Saturday, February 08, 2020

Part of America Is Still Forgotten Under Trump

To win election, Donald Trump made great promises of "Making America Great" again to the part of the America's populace that is often described as "forgotten."  In addition, Trump used open racism and religious extremism to play on the prejudices and insecurities of these so-called forgotten Americans. namely working class whites without a college education.  They took Trump's promises as true and by a narrow margin in three states they voted for Trump and handed him an Electoral College victory.  Trump still panders to racists and religious extremists, but the economy that he brags about has largely left them behind and some of his policies - think his self-created trade wars - have been financially devastating, especially to Mid-West farmers. As the 2020 presidential campaign ramps up, the question of the hour is whether these voters will realize that they have been played for fools and while Trump may fly in for his rallies (where he often stiffs the localities for expenses incurred), but meanwhile the economic death spiral for many continues - even as the wealthy have reaped a bonanza in increased wealth. A column in the New York Times looks at this reality seeming lost on those Trump has forgotten outside of his Nuremberg style rallies. Here are column excerpts:
Trump declared in his State of the Union address that “our economy is the best it has ever been.”
Put aside the Trumpian hyperbole, and it’s true that the economy is strong — and that this is critical to Trump’s chances for re-election.
Yet we live in two Americas, and there’s another side of the country that Trump didn’t mention — one that helped elect him but that he has neglected since. In the other America, suicide rates are at a record high in the post-World War II era, and more Americans die every two weeks from drugs, alcohol and suicide — “deaths of despair” — than died in 18 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
 These deaths are symptoms of a larger economic malaise for working-class Americans that predates Trump. It’s not his fault, but neither has he tried seriously to address it; in some ways, especially in health care, he has worsened it.
 Important new research finds that 20 million Americans, particularly those with low levels of education, describe all 30 of the last 30 days as “bad mental health days.”
“These men and women report in effect that every day of life is a bad day,” said David G. Blanchflower, a Dartmouth economist who conducted the research. Blanchflower noted that self-reported happiness in America has continued to fall.
One-third of Americans say that they have been in pain “often” or “very often” in the last four weeks.  Some of the pain probably results from a lack of universal health care. Millions of Americans endure constant toothaches in a way that doesn’t happen in our peer countries.
In effect, we have a bifurcated economy, marked by prosperity for millions of Americans and by a Social Great Depression for millions of others.
It’s strange to make a comparison to the Great Depression, for output is surging. But consider the effect on mortality: Even during the Great Depression, life expectancy rose strongly, while in three of the last four years it fell because of deaths of despair.
We’re used to thinking of a depression as geographic, but this one is demographic. Working-class Americans, often defined as those without a college degree, are caught in a dust bowl.
“The crisis is almost invisible for those with a college degree,” noted Anne Case, a Princeton economist who is an author, with her husband, fellow-economist Angus Deaton, of an excellent book coming out this spring about deaths of despair.
It is these working-class Americans, white and black alike, who have seen earnings collapse, family structure disintegrate and mortality climb. These Americans are earning less on average, adjusted for inflation, than their counterparts back in the 1970s.
“Our story of deaths of despair is essentially a long-run account of destruction of the working class,” Deaton said.
In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt worked hard to address the Depression with the New Deal. This time, Trump in some ways has exacerbated the pain — such as by chipping away at access to health care. Some 400,000 children have lost health insurance under Trump.
It’s true that unemployment has dropped . . . But Case says that even so, almost half of Americans aged 25 and over with only a high school diploma are no longer in the labor force.
Meanwhile, the central fact of America today is not its economic vigor but its profound inequity.
I noted that private wealth has increased by $800,000 per household. It’s similarly true that whenever Jeff Bezos walks into a room, average wealth there shoots up so that each person becomes, on average, a billionaire. Interesting, but not very meaningful.
  Of that $800,000 increase in wealth, very little - if any - is found in working class or middle class households.  No, instead, it has gone to the few top percentages of income households, thereby only increasing inequality. 

