrich himself. Besides, allegations of collusion with a foreign power to interfere in an election are far more serious than the traditional political punches.

While Republicans decry that Feinstein’s decision to make the Simpson testimony public undermines the congressional investigations, it was the their own efforts to obstruct inquiries that prompted to her to release the documents in the first place. Because they’d rather stick with Trump for their own selfish interests despite the damage he’s done to this country, how many norms he’s violated, and how he’s enriching himself. In an op-ed Fritsch and Simpson write, “We suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip: Reportedly, ours are the only bank records the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed. [We] found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.” The House committee investigating Trump’s Russian connections was an utter joke while led by Rep. Devin Nunes who was on Trump’s transition team! Last year, the California Republican betrayed his oath of office on behalf of a faction within the Trump administration. Hell, he practically went to and from the White House telling Trump and his allies the House committee’s activities. In siding with Trump, Republicans have put their party over nation and principles. In essence, instead of pursuing what Fusion GPS found out about Trump, they’ve become enablers to a possible traitor who has no love for the country he’s supposed to lead, no respect for the democratic values he’s supposed to protect and promote, and no affinity for the rule of law he’s supposed to abide.

Nevertheless, the fact Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans didn’t want the Simpson testimony released to the public speaks volumes about their motives. As Simpson and Fusion GPS co-founder Peter Fritsch wrote in an op-ed that the committees have “known for months” of credible collusion allegations but have chosen instead to “chase rabbits.” And yet, Republicans tried pushing a conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies created the dossier to defame him and launch an FBI witch hunt. It’s clear conservatives in Congress have been misleading people about the origins of the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia with hopes in discrediting it. We all know that Republicans want to hold on to their power to enact policy they want no matter how unpopular it is. We know they’re willing to support Donald Trump so they can get their way. It is one thing for a major political party to unite behind a corrupt president. But it’s a very serious concern when the GOP unites behind a campaign of willful disinformation at the country’s expense. As Joshua Marshall wrote in Talking Points Memo, “What’s happened is that we’ve had a year tarnishing the reputation of a man who did right by the United States for no obvious reason other than his allegiance is to our closest ally and creating a comic, degenerate alternate reality in which the people who alerted us to the problems and those who first sought to understand them are the malefactors rather than the people who were at a minimum cozying up to a foreign power. It is actually quite like the cliched story of the whistleblower who speaks up and then becomes the scapegoat in the cover-up of the bad acts he was trying to bring to light. In fact that’s exactly what it is.” Now that Republicans have chosen to protect their Snowflake King, we must remember how their selfishness at Capitol Hill has disgraced the nation.

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The Madness of the Snowflake King

In this winter of our discontent, there is a term flying around conservative circles called “snowflake” used to describe liberal extremists who get offended by every statement and/or belief that doesn’t exactly match their own. To them, these individuals think they’re just unique as “snowflakes” when they really just have fragile feelings. To be fair, I do believe there are some liberal snowflakes who do exist. But when it comes to fragile feelings and offense by every statement and/or belief not aligning theirs, I think the “snowflake” label describes conservatives much more. For one, conservatives have an entire media ecosystem to insulate them from uncomfortable mainstream truths and assure them their views are perfectly reasonable. I mean when other networks air rather damning stuff on Donald Trump, Fox News runs stupid shit and peddles conspiracy theories. Secondly, conservatives go absolutely apeshit over race related issues such as Black Lives Matter calling attention to police brutality, NFL players taking a knee, and removing Confederate monuments. Third, those so-called “snowflakes” conservatives refer to have had to deal with all kinds of offenses and systematic injustices against them for perhaps their whole lives.

But in the United States, there is no bigger snowflake in the country than Snowflake King Donald Trump. Even before he ran for president and disastrously ended up in the White House, we all know that this guy has a massively inflated ego and self-delusions of grandeur. He sees himself as a successful and brilliant businessman despite being an outright fraud who’s shamelessly engaged in unethical practices and corruption that have ruined hundreds of people’s lives. His presidency will become legend for his incompetence, his Twitter tantrums, his lack of regard for the law, democratic principles, and norms, and his corrupt administration that’s loaded with sycophants. Still, Trump is known to burst over the slightest insult that he’s referred the mainstream media as “fake news” whenever they run a negative story about him. For a president, to discredit the media over the negative stuff about him whether it be his unethical business practices, his flagrant disregard for democratic norms, his lack of respect of democratic values, openly racist tirades, his Twitter tantrums, his incompetence and mental instability, and pathological dishonesty. Even before he became president, Trump was known to at least threatening to sue those who dare challenge him or at least said stuff about him he didn’t like. Sometimes this has resulted in real life consequences. In 1990, he threatened to sue Janney Montgomery Scott unless they fired their securities analyst Mark Roffman. His crime? Issuing a negative forecast for Trump Taj Mahal which was later proved correct. Nevertheless, Roffman lost his job and spent the next few years in a living hell. A year later, Trump threatened to sue any broadcaster or distributor who’d show an 80 minute documentary about him called Trump: What’s the Deal?, which powerfully and disturbingly portrayed him as the fraud he actually is. His effort to suppress the film proved successful.

Recently, a book has been recently published called Fire and Fury: Inside the White House which has been dominating the political cycle this January. Written by longtime New York columnist Michael Wolff, media outlets have run excerpts from it which has resulted in a furious response from Donald Trump. In fact, his lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the book’s publisher, demanding to stop publication. Not surprisingly, it has become a bestseller as copies fly off the shelves. Still, while Fire and Fury isn’t the most factually accurate account of Trump in the White House, it nonetheless confirms a lot of the dysfunction and disorganization that has characterized the administration. Specifically, Wolff’s book depicts a deeply unprepared, incurious president surrounded by toadying advisers concerned about his ability to do his job. Knowing how willfully ignorant Trump is about how government works during the 2016 Election campaign, this isn’t surprising at all. His lack of knowledge of the US political system was a source of constant criticism. One big instance of that on display was when he promised to pick a Supreme Court Justice who’d “look very seriously” at Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. However, the Supreme Court tries laws, not people. In a primary debate in Houston, Trump referred to federal judges “signing bills” a task the president does in a federal system. As Wolff recalled in his book on how some of Trump’s closest aides spoke of him behind closed doors: “This—insulting Donald Trump’s intelligence—was both the thing you could not do and the thing—drawing there-but-for-the-grace-of-God guffaws across the senior staff—that everybody was guilty of. Everyone, in his or her own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care, and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes. There was now a fair amount of back-of-the-classroom giggling about who had called Trump what. For Steve Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, he was an “idiot.” For Gary Cohn, he was “dumb as shit.” For H. R. McMaster he was a “dope.” The list went on.”

Now we all know that Donald Trump doesn’t like to read which is a very terrible sign. Because on any given day, a president is expected to read about as much as a college student cramming for a big exam. Thus, as Cracked reports, intelligence agencies have to keep their reports 25% shorter than Obama’s and allow no space for dissenting opinions. Policy papers are trimmed from 3-6 pages down to a single page with lots of graphics and maps. The National Security Council has taken things a step further by “strategically” including Trump’s name as often as possible since he usually keeps reading if he sees it mentioned. But a bigger problem than these oversimplified briefings is that Trump apparently doesn’t even bother to read them. This can lead Lord Cheetohead to embarrass himself in talks with foreign leaders, drafting woefully inept executive orders, or signing off on documents he doesn’t even understand. As Wolff recalls: “Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: he didn’t process information in any conventional sense — or, in a way, he didn’t process it at all. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate.” He even quotes Gary Cohn stating, “It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”

Furthermore, Wolff notes how Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand the kind of responsibility being a president entails. Most Americans are familiar with the idea as of the president as a political and institutional concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety. Well, Trump isn’t most Americans since he’s prone to his ongoing Twitter tantrums over stuff that pisses him off. As Wolff writes, “Here was another peculiar Trump attribute: an inability to see his actions the way most others saw them. Or to fully appreciate how people expected him to behave. The notion of the presidency as an institutional and political concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety and semiotic messaging — statesmanship — was quite beyond him.”

Wolff also describes him as anti-intellectual as he noted, “For anything that smacked of a classroom or of being lectured to — “professor” was one of his bad words, and he was proud of never going to class, never buying a textbook, never taking a note — he got up and left the room. This was a problem in multiple respects — indeed, in almost all the prescribed functions of the presidency.” Such conduct is very unbecoming of a vast array of occupations, especially if they require a college degree. But if you’re the President of the United States, it’s incredibly unforgivable. Though we know that Trump’s brand contains a very anti-intellectual streak, eschews the advice of experts, doesn’t sponsor any cultural events, and doesn’t express any form of curiosity in anything. He sees no value in science, history, or education. And his campaign might be responsible for why more Republicans might have more negative opinions about colleges and professors they see as liberal elites in their ivory tower. If Trump should call himself a “stable genius” then he’d probably buckle up in the Oval Office, listen to criticism, and take notes. Despite that academics might seem to be in their own little worlds at times, a politician advocating anti-intellectualism is a very terrible thing since it encourages willful ignorance and disinterest in learning and education. And Trump’s willful ignorance and disinterest in anything but his own vanity and enrichment is rooted into his own narcissism and sociopathy since he worships no god by himself and he has no faith than in the almighty dollar.