Ban on Sales of Assault Weapons Advances in Virginia

For 26 years Virginia Republicans put the profits of gun manufacturers and the wants of gun rights extremists over the safety and desires of the majority of Virginians.  After the gun massacre in Virginia Beach last May, Governor Northam called a special session of the General Assembly to consider gun control legislation.  The Republican majority arrogantly ended the session in less than 90 minutes with no discussion of proposals.  Democrats campaigned for the 2019 Virginia elections on a promise to pass the gun control legislation that most Virginians want and the voters handed them control of the legislature.  Now, Democrats are delivering on that mandate despite the shrill screams of the NRA, a front organization for gun manufacturers with a history of accepting Russian money to interfere in American elections, and white supremacist "militia" groups. The Washington Post looks at the advancement of a ban on assault weapons.  Here are excerpts:
RICHMOND — A bill banning the sale of assault-style weapons and possession of high-capacity magazines cleared a House committee Friday, drawing such an angry reaction from gun rights activists that the panel’s chairman had Capitol Police clear the room.
Sponsored by Del. Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria), the measure would prohibit the sale or transfer of those firearms beginning July 1, and outlaw possession of the magazines six months later, on Jan. 1, 2021.
The legislation initially would have banned all possession of assault weapons, forcing owners to give them up. But the House Public Safety Committee modified it to prohibit only sales and transfers. Anyone who legally owned those guns before the law took effect would be allowed to keep them.
The measure takes a harder line on magazines that hold more than 12 rounds and on bump stocks, banning their sale and possession.
 The bill is perhaps the most controversial part of an eight-bill package of gun-control legislation that Gov. Ralph Northam (D) backed after a shooter killed 12 people in a Virginia Beach municipal building on May 31.
 “As an army doctor, Governor Northam has seen firsthand what weapons of war do to a human body,” his spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement. “This bill will save lives in Virginia, and the Governor is glad to see it advance.”
 Democrats won their majorities on a promise to enact sweeping gun control, including universal background checks and a purchase limit of one handgun a month.
 While most of the gun-control measures backed by Northam are sailing through the legislature on party-line votes, the fate of the assault weapons bill in the full House is uncertain; at least a few Democratic delegates voiced concern about the original version earlier this year.
 The measure would also have to clear the Senate, where Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) last month scrapped his own assault weapons bill, which was not part of Northam’s package and would have banned possession of those firearms.
 Brian Moran, Northam’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, urged the committee to back the bill.  “Assault weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment because they’re weapons of war. . . . They’re not protected, just like machine guns before them,” he said. “The court will uphold this legislation. You just need to pass it.”
The House has approved the governor’s other seven gun-control bills, which would:
●Enact universal background checks on private gun sales.
●Require an owner to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours.
●Give local governments the authority to enact gun laws of their own, such as banning weapons in public buildings.
●Create a “red flag” law, or extreme risk protective order, under which authorities can temporarily seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
●Limit handgun purchases to one per month, a policy that was in effect in Virginia until 2012.
●Tighten the law prohibiting access to firearms for someone subject to a protective order.
●Make it a felony to “recklessly” leave a firearm within reach of anyone age 18 or younger, up from the current age of 14, a measure known as “child access prevention.”

A Nightmare Scenario for Democrats

I watched the Democrat presidential debate last night and perused the comments of the talking heads and pundits to see who won.  It appears that the winners and losers were in the eyes of the various beholders with diametrically opposed conclusions.  What is clear is that the Democrats need to quickly find an electable front runner who has the ability to defeat Donald Trump. As a piece in New York Magazine lays out, many Democrats are fearful that a Sanders nomination will lead to an electoral debacle akin to that in the UK when far leftist Jeremy Corbyn lead Labor to an unmitigated disaster and handed victory to Boris Johnson (Labor now holds the lowest number of seats in Parliament since 1935). This view is seemingly on point given that the Electoral College winner will be decided by a handful of states in the Mid-West where Sander's past affiliations will be hung around his neck like a huge anvil. Indeed, in South Carolina, Republicans are planning to vote for Sanders in that state's open primary.  Here are article highlights:

It is always darkest, John McCain used to say, before it gets totally black. So it is for the American center-left right now. Bernie Sanders is currently favored to win the nomination, a prospect that would make Donald Trump a heavy favorite to win reelection, and open the possibility of a Corbyn-esque wipeout. 
The liberal conundrum begins with Joe Biden. The former vice-president led national polls until very recently, and has been the most plausible mainstream liberal candidate. At the same time, doubts about his ability to handle the rigors of the campaign at an advanced age have caused the Democratic Party to withhold the institutional support it gave Hillary Clinton. Yet his name was big enough to preclude a younger, more vigorous Democrat from emerging in the ideological space he occupied.
Biden underperformed in Iowa, and his campaign appears to be deflating, at least momentarily. So what to do?
One strategy would be to rally around him, on the grounds that no other candidate has or will have his name recognition and ties to black voters. The other strategy is to hope his campaign collapses as quickly as possible, so that another contender can emerge. (More about them below.) At the moment it is not clear which strategy makes sense. . . . [T]he worst possible outcome: a long, slow, painful death that prevents another liberal from taking his place and allows Sanders to gain unstoppable momentum.
In the meantime, it seems hard to imagine how Biden or a Biden alternative could emerge in the next three contests. The next contest is in New Hampshire, which borders the home states of both Sanders and his closest ideological counterpart, Elizabeth Warren. After that comes Nevada — which, like Iowa, uses the caucus system, which has a fraction of the voting participation of primaries and reward the kind of intense organization Sanders has mastered.
Then comes South Carolina. Biden has been pointing to this state, where he has always led, as his firewall. But will it hold if he is coming off three straight defeats? It is possible that by this point, Biden will have been supplanted in the center-left lane by Pete Buttigieg or even Amy Klobuchar. However, neither has the inroads to the state’s black community that Biden built, which means neither would be able to count on its support as a bulwark against the left-leaning electorates in the previous states. Also, as an additional morbid touch, the South Carolina primary will feature an organized influx of Republicans voting for Sanders in a specific plan to boost what they see as Democrats’ weakest nominee.
If nobody has emerged as a viable alternative by then, Michael Bloomberg’s campaign will be stepping in. It is extremely hard to estimate the probability of success of a candidate who has skipped the first four races. FiveThirtyEight’s model currently gives Bloomberg less than a one percent chance of winning.
To be sure, if Bloomberg is the last Democrat standing against Sanders, he may well attract substantial support from Democratic elected officials and put up a strong fight. Still, he would face enormous opposition from the left.
At that point, the victory scenario would involve a long, bloody struggle all the way to the convention, with the Sanders movement claiming at every step of the way that the party is rigging the race against them, culminating in a convention where his enraged supporters will again try to shout down the proceedings. Unless one of the non-Bloombergs can somehow get off the mat and defeat Sanders, this is probably the best-case scenario for liberals at this point. It seems more probable that Sanders crushes the field and brings his historically unique suite of liabilities to the ticket.
At the moment, the party is melting down over a vote-reporting fiasco in Iowa. In time, we liberals may look back at this moment as a high point.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, February 07, 2020