Nor does Donald Trump seem to have the proper temperament or understand his role to lead a nation. As Wolff recalls, “What was, to many of the people who knew Trump well, much more confounding was that he had managed to win this election, and arrive at this ultimate accomplishment, wholly lacking what in some obvious sense must be the main requirement of the job, what neuroscientists would call executive function. He had somehow won the race for president, but his brain seemed incapable of performing what would be essential tasks in his new job. He had no ability to plan and organize and pay attention and switch focus; he had never been able to tailor his behavior to what the goals at hand reasonably required. On the most basic level, he simply could not link cause and effect.” Cracked has reported that American agencies are withholding an unusual amount of information from Trump. Though Trump has expressed scorn for the intelligence community (particularly when it comes to Russia). However, a bigger concern for them might be his habit of casually announcing classified information to rival governments. In May 2017, during a meeting with Russian officials, Trump reportedly boasted about the quality of intelligence he received every day. He also revealed details of a terrorist plot he’d recently been informed of. The problem with that is that revealing you know something can let someone guess fairly quickly how much you know it which can compromise the original intelligence source who may not have wanted the Russians to know about it. Though America doesn’t need to be hostile with Russia anymore, we know it has very different goals and ambitions than we do. Meaning that we need to exercise a degree of caution when dealing with them. But Trump’s carelessness with intelligence can be more than a one-time problem since in the wake of this story, an unnamed European country warned that they may stop sharing intelligence with the United States because they don’t like Trump compromising sources while trying to impress people.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior has often compelled about his mental state long before Fire and Fury. Just last week, he unleashed a series of tweets which culminated in a nuclear threat of nuclear war with North Korea. On January 2, 2018, he tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” In fact, the book’s very title came from a Trump speech back in 2017 over North Korea when he said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” This at an event that was supposed to focus on opioids. Such statement terrified North Korean experts who worried about Trump provoking a war with another nuclear-armed power. Yet, Wolff noted such words also scared the bejesus out of Trump’s staff as they spent the next week trying to get him to stop talking about it. As Wolff wrote, “North Korea, a situation the president had consistently been advised to downplay, now became the central subject of the rest of the week — with most senior staff occupied not so much by the topic itself but by how to respond to the president, who was threatening to ‘blow’ again. Charlottesville was a mere distraction, and indeed, the staff’s goal was to keep him off North Korea.” To use Charlottesville to distract Trump from North Korea just makes me cringe. This is one of many examples illustrating that Trump is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions. When Trump does something like fire James Comey, bomb Syria, or threaten North Korea, he does so without any sense of how human beings might be affected. As Wolff writes, “One of Trump’s deficiencies — a constant in the campaign and, so far, in the presidency — was his uncertain grasp of cause and effect. Everyone [in the White House], in his or own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes.”

But while the White House tries to write off Fire and Fury as “trashy tabloid fiction,” its fallout suggests otherwise. Already, Donald Trump has treated its revelations as gospel truth has launched a blood feud with his former strategist and campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Because on January 3, 2018, the Guardian posted excerpts from Wolff’s quoting Bannon saying some remarkable things about the Trump family. In these excerpts, Bannon called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower “treasonous,” speculated that Trump might’ve been involved as well, and asserts that Jared Kushner is involved in some “greasy” business that could expose him to money laundering charges. These revelations not only cut into Trump’s denial of wrongdoing in the Russian scandal but also insulted his family members as well. Neither of which will put you in Trump’s good graces. Interestingly, Bannon’s Brietbart website reproduced some quotes sometime later without disputing them, giving a seeming impression of accuracy. Furious at the Bannon revelations, Trump released an infuriating statement reading, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.” Except that Bannon’s Brietbart website is called “the platform of the Alt-Right” who mostly comprise of white supremacists which number among Trump’s most ardent supporters. Anyway, Trump goes on to minimize Bannon’s role in his 2016 victory and complain that he helped cost Republicans a Senate seat in Alabama by endorsing Roy Moore. Look, we all know that Bannon played a pivotal role in the Trump campaign or otherwise the alt-right wouldn’t be a thing. Furthermore, he also accused Bannon of constantly, leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was” since it “is the only thing he does well.” Now Bannon is even out at Brietbart over the Trump book controversy over his comments.

It’s not hard to imagine that Donald Trump’s staff never thought he should be president. Nor is it difficult to think that Trump never wanted to be president in the first place. As Wolff frames it, “The Trump campaign had, perhaps less than inadvertently, replicated the scheme from Mel Brooks’s The Producers. In that classic, Brooks’s larcenous and dopey heroes, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, set out to sell more than 100 percent of the ownership stakes in the Broadway show they are producing. Since they will be found out only if the show is a hit, everything about the show is premised on its being a flop. Accordingly, they create a show so outlandish that it actually succeeds, thus dooming our heroes.” Though at least Bialystock and Bloom ended up in prison and didn’t doom a whole country. Still, Wolff believes that the Trump administration’s problems currently lie at the concept that even his staff didn’t think he’d win. Why release your tax returns if he’s going to lose? What’s the harm in sucking up to Russia’s government if he’s likelier to build a hotel in Moscow than occupy the White House? Why bother with educating the candidate on major policy issues or build a real platform when he’ll never govern? Or why worry about conflicts of interests or business entanglements if they’re never going to matter? This might explain so much. Yet, even if he was just running for president, those things will still matter.

Still, Fire and Fury paints a picture of Donald Trump through his own tweets, speeches, comments, and actions as well as the constant on- and off-the record statements from his staff. It’s similar to what reporters have heard from top staff at the White House. And similar to what I and much of the American public have long suspected. Trump is not cognitively up to the job of the presidency. He’s not just someone who doesn’t know much about policy or foreign affairs. It’s that he’s someone who doesn’t want to know about policy or foreign affairs. And he dislikes the methods by which you actually could learn about policy and foreign affairs. Thus, Trump’s ignorance isn’t an absence of knowledge. It’s closer to a personality trait and possibly even an ideology, which is even worse.

Naturally, when a man so unqualified for the presidency that his campaign wants him to lose unexpectedly wins the White House, chaos ensues. Suppose you work for Donald Trump at the White House. How would you please, placate, manage, constrain and inform a raging child king? Though the answer is embarrassing. But it’s one Trump’s staff and any foreign government wanting America’s favor know all too well: flattery and sycophancy. Trump’s staff tries to keep their boss from social media with constant praise and putting lots of media in front of him. Also, his staff worry about leaving him alone for hours at a time because he watches too much TV, gets annoyed with what he sees, and throws a Twitter tantrum. Other techniques for keeping Trump happy include hanging a map displaying his electoral victory in the West Wing, planting supporters and planting supporters in crowds as he gives a speech. One instance of the latter had him being passionately cheered while he gave a speech at the CIA headquarters by non-CIA supporters in the front rows for that specific purpose. This pissed off the CIA who consider themselves apolitical and don’t appreciate being herded into a meeting to listen to someone complain about how hard or unfair their job is. He thinks that no politician has been treated more unfairly than him despite that the TV news media has treated him much better than he deserves to be.

And how do you harness the remarkable opportunity you’ve been given to actually build something of value? The central struggle of Trump’s early months was between chief strategist Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and chief son-in-law Jared Kushner. All of them in their proximity to power, saw the potential to build a presidency they could be proud of or at least less disgraced by. As Wolff recalled: “Each man saw the president as something of a blank page — or a scrambled one. And each, Walsh came to appreciate with increasing incredulity, had a radically different idea of how to fill or remake that page. Bannon was the alt-right militant. Kushner was the New York Democrat. And Priebus was the establishment Republican. “Steve wants to force a million people out of the country and repeal the nation’s health law and lay on a bunch of tariffs that will completely decimate how we trade, and Jared wants to deal with human trafficking and protecting Planned Parenthood.” And Priebus wanted Donald Trump to be another kind of Republican altogether … As Walsh saw it, Steve Bannon was running the Steve Bannon White House, Jared Kushner was running the Michael Bloomberg White House, and Reince Priebus was running the Paul Ryan White House.” This struggle was hardly a civil conflict ideal as Wolff records the tree factions’ endless squabbles comprising of leaks, schemes, backbiting, and the outside heavies brought in to change Trump’s mind at the last minute. But the conflict was so immense because Trump is incapable of and uninterested in resolving. Trump never gave a damn about Trumpism since he’s not sufficiently interested in policy, ideology, or ideas to direct his own presidency’s course. Thus, the course will be directed by the most firmly established interests around him like his family the congressional GOP.

Nonetheless, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury contains a mystery it never resolves. As he wrote, “It was obvious to everyone that if [Trump] had a north star, it was just to be liked. He was ever uncomprehending about why everyone did not like him, or why it should be so difficult to get everyone to like him.” However, it would be easy enough for Donald Trump to run a presidency that left him better-liked. He could work with the Democrats, ease up the culture war, and give some gentler speeches. There has never been a president for whom the bar is lower than for Trump. It would be so easy to clear it and he’d have people around him happily acting as guides and cheerleaders. But he didn’t do any of that and Wolff’s book doesn’t provide a satisfying answer since it’s a portrait of a man undone by the very forces he unleashed. Because Donald Trump doesn’t care about policy, politics, ideology, or coalitions. All he cares about is Trump. He wanted to put his name on buildings and in tabloids. Now he has his name on the most important building on the planet and on the front page of most every newspaper in the world. Yet, outside a few conservative outlets, the coverage he receives is horrible, the worst of any president in memory. He can’t perform his job well enough to be liked or respected. But he only wanted the job in the first place because it would force the whole world to like or respect him (except it people still don’t like or respect him, including me). And he’s driven to rage and paranoia by the resulting dissonance, disappointment, and hurt. Mostly because he doesn’t understand that running for the most powerful office in the land will not get people to like and respect you. You have to do something to earn that adoration and respect. Sure he might be a rich businessman, but his career and life have been marked by unethical business practices, baffling corruption, inflammatory statements, and other dubious deeds. Trump wants the adoration and respect for doing nothing besides being a rich businessman and TV star.

This wasn’t what Donald Trump wanted and it’s not clear whether it’s something he can bear. A more capable, competent, and stable person would by now, have either changed their behavior to receive more of the response they crave or just given up on getting that kind of attention. Yet, Trump exists in an unhappy middle ground, starting his day with morning rage tweets, spending weekends retreating to one of his golf clubs, searching for validation he craves in his Twitter feed and on Fox and Friends but never getting it from the elite taskmasters he’s always sought to impress. The pressures of the presidency are enough to break almost anyone but Trump is less suited for the work and backlash than most. The strain’s already showing as his workday’s reportedly shrunk to 11am to 6pm. Yet, the bulk of his first term remains to the detriment of us all and it can include his financial secrets being revealed to the world, his family being indicted, and a crisis he mishandles exploding into a catastrophe (like that didn’t happen already in Puerto Rico). The question now is whether Trump’s staff can keep governing around him and whether a dysfunctional president can have a semi-functional White House. And so far, I don’t really know if that’s possible with a narcissistic sociopath like Donald Trump. Because he’s a man who cares nothing about America, has no respect for democratic values, and doesn’t think the rule of law applies to him. A man like him only inspires more chaos and internal stripe which won’t end until he’s out.

A Plea for Saving the Children’s Health Insurance Program

In 1993, the late Governor Robert P. Casey Sr. signed the first Children’s Health Insurance Program into law in Pennsylvania, which later served as a model for the federal program Congress would enact a few years later. Westmoreland County’s then State Senator Allen Kukovich was instrumental in enacting this state program that he’s considered its founding father. Since 1997, the Children’s Health Insurance Program has provided matching funds to states for health insurance to children from families who can’t afford marketplace or employer insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Sponsored by the late Senator Ted Kennedy in partnership with Senator Orrin Hatch and supported by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, it was the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded health insurance coverage for children in the United States President Lyndon B. Johnson established Medicaid in 1968. Today CHIP is a critical government program providing health insurance for nearly 9 million low-income kids as well as remains one of our nation’s most vitally important and widely supported programs. Thanks to CHIP, the United States enjoys has the highest rate of insured children in our nation’s history at over 95%.

On September 30, 2017, CHIP expired when lawmakers couldn’t agree on a 5-year reauthorization of the program. This puts millions of kids at risk of becoming uninsured, and in some cases, being denied the critical care they need to survive and thrive. Though states have remaining funds to keep their programs running for varying lengths of time, it’s an administrative nightmare for states that can’t plan ahead. But they may have to prepare for a possible shutdown of their CHIP programs well before they run out of money. As Alabama CHIP director noted, “This whole situation is causing chaos. We are causing confusion to families, stress and turmoil.” On December 15, Alabama officials were forced to announce that they’d stop taking new enrollees on New Year’s Day and the 84,000 kids (1/8 of the state’s children) currently in the program could lose coverage February 1. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the families of 174,000 children currently enrolled in CHIP are about to receive notices informing them that their insurance may be canceled while Colorado already has sent a letter back in September that their CHIP coverage will be canceled by the end of January. Utah has already submitted a request to the federal government to freeze their program’s enrollment. Some states such as Nevada, already have laws that force officials to freeze enrollment if federal funds decrease at all. By the start of 2018, more than half the states are projected to have used up their available funding. Across the country, families depending on CHIP are running out of time.

On December 21, 2017, Congress passed short-term legislation to fund CHIP until the end of March, which is said to cover an estimated 1.9 million children across 24 states and Washington D.C. which stood to lose coverage care like doctor visits and hospitalizations in January. But this temporary relief still leaves CHIP and the families who rely on it in uncertainty since as of December of 2017, there is no long-term fix in sight. As George Washington University professor Sara Rosenbaum told Bloomberg, “You can’t run an insurance program this way.” Essentially, lawmakers are forcing health officials running the program, “to go month-to-month.” Still, even with these short-term fixes, “there will be relief that the funding has been extended, but it will be combined with a lot of anxiety,” as Kaiser Family Foundation executive vice president Diane Rowland claimed.

Health coverage is critical for children to get a healthy start in life and high coverage rates mean more children have an opportunity to meet their potential. It is well understood that covering kids is an investment in our future since a child’s health, school performance, and future success are all linked. So it goes without saying that unhealthy children are at higher risk for school problems, failing, or dropping out. Children who have health insurance through CHIP or Medicaid have better access to healthcare and do better in school than their uninsured counterparts. And better school performance provides a foundation for future success in life. Thus, investing in children’s coverage programs means investing in not only children’s health, but also academic success and success later in life. CHIP is especially important to children with special health needs, children of color, children in working families, and children in rural communities. Without CHIP, there would be more uninsured children, increased healthcare costs and less access for kids with insurance, and great financial devastation for families with special needs kids. At any rate, losing CHIP will devastating to millions of families, which will mean uncertainty surrounding their children’s health, much higher healthcare costs and added financial burdens, for some, a complete loss in their children’s coverage.

There is no question that Congress must vote to continue funding CHIP or else coverage for the 9 million kids whose families depend on CHIP will be in jeopardy. Should federal CHIP funding end, states would need to adjust their budgets, either ending or significantly cutting back on existing CHIP programs. Options available to a state may depend on whether it operates a separate CHIP program or has CHIP as an expanded Medicaid one. Either way, children’s health coverage will suffer. Nevertheless, failing to fund CHIP will undo 20 years of progress as well as undermine our nation’s values. If we want our children to live and succeed in this country, then funding CHIP should be a top priority. As Americans, we have a moral, ethical obligation to take care of our children. But if we can’t protect children’s health insurance, what does it say about our values?

General Ripper Sings Like a Canary

 

In the biggest development yet in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors on Friday, December 1, 2017. The legal move poses the most direct threat to the Trump presidency itself so far. Flynn pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI on or around January 24 about conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016. However, Flynn did not admit to colluding with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Nevertheless, Flynn’s plea deal will strengthen Mueller’s sprawling probe into the Trump team’s possible criminal acts and Russian ties.

Of course, once Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted while George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty, it was only a matter of time when Michael Flynn would flip. In fact, it’s been speculated for weeks that Flynn wanted to protect himself from a more serious criminal indictment. As with Manafort, Mueller had a solid case against the retired general. Earlier this year, Flynn offered to testify in exchange for full immunity from prosecution but Mueller refused. On November 23, The New York Times reported that Flynn’s lawyers told Trump’s lawyers they could no longer share information. Four days later, ABC News reported that Flynn’s lawyers met with Mueller’s team, a strong sign a plea deal was imminent.

Michael Flynn’s plea deal is the most significant moment in Mueller’s probe to date since he is the first person who had actually served in the Trump White House to admit breaking the law. Nor was he just any old official either since Flynn’s role as national security adviser is one of the highest-level and most powerful posts in Washington. The retired three-star general temporarily had enormous influence over Donald Trump’s early policy and personnel choices. And due to his unique ties to both the Trump campaign and Trump White House, he’s particularly well-suited to answering the Mueller probe’s central questions on whether the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with Russia and if Trump obstructed justice by trying to derail the FBI’s investigation. Flynn’s plea deal gets Mueller closer to finding that out. Now Mueller gets Flynn to talk along with an admission of guilt. Obviously, this is bad news for Michael Flynn but it could be even worse news for Donald Trump. As legal expert Asha Rangappa noted, “When you flip somebody, you’re using them to go up the chain. This suggests that Mueller’s investigation is going to go into the even-tighter inner circle of the campaign and possibly the administration.”

A retired lieutenant general who served in the Army for over 30 years, Michael Flynn is a quintessential General Ripper. Hell, take General Jack D. Ripper’s line “I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids,” and replace each mention of “Communist” with “Islamic” and you basically have Flynn. And let’s just say if it weren’t for his soft spot for Russia, he’d feel right at home among the trigger happy military brass in Dr. Strangelove. Anyway, in 2012, he was named head of the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency. During this time, he clashed with other Obama administration officials who viewed him as sloppy with facts and incompetent with management. Soon he was pushed out and resigned from his post in 2014. Technically, President Barack Obama fired him but you know how they do things in Washington. Furious, Flynn began his post government public life commenting on foreign policy and military issues in the media, becoming infamous for his extreme Islamophobic rhetoric. For example in February 2016, he tweeted, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” Such language combined with his poor DIA track record made Flynn a pariah in the mainstream foreign policy community. For the Trump campaign that championed a Muslim ban, he was a perfect fit.

In fall 2015, Michael Flynn began occasionally briefing Donald Trump on foreign affairs and his involvement in the campaign gradually deepened. By late May 2016, he was mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for Trump. In July of that year, Flynn gave a now ironic speech at the Republican National Convention in which he riled the crowd with “Lock her up.” But while Flynn advised the Trump campaign, he operated a lobbying and consulting firm called the Flynn Intel Group which importantly, also employed his son. He was also a frequent guest on the Russian government’s English-language propaganda outlet RT, where he’d often espouse the idea that Russia and the US should team up against Islamic extremism. And it’s Flynn’s lobbying and work for the Russian government which first led into dangerous legal territory. In December 2015, Flynn traveled to Moscow for a gala celebrating RT’s 10th anniversary. He sat next to Vladimir Putin and delivered a speech about his foreign policy vision. For his services, RT paid Flynn a $45,000 speaker’s fee while Russian companies him $22,500 for speeches during the same trip. Now that in itself isn’t necessary illegal. However, Flynn reportedly lied about the source of the payments in his security clearance renewal form, claiming they came from “US companies.” Lying on this form is equivalent to lying to federal investigators which is a felony and perhaps one of the reasons why Flynn took the plead deal. In August 2016, an entity called Inovo BV hired Flynn’s consulting firm. Though it claimed to be Dutch company, Inovo BV turned out to be a shell corporation for a wealthy member from the Turkish government. Flynn seems to have continued working for Turkey until November at the earliest while Ankara paid him at least $530,000. Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, Flynn had to publicly disclose any lobbying work for the Turkish government when he started. His FARA paperwork said he worked for a Dutch company, not the Turkish government. In March 2017, Flynn filed paperwork correcting the error, admitting that Inovo really paid him to work on behalf of Turkish interests. If that’s all he did, then Michael Flynn would’ve been fine. After all, the US government typically doesn’t arrest people for filing incorrect FARA paperwork after they correct it. But if there’s more undisclosed lobbying for foreign governments like more Turkey payments or undisclosed Russian activity than he revealed in March, then he’d be in deep shit.

Still, you’d think Flynn’s legally questionable shenanigans would’ve ended in November 2016, when Donald Trump made him his national security adviser in his new administration. Though outgoing Obama officials warned the Trump transition team about appointing the guy. But if anything, it got worse. Throughout the transition, Flynn had several contacts with Kislyak. In one early December meeting at Trump Tower, he and Jared Kushner talked to the Russian ambassador about setting up a secret channel through which they can communicate. On December 29, 2016, the day Obama announced sanctions on Russia in response to the country’s hacking efforts, Flynn and Kislyak reportedly exchanged 5 phone calls. One of the discussion topics was sanctions. But Flynn reportedly told Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others on the Trump team that sanctions never came up in his calls with the Russian ambassador, spurring them to make false statements to that effect in public. This conversation between Flynn and Kislyak is part of the just-released document Mueller had sent to court.

On Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, Michael Flynn’s former business partner allegedly bragged that he told him that Trump would quickly lift US sanctions on Russia, which would pave way for a controversial plan to build nuclear plants across the Middle East with Russian help. While this is an explosive but unverified allegation coming from a whistleblower cooperating with House Democrats, there have been reports over the last few months that Flynn continued to promote this Middle East nuclear project after the election and even as national security adviser. In the Trump presidency’s first week, Flynn was questioned by the FBI in which he denied contact with Kislyak during the transition. That same week, then acting-Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that intelligence showed Flynn had lied about his conversations with Kislyak and he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Unsurprisingly, the Trump White House did nothing about this until it leaked to the press a few weeks later, when they were spurred to fire Flynn on February 13, 2017. Then there’s an entirely separate matter of whether Flynn improperly acted on Turkey’s behalf during the transition or while in office. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mueller is investigating an “alleged plan” in which Flynn and his son would be paid as much as $15 million for forcibly removing Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania, from the United States and delivering him to Turkey. Flynn discussed this possibility with Turkish government representatives at a December meeting during the transition as incoming national security adviser.

Altogether, there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that Michael Flynn broke the law. The plea deal where he’ll admit to lying to federal investigators confirms he did and he’s trying to get a lighter punishment. The best Flynn can do is tell Mueller everything he knows abut Trump and Russia. The next important question is whether other Trump officials aided Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign. If there was collusion, Flynn most likely knows about it. This is why Mueller wanted Flynn to strike a deal. Particularly, one where Flynn agreed to a lesser sentence in exchange for giving an honest accounting of what he knows about Trump-Russia ties. Sure getting Papadopoulos to agree to cooperate with Mueller’s team was pretty awesome. But getting Flynn to flip is a much bigger prize.

And it’s possible that Flynn has more Russia ties than known since there’s already some reporting suggesting we don’t have the full Flynn and Russia story. In June, The Wall Street Journal reported that a Trump supporting GOP operative and private equity executive Peter Smith embarked on an effort to track down Hillary Clinton’s infamous 30,000 or so deleted emails during the fall of 2016 and contacted Russian hackers to ask if they had them. Smith wasn’t part of the Trump campaign. But according to sources, he told people working with him that he was coordinating with Flynn. While trying to recruit for the effort, Smith also distributed a document naming the Trump campaign as one of the 4 groups involved. Another piece of information pointing to Flynn was that US officials were aware of some intelligence that Russian hackers had at least discussed sending leaked emails to Flynn through a third party. As Shane Harris wrote for the Wall Street Journal: “Investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.” Smith died this year, reportedly by his own hand and Flynn hasn’t said anything about the Journal report. Nevertheless, all this is enough to raise serious questions about just what Flynn knew about this or any other attempted outreach to Russian hackers or other Russian entities. However, we don’t know yet if this led to actual collusion implicating Flynn or anyone else on the Trump team. Perhaps Smith made his effort seem important by name dropping Flynn, rather than working closely with him. In addition, Smith’s efforts to find Clinton’s deleted emails have failed since they never surfaced.

Michael Flynn’s is also central to determine whether Donald Trump obstructed justice as president, essentially by unlawfully interfering with former FBI Director James Comey’s inquiry. Since Flynn is a central character in this entire drama and fate could shape Trump’s. As Rangappa told Vox, “I think Flynn’s value to Mueller is less on the collusion part and has more to do with obstruction of justice. If Trump had any knowledge of any kind of criminal liability that Flynn may have had — and he was trying to get Comey to drop the investigation — that essentially seals Mueller’s obstruction case.” After Flynn was fired, Trump held a counterterrorism meeting with his national security officials which ended when he ordered everyone except then-Director Comey to clear the room. According to Comey’s written notes, Trump asked him to lay off the investigation into Flynn’s Russia statements. He said that Flynn “is a good guy” and urged the then-FBI director “to see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Comey refused so Trump eventually fired him a few months later.

Flynn’s testimony could help answer if Trump wanted to protect him out of fear on what he might know. It’s not enough to show that Trump didn’t like where the Russia investigation was going. A prosecutor or member of Congress pushing for impeachment would need to show that Trump actually tried to cover up some kind of wrongdoing on his part to establish an obstruction case. As federal prosecutor Alex Whiting explained the specifics of Trump’s relationship with Flynn matter a great deal, noting: “Did [Trump] know that Flynn’s story was an important piece in the larger picture, one that he did not want revealed? Or did he know that the FBI’s pressure on Flynn could force him to give up other incriminating evidence? Far from simply acting to shield a former subordinate and ally, was Trump actually just trying to protect himself, and those close to him? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then Trump’s actions will have a very different feel to them, and his potential defenses much harder, if not impossible, to swallow.” Flynn may know the answer to Whiting’s questions which Mueller will likely hear soon.

Still, former US attorney Preet Bharara isn’t convinced that Michael Flynn received “a sweetheart deal of a lifetime” in exchange for hugely important cooperation. On the latest podcast episode, the former New York prosecutor disputed that the relatively light charge against the former 3-star general clearly showed he must’ve agreed to provide especially valuable information to Mueller’s investigation. Bharara refers to his own experience supervising similar high-profile cases.  He claimed, “When we had evidence against somebody and wanted them to flip, we made them plead guilty to every bad act that they had ever done. Especially if we were later gonna be alleging other people had engaged in that activity as well.” Such actions, the former prosecutor argues makes a witness like Flynn more credible in court if he has to testify against someone else. “Otherwise, the only thing the jury will know for a fact about your witness is that he is an admitted, convicted liar,” he said. What he suspects is that Mueller doesn’t’ have anything else on Flynn that might stand in court. But he also suggests that Mueller is “holding back on other charges to which Michael Flynn will plead guilty if and when they form the basis of charging some other folks.” In other words, certain potential charges against Flynn could implicate others in Trump’s team as well and that Mueller’s team just isn’t ready to make those charges yet (and may never be). Yet, this case could be different than Bharara’s own past prosecutions. For one, Mueller’s potential endgame might be impeachment referral rather than a high-profile court trial. In addition, Mueller could be concerned about Trump’s pardon power, possibly holding off some potential charges against Flynn so he could bring them later, in case of a pardon. And seeing how quickly Trump pardoned infamous former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Mueller might’ve taken a cue.

On Saturday December 2, 2017, Donald Trump tweeted that he fired his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. If that’s the case, Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop his inquiry into Flynn and then fired him when he failed to do so. This could play into an obstruction of justice case against him. Looking into Trump’s history which shows unparalleled disrespect for the rule of law, committing obstruction of justice shouldn’t come as a surprise. Donald Trump’s corruption is mindboggling beyond any measure that anyone could imagine. He has already abused his power as president in order to enrich himself as well as constantly lies about everything whenever he opens his mouth. But should Mueller’s team find compelling evidence if the Trump team engaged in a criminal conspiracy to help hack Hillary Clinton’s email (since stealing documents is illegal), violated campaign finance laws through soliciting foreign help like from the Russian government, or committing crimes against the investigation itself like witness intimidation, perjury, obstruction of justice, and the like, Mueller can convene a federal jury and seek a criminal indictment against the person. If the grand jury signs off, that person is then arrested and charged. Eventually Trump can be forced to make a terrible choice. He could risk a close associate or family member going to jail or possibly making a deal with federal prosecutors in return for testimony that could incriminate others. Or he could use his pardon power to shield his cronies from federal charges. Should he go the second route, expect a massive political conflict with Congress because of the obvious impropriety of President Pussygrabber pardoning family members or close associates for crimes committed to help him win the presidency in the first place.

Then there’s the question of what happens if Mueller finds evidence of criminal behavior by Donald Trump himself. Granted that Trump is a narcissistic sociopath with a history of abusing his power for his own enrichment, disrespecting the rule of law, and getting away with egregious corruption practices, this is extremely likely. As special prosecutor, Mueller has the legal authority to file charges against any Trump associates or family members. But there’s another legal debate as to whether it’s constitutional for prosecutors to indict a president on criminal charges. Because no state or federal attorney has ever indicted a president on serious criminal charges and we have no Supreme Court precedent to answer that question. Mueller would likely sidestep that whole minefield and simply make a report to the House of Representatives documenting evidence of Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional standard of impeachment. Should Mueller’s report contain damning evidence, it would put a lot of pressure on the House to begin impeachment proceedings. In short, Mueller could take the first step toward ending Trump’s presidency. So Trump really needs to be afraid. Especially since Mueller is currently looking into his business practices and finances which contain plenty of shady stuff less wealthy people have been arrested for.

 

An Urgent Call for Action to Save Net Neutrality

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On Wednesday, November 22, 2017, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released his draft order to eliminate net neutrality. In short, this order will eradicate net neutrality rules and abandon the court-approved Title II legal framework serving the basis for the successful 2015 Open Internet Order. These regulations prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down access to websites or services as well as bans them from offering so-called fast lanes to companies willing to pay extra to reach consumers more quickly than competitors. The proposal’s most significant change is to strip the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband as a utility and shift that responsibility to the Federal Trade Commission, which can’t create the hard and fast rules ISPs must follow. But the FCC will simply require ISPs to be transparent about any blocking, throttling, or pay prioritization which they would evaluate based on whether or not the activity is anti-competitive. However, the proposal will also ban state and local governments from imposing their own net neutrality rules to replace federal regulations or lack thereof. A vote on this measure is scheduled on December 14 and it’s expected to be passed and implemented on a party line 3-2 vote. Ironically called, “The Restoring Internet Freedom Act,” is basically everything that ISPs could want. But it is a policy that will take away every safeguard we need to protect the open internet we’ve always had. Since it will give ISPs the power to kill off their competition, choke innovation, charge more for various content, suppress political dissent, and marginalize voices of racial justice advocates and others organizing for change. Essentially, Pai’s proposal is thin on substance and reasoning, cruel, willfully naïve, as well as not grounded in reality. Yet, should the FCC has its way, Pai’s plan will change how Americans experience the internet and for the worse.

Under the existing regulations the FCC passed in 2015, there are clear hardline rules forbidding telecom companies from unethical business practices. These rules are reinforced with strong but flexible safeguards that the 2015 order built in for other schemes ISPs might use now or invent in the near future to interfere with internet traffic. With the exception of scant transparency rules, Pai plans to “eliminate the conduct rules adopted in the Title II Order — including the general conduct rule and the prohibitions on paid prioritization, blocking and throttling.” This leaves internet users entirely without protections and relying on ISPs to behave and avoid exploiting their internet gatekeeper status. It’s clear in the “The Restoring Internet Freedom Act” that Pai and his fellow Republican colleagues at the FCC want to allow telecom companies to legally block and discriminate internet content. In other words, “restoring internet freedom” means restoring the ISPs’ own freedom to offer “curated services” rather than their broadband customers’ rights. Thus, Donald Trump’s FCC wants to let the most-hated and worst-rated companies in America block and edit online speech.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Pai wants to end net neutrality to enrich his buddies at Verizon where he worked as an attorney. But he’s often used flimsy arguments that even without oversight and prohibitions against blocking and discrimination by claiming, “transparency substantially reduces the possibility that ISPs will engage in harmful practices, and it incentivizes quick corrective measures by providers if problematic conduct is identified.” After all, he states that these large telecom companies have, “publicly committed not to block or throttle the content that consumers choose.” Except that public commitments don’t mean a damn thing to them. Besides we all know these telecom companies want to end net neutrality so they control whatever their customers say or do online. Discriminating against the content consumers to is the whole damn point. Telecom companies have the technology to scrutinize over every piece of information we send or receive online like websites, email, videos, internet phone calls, or data from games or social networks. They can program computers routing information to interfere with the data flow by slowing down or blocking traffic and communication they don’t like while speeding up traffic they do that pays them extra for the privilege. And as far as Tim Wu is concerned, “transparency” is basically a euphemism for “doing nothing.” But the FCC factsheet states that “Internet service providers didn’t block websites before the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed 2015 internet regulations and won’t after they are repealed.” However, before the 2015 order put firm rules on solid legal footing in place, ISPs blocked content, throttled websites, and used their power to rig the market in their favor. These cable and phone companies have taken every chance they could get around net neutrality laws and have already shown us exactly what they’ll do if we let them. Numerous incidents of abuse include:

  • AT&T pressuring Apple into blocking the Skype app on all iPhones, complaining that Skype was being unfair by “not operating on a level playing field,” or in other words, having a better product that AT&T couldn’t compete with. So they just blocked people from using it. And they weren’t the only ones to do so either since ISPs from around the world followed suit and most didn’t just stop at Skype either. In fact, they blocked every program you could use to make online phone calls altogether.
  • Madison River Communications blocking voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) Vonage which filed a complaint to the FCC after hearing a slew of customer grievances. The FCC stepped in to sanction Madison River and prevent further blocking. But it lacks the authority to stop this kind of abuse today.
  • Comcast, Verizon, and Metro PCS slowing down Netflix. In 2011, Metro PCS sent out an ad boasting that anyone who signed up for their cheapest plan would receive “YouTube access.” Though it might seem good on paper, it actually meant that if you weren’t willing to pay for the expensive plan, the company will block every other video streaming site on the internet. Because they advertised users could “preview trial video content” but not actually watch it for $10 more. And if users paid $20 more, they could access 18 different video streaming websites. Verizon has also been caught slowing down Netflix users. Sure they didn’t make it impossible to watch a movie, but they made it slow enough so no one could waste bandwidth by watching a video in HD. Comcast has done it, too, which is particularly troubling since they own TV networks and have some clear reasons wanting to keep Netflix from succeeding. And they refused to slow down until Netflix paid money. So basically Comcast just blackmailed their competition by sabotaging them and refusing to stop until they paid them. And by the way, this was before net neutrality and thus perfectly legal.
  • Canadian ISP Telus blocking its customers from seeing their workers’ union website called “Voices for Change” which listed their complaints and demands during a 2005 strike. Oh, and they blocked 766 other websites hosted on the same server. In other words, Telus censored an entire section of the Internet because they didn’t like what people were saying. And since there was no net neutrality at the time, the Canadian company suffered zero consequences other than a media tongue lashing.
  • British ISP Plusnet telling charging their customers extra for playing online games. The company set up a tier of different data plans asking their customers to decide if they wanted to be able to surf the internet, stream videos, play video games, or do all 3. And if they weren’t willing to pay for the premium package, they’d be charged extra. And Plusnet didn’t just block video games in the cheaper plans either. They also blocked VPNs, forcing employees who remotely connect to their offices to pay more. And unless you were willing to pay for the most expensive plan, they slowed down peer-to-peer programs like Bit Torrent so badly they hardly worked at all.
  • AT&T censoring words from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder when he sang “George Bush, leave this world alone” and “George Bush find yourself another home,” on account of preventing youth visiting the website from being exposed to “excessive profanity.” Though the song contained none. Of course, they later blamed it on an external website contractor hired to screen the performance.
  • Verizon cutting off the pro-choice group NARAL text-messaging program since they didn’t want to service programs from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.”
  • Comcast and Cox Communications blocking VPN. In 2001, these companies updated their terms of services declaring from now on that their customers had to agree not to use a VPN unless they were willing to pay for it. Since VPN lets you connect to another network, which for a lot of people means it’s a way to connect to their office from home, this resulted in a lot of people working from home being suddenly blocked off from how they made their livelihood. And when people called and complained, they didn’t receive much sympathy. Comcast basically said that anyone working from home was going to have to upgrade to their “@Home Pro Package” which started at $95 a month. Essentially, if you worked from home, you had 2 options: either start paying for the most expensive plan Comcast had or get a new job.
  • Verizon blocking Google Wallet. In 2011, Verizon developed its own digital wallet which was going to change the way people made purchases by letting people make purchases with a simple wave of their phone. And they were pretty sure they’d make a fortune, too. Except for two things. First, their product’s name was “Isis” which was about to become less marketable for reasons I need not discuss. Second, Google had already released an identical product called Google Wallet which basically doomed Verizon’s Isis from the start. So when Verizon realized they couldn’t beat Google fairly, they blocked Google Wallet on all Verizon phones, essentially making it impossible for their customers to pick their competition over them. Unsurprisingly, Verizon was accused of breaking net neutrality laws. But since they technically blocked Google’s hardware instead of its software, they got away with it. So there’s every reason to believe if Verizon could block an app that’s competing with one of their own, they’d take it.
  • Comcast deliberately blocking BitTorrent. In 2007, Comcast was caught blocking peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Gnutella through deep packet inspection to block file transfers from customers using these networks. As a result, any Comcast customer trying to share files from one computer to another would find that their internet connection inexplicably kept dropping. At first, Comcast denied it. However, national tests conducted by the Associated Press confirmed the company’s actions as unrelated to network congestion since blocking took place at times when there wasn’t any. Not to mention, enough people had spread proof online, Comcast couldn’t keep up the lie. Though the company wasn’t apologetic either since they claimed that blocking these peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent was “necessary.” In their defense, Comcast blocked applications often used to trade videos like pirated content, despite that most of what they blocked on these networks was legitimate. And Comcast has strongly hinted that they’ll do it again. After all, they have promised to that they “will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content” once net neutrality is repealed. But as far as they’re concerned, peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent fall under “unlawful content.” So once net neutrality is out of the way, Comcast is shutting these programs down.
  • Verizon shutting down Wi-Fi hot spots. When the technology to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hot spot came out, Verizon Wireless started offering it as an add-on. For an extra $20 a month, their customers could use their phone’s data plan through another device like computer. Only problem was that there wasn’t any reason to give Verizon that $20. There were already all kinds of apps available letting people turn their phones into Wi-Fi hot spots for free. So since Verizon couldn’t really compete with these apps, they just shut them down. And they put pressure on Google to remove every Wi-Fi hot spot app from the marketplace. Thus, in other words, Verizon literally shut down 11 smaller businesses because they couldn’t compete with them.
  • Windstream and Paxfire redirecting Google Searches. In 2005, Windstream Communications tried to get their own search engine on the market and compete against Google and Yahoo. However, their search engine was so awful that there was absolutely no reason anyone would really want to use it. So they set up a redirect. That way, any Windstream customer who typed something into Google would just be forcibly redirected to the Windstream search engine instead of getting Google results. And Windstream wasn’t the only company to do this. Paxfire started accepting bribes from companies to redirect Google searches. So for instance, if any Paxfire customer googled “apple,” they’d be just forcibly sent to apple.com. Didn’t matter if they were looking for information growing apples or apple pie recipes. Their users would be looking at iPhones and they couldn’t do anything about it.
  • AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and others running zero-rating schemes that advantage their own content. These are sponsored data programs to third party content providers to pay ISPs to exempt their data from customers’ data caps and at less favorable terms than they offer their affiliates.
  • Verizon admitting plans on censoring the internet. While most companies trying to end net neutrality try to hide what they’re up to, Verizon has directly and unambiguously said that they want to end net neutrality so they can censor free speech. In fact, a Verizon attorney told the FCC that they believe as broadband providers, they “transmit the speech of others” and deserve the right to what they call “editorial discretion.” Because the attorney claimed, “Just as a newspaper is entitled to decide which content to publish and where, broadband providers may feature some content over others.” In other words, Verizon doesn’t give a shit that everyone has a right to express themselves on the internet. In fact, they want to decide what goes online and what gets censored. Even when the FCC pushed them and asked if they planned on blocking websites, the Verizon attorney still didn’t deny that his company planned on censoring the internet, claiming, “But for these rules, we would be exploring those types of arrangements.” And that’s what will happen if net neutrality goes away. This isn’t a paranoid fear or a worst-case scenario, it’s straight out of their mouths.

If Pai’s FCC really wanted to guarantee that ISPs can’t charge tolls to access content, prioritize certain websites and services, create fast and slow lanes, and censor political speech, then it wouldn’t repeal net neutrality. In fact, Pai’s plan to end net neutrality doesn’t even conceal this. When it comes to letting ISPs dividing the internet into fast lanes for the few who can pay an extra toll and slow lanes for everyone else, his order actually celebrates the idea. As Pai writes, “We anticipate that lifting the ban on paid prioritization will increase network innovation [because] the ban on paid prioritization agreements has had … a chilling effect on network innovation.” Only the FCC and the ISP boardrooms would call slowing down websites and apps “innovation.” As far as they’re concerned, “restoring internet freedom,” will lead to “better, faster, and cheaper broadband for consumers and give startups that need priority access (such as telehealth applications) the chance to offer new services to consumers.” Except that creating fast and slow lanes will do absolutely no such thing. Yet, this is exactly the “trust the cable company” future Pai envisions for the internet which puts a ridiculous amount of faith in ISP promises.

Since the internet was available to the American people, there have always been a need for laws protecting people’s rights on the internet. Laws protecting these rights are in what’s called Title II of the Communications Act. These were updated on an overwhelming bipartisan basis in both houses of Congress in 1996 to establish the legal definition and duties that still do and still must apply to broadband service. Broadband internet access is what the law refers as a “common-carrier transmission service.” This lets internet users transmit what information they choose to and from the points of their selection and that the ISP must transmit the content without unreasonable discrimination. This is how broadband customers see the service ISPs offer and sell them. That’s the service we all need to have any chance of connecting and communicating with each other and accessing all the internet has to offer. The Obama FCC followed the law and fulfilled its congressionally mandated duties by returning to Title II and to the proper understanding of broadband internet access as a telecom service. A Federal appeals court reviewing the agency’s reason upheld that decision twice. Pai’s draft order fails to assess the proper history as well as the FCC’s steps and missteps past which explain Congress’s true intent and meaning of the law. But the best Pai can think of are ahistorical references to Clinton-era interpretations of an internet ecosystem long since gone, along with a smattering of ISP talking points and legal arguments courts just shot down last year. Talking about how the FCC treated AOL’s dial-up internet service in 1998 and pretending that this reasoning should apply to ISPs like Comcast and AT&T that control the physical networks we use to get online today just doesn’t cut it. Nor does the ridiculous claim that just because ISPs transmit internet speech and information, the broadband access line itself must be an information service, too. Pai’s justifications are simply attempts to ignore the reality of modern broadband internet services that people depend on today. And we still need rules guarding against the ISPs’ incentive and ability to discriminate. By abandoning the Communications Act and possibly punting federal oversight of net neutrality to the FTC, Pai turns back on the FCC’s sound legal framework for preventing discrimination online as well as abdicates its responsibilities and using the worst legal arguments it can find to justify his actions.

Another major argument the Pai order offers for all this upheaval is the supposed harm that a Title II framework has hurt broadband investment, thus slowing the expansion of nationwide internet access. It’s likely that Pai just made it up that’s only backed by a handful of lobbyists and corporate shills willing to lie or concoct supposed evidence for this alleged economic downturn. However, broadband investment doesn’t run on regulation alone. It doesn’t decline because the FCC restores the same kinds of protections against discrimination that have been kept in in place continuously for a wide range of Title II voice and broadband services for the past several decades. If you take the broader view, broadband investment has already been declining before net neutrality was in place. Besides, the stories ISPs tell their investors are very different from what they tell the FCC. In fact, Securities and Exchange Commission filings reveal an increase in internet investment since 2015 according to Free Press. Even so, whether industry investment should be the dominant measure of success in internet policy is kind of irrelevant considering the larger issues at hand.

Fortunately, there has been strong opposition to Pai’s terrible plan. During the FCC comment period, 98.5% of individual comments support keeping net neutrality rules. #Net Neutrality has trended globally on Twitter and was the top trending hashtag in the United States. Redditors representing a dizzying range of political philosophies and subcultures spoke out. In fact, the most popular post in the Reddit NASCAR group’s entire history is about the need to save net neutrality. Since last Tuesday, Americans have made over 500,000 calls to Congress urging their lawmakers to condemn Pai’s plan. Now Capitol staffers feel so besieged that a few reached out and asked pro-neutrality groups to make the calls stop. And on Saturday after Thanksgiving, Maine’s Senator Susan Collins became the first GOP senator to publicly oppose Pai’s proposal, joining scores of Democratic leaders who’ve spoken up in the last few months. As of today, there are 600 protests in the works in all 50 states in cities including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Des Moines, Miami, New York City, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Wichita. And since Pai once worked for Verizon (officially), people are organizing outside corporate-owned Verizon stores all across the country. On Cyber Monday, hundreds of businesses and organizations sent a letter calling on the FCC chairman to reverse course and scrap his plans to repeal net neutrality rules. They wrote, “Without these rules, internet service providers will be able to favor certain websites and e-businesses, or the platforms they use to garner new customers, over others by putting the ones that can pay in fast lanes and slowing down or even blocking others. Businesses may have to pay a toll just to reach customers. This would put small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage and prevent innovative new ones from even getting off the ground. An internet without net neutrality protections would be the opposite of the open market, with a few powerful cable and phone companies picking winners and losers instead of consumers. The current rules provide the protections necessary to protect net neutrality and ensure the internet remains a free and open marketplace that encourages innovation and supports robust competition.”

Yet, even if the FCC votes to kill net neutrality, a federal court challenge is inevitable given overwhelming support for a free and open internet. Even if that suit remains in the US Court of Appeals, the outcome could very well drag on for another year and a half or more. And there will certainly be numerous lawsuits filed in reaction to the “Restoring Internet Freedom” Order. While the telecom industry will undoubtedly have an army of lawyers, they don’t have a strong case. For one, allowing ISPs to practice internet censorship akin to the Chinese state by blocking its critics and promoting its own agenda is anathema to the internet’s and America’s founding spirit. In fact, you can argue such censorship is unconstitutional under the First Amendment since it violates freedom of speech. Second, the Pai’s proposal is such a drastic reversal of net neutrality policy and is based on weak evidence to support the change. Government agencies aren’t free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules which many have relied on without good reason like a change in factual circumstances. A mere shift in FCC ideology isn’t enough. Because according to the Supreme Court, a federal agency must, “examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.” Since the 2015 net neutrality rules are a huge success by most measures, the case for killing them would need to be very strong. Except that it isn’t. It’s very clear that Pai’s rationale for eliminating the net neutrality rules is that telecom companies need to earn even more money than they do despite enjoying generous profits for years. Third, because Pai’s FCC is killing net neutrality outright, the chairman will have to explain to a court not just the shift from 2005, but also his reasoning for destroying basic bans for blocking and throttling which have been in effect since 2005 which the entire internet ecosystem has relied on. This will be a very difficult task since there is a long history of (often concealed) anticompetitive throttling and blocking that the FCC has had to stop to preserve the internet economy’s health. Pai needs to explain why we no longer have to worry about this threat and he can’t just say, “you can trust your cable company” either. Fourth, the FCC is acting contrary to public sentiment which may embolden the judiciary to oppose Pai’s plan. While telecommunications policy doesn’t always attract public attention, net neutrality does. And since 76% of Americans support it, the FCC is on the wrong side of the democratic majority. In our times, the judiciary has increasingly become a majoritarian force which can prevent narrow, self-interested factions from getting the government to serve shameful ends.

Nevertheless, net neutrality assures Americans a free and open internet which has become crucial in our everyday lives. It has overwhelming support among the American public. For the FCC to repeal net neutrality rules goes against the will of the people. Pai wants to eliminate the Title II classification of ISPs as common carriers and leave these telecom companies to run the internet as they please. Repealing net neutrality will only give ISPs power to control what users experience online such as deciding who gets heard, which sites we can visit, what connections we can make, and what communities we can create. And they can throttle access, stall opportunity, and censor content that they don’t like. Most Americans believe you should go where you want on the internet without interference from your ISP, which net neutrality guarantees. Repealing net neutrality will only benefit a few giant corporate executives and lobbyists standing to profit from it. And such action will only stand to harm internet users, consumers, and businesses who depend on internet service for their day-to-day lives. No giant telecom corporation should have the power to control what you access online. American voters deserve a free, open, and neutral internet supporting democracy and economic growth. If you depend the internet for your livelihood, you need net neutrality. If you enjoy streaming video, social media, or playing online games, thank net neutrality. If you enjoy shopping on Amazon and want businesses to have a level playing field, net neutrality is for you. If you want to freely surf the web with the same rights and privileges as everyone else, then the assault on net neutrality must be stopped once and for all. The internet is for everyone and is the most important resource in the world with our exchange of information exalted over any physical and social barrier. We must stand together and fight for it.

The Great American Tax Swindle

Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which seeks to dramatically cut corporate taxes and consolidate benefits for individuals. In addition, the legislation eliminates the alternative minimum tax and estate tax as well as pare back certain individual deduction. This bill would also offer a new tax rate for owners of “pass through” businesses like LLCs and partnerships whose income from their businesses is taxed as personal income. It’s very clear that the House Republican tax bill will disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans, who’d more likely profit from corporate tax cuts more than non-wealthy Americans and likely exploit the pass-through rate by setting up dummy corporations. According to the Tax Policy Center, the absolute richest Americans such as the top 0.1% earning at least $5 million a year, would receive an average income tax cut of 3% which can translate into $320,640. The middle fifth of taxpayers earning between $54,700 to $93,200 a year would get a 0.5% income boost which will only consist of $360. Nearly half the cut will go to the 1%. Though 61.4% of Americans would receive a tax cut by 2027, 24.2% will see their taxes rise by an average of $2,080. Nevertheless, this bill will almost certainly not become law in its current form since the current version will certainly increase the budget deficit by trillions over 10 years and beyond. But it nevertheless, reflects the Republican Party’s values and priorities which don’t translate into the kind of tax reform America needs as well as disproportionately punishes hardworking Americans and the poor for no reason. Because this isn’t a tax reform bill with ordinary Americans in mind, but major Republican donors and corporations.

Who Wins:

Corporations– Since they’re the main focus on most of the tax cuts. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% (like this bill does), costs nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years. They also gain new, more favorable treatment of income earned abroad, which either isn’t taxed or taxed at an even lower rate than 20%.

The Wealthy, Particularly the Ultrarich– Because they tend to earn a disproportionate share of their income from capital (like stock sales and dividends) and thus benefit from cuts to the corporate tax, which is largely a tax on capital. Should the corporate tax also reduce wages (as some conservative economists allege), corporate tax cuts still disproportionately help the wealthy as huge wage shares go to high earners, not low or median-wage earners. In addition, the pass-through cut could lead some wealthy people who either own pass-throughs or create new ones to shelter some of their income from high rates. Both Tax Policy Center analysis and the Joint Committee on Taxation confirm that the richest Americans will receive the biggest cuts as a percentage of their income.

People Making Mid-to High Six-Figure Incomes– They should arguably count as wealthy or rich, too. By raising the threshold for the 39.6% rate on individual income to $1 million for couples, up from $470,000 today, those with incomes in the $600,000 to $700,000 range will receive a sizeable reduction alongside to the low-end tax cut they get because the new 12% bracket will apply to income now taxed between 15% or 25%. The Tax Policy Center finds that once you reach the 95th percentile like earning $304,600 a year or more, over 70% of them get tax cuts in 2027, with the average change amounting to 1.4-3% of their income.

Pass-Through Companies– Companies like the Trump Organization get a new very low rate. Though the bill includes some provisions meant to prevent rich individuals from using this tax break to shelter income, it only limits the benefit in many cases. Overwhelmingly rich owners of these pass-throughs will still come out ahead. We know this because Kansas entirely eliminated state taxes on pass-through companies which mainly resulted in people to simply reclassify their income to dodge taxes while not actually starting any new businesses.

Heirs and Heiresses– Because this bill first reduces the estate tax (through increasing exemption and applying it to even smaller sliver of the ultrarich) and then eliminates it entirely. Keep in mind this is on those who earn at least $5 million anyway.

Who Loses:

Blue State Residents– Since they will pay higher taxes since this legislation eliminates state and local income/sales tax deductions while somewhat curtails those for property taxes. Wealthy people benefitting from these deductions will likely see this tax hike offset by the other tax cuts in the package. Though this may leave a silver lining when you realize that many blue states are home to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, major media organizations, Hollywood, many large corporations, and high earning Americans like Donald Trump.

The Housing Sector– Since it faces a new limit on mortgage interest deduction. Though the rate cuts largely make up for this in regards to some individual taxpayers, it reduces the incentive to build and buy homes, which could affect lenders, construction workers, real estate firms, etc.

Poor Families– Though they were rumored to receive a tax cut due to change in the refundability formula for the child tax credit, that measure didn’t make it in the bill. Because that credit only goes to families with $3,000 in earnings or more and phases in slowly. Though some in Congress did push to lower the threshold to $0, they didn’t succeed. Instead, the bill includes a provision denying the child tax credit to American citizen children whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Because Republicans don’t want undocumented immigrants having anchor babies to take advantage of that tax credit. Despite that fear of deportation keeps more undocumented immigrants from seeking benefits their citizen children could desperately use. Furthermore, fees extracted by tax preparers standing between the low-income and earned income tax credit aren’t deductible under this plan.

Higher Education– The House bill eliminates student loan tax exemptions and treats graduate tuition reimbursements as income. The Senate bill contains an excise tax on earnings of big university endowments. This will increase the cost of college for many students, result in more borrowers struggling to pay their loans, grad and doctoral students in terrible financial situations, as well as hit colleges and universities hard. Not to mention, such measures will dramatically hurt the economy in the long run by undermining human capital developments and creating a less educated workforce. In addition, it might even cost lives by impeding biomedical research.

Workers– The Republican tax plan treats union dues as taxable income. Poor and middle class people will also see their taxes increase across the board, especially if they earn between $40,000 and $75,000 a year. In addition, it taxes contributions to 401 (k) plans.

Healthcare– The House bill proposes eliminating medical deduction exemptions which will devastate many middle-class families with an illness. Republican Senators are proposing to repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate which will result in 13 million people uninsured, hurt enrollment in Medicaid and Obamacare exchanges, increase premiums on those who purchase insurance, and increase preventable deaths by 15,600 people per year. Not to mention, the Senate bill cuts alcohol taxes which are effective at reducing drink driving, violent crime, and liver cirrhosis while increasing them saves thousands of lives per year. Add to that cuts to Medicaid by $18 billion by 2021 and Obamacare subsidies. All this will only make the healthcare markets worse, not better.

The Deficit– As the Joint Committee on Taxation has reportedly determined that the House Republican tax bill will cost $1.51 trillion over 10 years, which is what the House/Senate allocated for the bill. But it’s still a sizeable increase in public debt.

As you can see, this Republican tax reform effort reflects the conservative allergic reaction to progressive taxation and goes beyond undoing the most progressive gains achieved during the Obama and Clinton administrations. 3 changes stand out in this legislation. First, these taxes are far more focused on owners than workers, even by Republican standards. Second, they take advantage of the ambiguity on what counts as income. Third, it weaponizes that vagueness to help their friends and hurt their enemies. Though to be fair, I’m not sure who counts as which in this scheme. After years of pushing for a safety net that works through the tax code and keep more social democratic forms at bay, Republicans now seem willing to even demolish even those modest protections, some of which benefit many of their voters. And they make it clear that a welfare state based on tax credits and refunds, rather than universal commitments, is all too vulnerable.

The House “reform” bill illustrates that Republicans understand how the economic game’s rules are shifting toward capital and away from labor (even from the rich’s labor). Since 2000, income growth among the 1% has accrued people making their money from owning money, stock, and other financial instruments, rather than to people making money via skills and labor. As a result, corporate profits have skyrocketed since then and increased faster during the Great Recession. However, such growth hasn’t trickled down to ordinary Americans. Wages have been flat since 2000 and recession recovery featured the weakest business investment of the postwar period. This marks a genuine shift in the economy’s organization which economists still struggle to understand. But the Republican tax plan supercharges these changes which are about benefiting not just the well-off, but those well-off because they own capital.

But why? Because the Republican tax plans mainly focus on corporate income tax reductions which will largely benefit concentrated owners of stock, passive owners of pass-through businesses who don’t actively work for the firm, and those inheriting their money. We should also understand that foreigners hold about a third of US-based stock, meaning there will be a significant amount of benefits not going to US citizens. In fact, the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy estimates that foreign investors would receive benefits roughly equal to those going to the bottom 3/5 of Americans.

Much of the Republican tax plan involves changing the definition of “income” in various ways. Now most people usually think of income as whatever their salary is. But it’s more complicated than that. And Republicans are redefining different kinds of income to benefit their friends as well as harming their enemies. Under the plan, Passive owners of pass-through entities get their income redefined in a way that minimizes taxation. Those inheriting money get their inheritance redefined to hide it from taxation. And those wanting to stuff money away to send their kiddies to private school, get that savings defined as non-income, too. All these are payouts to key Republican constituencies.

But Republicans are also defining income in other ways to punish their opponents. State and local tax deductions Republicans want to repeal primarily benefits those in blue states where those taxes are higher. They also want to treat graduate education tuition reimbursements as income, hitting higher education (which is home to climate scientists and the “politically correct” anti-right) hard. Union dues would suddenly become taxable income. And fees extracted by tax preparers who stand between low-income people and the earned income tax credit aren’t deductible under their plan.

Yet, it’s not just their opponents they want to punish either. House Republicans also propose eliminating all of the medical deduction exemption which would be devastating for middle class households with an illness. And the latest Senate tax bill calls for eliminating the individual mandate which could result in 13 million uninsured. In short, not only are Republicans are using the tax code to swipe at the Affordable Care Act, they also want to do away with their own tools for making medical expenses more bearable. In the past conservatives have explicitly stated that they hoped the growing use of tax-deferred 401(k) savings plans would weaken support and possibly replace Social Security. But today’s GOP almost reduced the cap for 401(k) contributions. What about the Adoption Tax Credit that was part of the 1994 Republican Contract with America? Well, the House tax plan got rid of that, too. And what about students investing in their own educations through student loans? The bill also puts student loan tax exemptions on the chopping block. Tax exemptions, deductions, and benefits are usually considered regressive, poorly targeted, and too reliant on the market. But they do form a coherent social insurance system for middle-class and upper-middle class families. Many of them number among Republican voters. Yet, it’s this very safety net via tax code that Republicans have declared war on in their new tax bill. They could’ve crafted these various deductions into a more coherent system, they’re axing them to cut taxes on the rich. Republicans are so indebted to capital owners that they’d destroy their system in order to appease them. Even if it means proposing a tax plan whose benefit are permanent for owners yet expire for everyone else. They’ve taken the worst trends in the American economy and hit the accelerator.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Trickle down economics has been implemented in US tax policy time and time again since the 1980s and has been shown not to work. When you cut taxes for the rich, you don’t create jobs nor raise wages. If anything, the rich just become richer while corporations make higher profits. Meanwhile, wages remain stagnant while ordinary Americans increasingly find themselves less able to adequately support themselves thank to inflation and rising costs of living. But according to free market purists, market competition should ensure low prices. Except that it doesn’t, especially if it results in large corporations expanding that they either become monopolies or conglomerates. Corporate increases in profits and size don’t translate into higher wages, more jobs, or lower prices. Nor will it benefit the economy or solve any of its problems. The Republican tax plan’s regressive nature is reason enough to oppose it. Should the United States run a deficit, then it shouldn’t be to reduce taxes paid by those at the top. Given recent economic developments, it’s especially irresponsible. Corporations are flush with cash thanks to large profits and aggressively low interest rates. But they’re not investing. Thus, these large tax cuts for corporations will have very little effect on the economy and only amplify the deleterious trends we’re still trying to comprehend.

I don’t doubt that the United States needs to reform its tax code. Wealthy Americans and corporations shouldn’t be the main beneficiaries in tax legislation. If anything, the rich should be made to pay more taxes as well as be held accountable for tax evasion and other financial shenanigans like everyone else. Should we need to eliminate deductions or benefits, let it be rich stuff like any measures pertaining to private jets. After all, if you could afford a private jet, you don’t need subsidies or tax breaks. In addition, we need to tax capital gains from which the wealthy primarily earn their money. The American people deserve better than an egregious tax scam that only benefits the few at the expense of the rest.

Have You No Sense of Decency?

On Thursday, November 9, 2017, the Washington Post revealed that Alabama Republican Senate frontrunner Roy Moore had allegedly made sexual advances on or engaged in sexual activity with a number of teen girls as young as 14 while in his 30s during the late 1970s. The next day, another woman came forward alleging that Moore sexually assaulted her at 16 and showed his signature on her high school yearbook as proof. For any politician, allegations of pedophilia would’ve resulted in nothing less than widespread condemnation and an end to their political careers. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Moore has called the Washington Post story, “completely false and misleading,” he said he “didn’t dispute” that he “dated a lot of young ladies.” He noted that he “recognized the names” of at least two of the women named in the Post investigation. On CNN, former prosecutor Tessa Jones stated, “it was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls,” and that “everyone we knew thought it was weird.” She then added, “We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall.” A dozen people in Gadsen, Alabama remarked on how Moore used to frequent the mall and was reportedly banned for trying to pick up teenage girls.

Not surprisingly, politicians from both parties are calling for Roy Moore to step down from the Senate race against Democrat Doug Jones. The Republican establishment has severed all ties to Moore. But Moore still has a chance to win while many of his supporters have remained noticeably silent. Those who did speak out dismissed the allegations as a Democratic plot or smear campaign and questioned the report’s timing weeks ahead of the December special election. His brother even compared the guy to Jesus. Others implied that Moore’s acts aren’t that bad because, according to Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.” He then added, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Really? A little unusual? When Brietbart Milo Yiannopoulos earlier was caught speaking light on pedophilia, nobody remarked how it wasn’t illegal or immoral. In fact, he lost his book deal with Simon and Schuster, lost his spot at CPAC, lost speaking gigs, and had to resign from Brietbart. In short his career was ruined. But here we have Moore who’s reputed to date teenage girls and people rise to his defense.

To invoke Mary and Joseph to excuse pedophilia is absolutely disgusting on so many levels. First of all, it implies that Roy Moore’s desire and behavior toward these teenage girls was normal (even if the Alabama age of consent is 16). Except that a 30-some-year-old man’s conduct toward teen girls is not. In fact, an adult dating teenage girls is immoral and in some states illegal, especially if the girl is 14. If a grown man pursues teenage girls, it’s about control. Second, using religion to excuse such egregious behavior is nothing short of abhorrent whether it involves Mary and Joseph or not. People have used religion to justify so many horrid things like terrorism, slavery, oppression, as well as all-out war and genocide. Third, to use Mary and Joseph to explain child molestation accusations is a textbook example of blasphemy, especially among Catholics. Regardless of what you believe about these two, most Christians believe they didn’t have premarital sex. Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. Even if she was a teenage girl and he was an adult man, Joseph’s willingness to stay with the pregnant Mary wasn’t an endorsement of underage sex. Furthermore, Ziegler’s defensive statement totally ignores the cultural context of Mary and Joseph’s relationship.

Even without the sexual assault allegations, Roy Moore is a terrible candidate who shouldn’t have won the Republican Alabama Senate nomination in the first place. A former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he’s best known for his history of fringe views, religious extremism, and refusal to obey federal court orders. He gained national spotlight by installing a large monument of the Ten Commandments in the state’s Supreme Court building and refused to remove it despite federal court orders, which resulted in his removal from office in 2003. But he ran for his old job in 2012 and won it back. But then in 2015, he refused enforce the US Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage which resulted in his suspension from the bench again and later his resignation. And while he once called being gay as “detestable,” his extremist views don’t just denigrate the LGBT community, He’s also stated that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress and that some American communities in the Midwest lived under Sharia law. He’s even a birther while his foundation has held events for Neo-Confederates that “promoted a history of the Civil War sympathetic to the Confederate cause, in which the conflict is presented as one fought over the federal government violating the South’s sovereignty as opposed to one fought chiefly over the preservation of slavery.” In 2007, he proclaimed that state involvement in early childhood education was characteristic of totalitarianism. Then there’s a campaign speech over racial divisions in which he said, “Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No. It’s going to be God.” Stuff like that alone should make any candidate unelectable. But since Alabama is a deeply conservative state, it’s entirely possible that conservative Alabama voters will back Roy Moore despite everything. In fact, a recent poll showed that 29% of the state’s voters say the allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore because of the sexual allegations. Whatever that means, it’s not an encouraging sign.

Still, the fact Republicans stand by Roy Moore despite the recent sexual misconduct allegations is extremely troubling. Of course, Alabama Republicans are defending him because they don’t want that Senate seat to go to a Democrat, let alone a former US Attorney who successfully prosecuted the 2 remaining KKK perpetrators of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing which killed 4 black girls. Because that would mean weaker control of the US Senate. Since Donald Trump ran for president, the Republican Party seems to think that the ends justify the means, especially among his white evangelical supporters. During the 2016 campaign, a Public Religion Institute poll found that the percentage of white evangelicals who thought immoral personal acts should disqualify a candidate from office fell from 64% in 2011 to 49% in 2016. By this time, the culture wars have become so toxic that many evangelicals saw getting “their guy” in power is more important than ensuring that “their guy” lives up to evangelical Christian standards of sexual morality. Now this isn’t just apparent among conservative evangelicals, but these facts indicate where the Republican Party is going. Sure they may call themselves good holy Christians and indeed they may be. But their support for Moore seems like they’ve sold their souls to the Devil. You have to wonder if they have any sense of decency to dump this guy. Or are they just too keen about holding power to care.

Whether their candidates fail to denounce white supremacists, sexually assault women, steal from employees, beat up reporters, have no qualifications, run fake charities, commit rampant fraud, enlist foreign power to meddle in election campaigns, or sexually prey on teenage girls, Republican voters tend to excuse, defend, and/or vote for them. No matter how reprehensible a candidate, they’ll support that person if they believe the right things, are in their party, and give these voters what they want. Even if their candidate wasn’t the person they wanted, they’ll support them anyway since anyone is better than a Democrat. However, voting for a thoroughly despicable candidate who shouldn’t be in office will only make you seem like you’re abandoning your principles for your own selfish interests and don’t care about the consequences. Supporting a candidate like Roy Moore or Donald Trump in any capacity will only make other people think less of you, especially if they win and turn out to be as bad as people said they are or worse (like in Trump’s case). In fact, I already think less of the people I know who voted for Trump which include friends, relatives, neighbors, and others in my community because supporting that unrespectable man in any capacity is completely indefensible. Personal morality might not be everything. But if a candidate’s personal behavior pertains to neglecting responsibility or inflicting terrible harm on others, then they shouldn’t be elected to public office. And from how I see it, it would be better for the Republican Party if conservative voters in Alabama dump Roy Moore and let the Democrat win. It might not be politically expedient to do so, but at least it shows they have a shred of character that many of his vocal supporters seem to lack.