Is Sanders an Election-Year Disaster Waiting to Happen?

I write this post as I watch the Democrat presidential candidate debate on a night where Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are neck and neck in New Hampshire polls after roughly tying in Iowa.  Meanwhile, Joe Biden's campaign appears in decline, if not free fall, and Elizabeth Warren seems to be stagnating.  Four more years of a Donald Trump presidency poses an existential threat to America's democracy, especially after the body blow Senate Republican's dealt to the U.S. Constitution and the concept of Congressional oversight and reining in of an out of control and immoral occupant of the White House.  Thus, it is critical to ponder what would happen if Sanders somehow becomes the Democrat nominee.  Some, like myself, see Sanders as a disaster in the making should he become the Democrat nominee.  Indeed, the fact that Trump and the GOP see Sanders as the preferred candidate because he will be easier to defeat and are taking steps to potentially skew the primary results in South Carolina to boost Sanders' position in the primary results.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the danger Sanders - and his cult like followers - poses to defeating Trump in November, 2020.  Here are highlights:
Let’s say Sanders comes out of July’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee as the party’s nominee. Will House and Senate Democrats in swing districts and red states view Sanders as standard-bearer with joy — or alarm?
Former senator Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), a supporter of former vice president Joe Biden, has an answer: If Sanders is the Democratic nominee, he will have a “very difficult time” beating President Trump and will pose a “serious threat to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to retain control of the House,” Axios reported.
Dodd’s assessment was echoed by Ami Bera (Calif.), co-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program, which raises funds to reelect Democratic House members. During an interview with BuzzFeed News this week, Bera said, “If Bernie Sanders is our nominee, it’ll make a lot of these Trump districts that we picked up extremely competitive and probably does put our House majority in jeopardy.”
The bleakest assessment came from Marshall Matz, a policy adviser for Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 presidential bid, who said that if Sanders is nominated, Democrats should expect the sort of landslide loss that McGovern suffered to President Richard M. Nixon. He would not just lose but would lose badly,” Matz told the Stamford Advocate.
Other establishment Democrats also fear Trump will barnstorm battleground states that Democrats need to keep control of the House and regain the Senate, loudly branding Sanders a socialist — a label many voters find hard to swallow. Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who led Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in 2016, told the Associated Press, “I come from a state that’s pretty damn red. There is no doubt that having ‘socialist’ ahead of ‘Democrat’ is not a positive thing in the state of Montana.”
And Republicans, he cautioned, “are really good at making elections about who’s at the top of the ticket.”
Is Sanders an election-year disaster waiting to happen?
He makes no bones about who he is. “I am a socialist, and everyone knows that,” Sanders said in 1990 as a newly elected House member, in response to an ad seeking to tie him to Fidel Castro’s regime. But he said his brand of “democratic socialism has nothing to do with authoritarian socialism.” . . . Nothing short of a political revolution is needed, he proclaimed as he launched his 2016 presidential bid to “transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.”
Millions of voters, based upon 2016 election results and current polling numbers, are ideologically aligned with Sanders. But for many of them, this affinity does not extend to the Democratic Party. A recent poll found that only 53 percent of Sanders voters will definitely support the eventual 2020 Democratic nominee if he doesn’t win.
[Y]es, establishment Democrats are worried, and for good reason. Democrats don’t have a lock on the House. The reputable Cook Political Report rates only 181 House seats as solidly Democratic, with 35 more rated as leaning Democratic. But 18 seats currently held by Democrats are seen as toss-ups. You need 218 total for a majority. That’s not a lot of wiggle room.
Over in the Senate, Cook rates six Republican-held Senate seats as toss-up or only leaning GOP (plus one Democratic seat as leaning Republican). Democrats need to net four seats to take the majority outright.
Vulnerable congressional Republicans — as well as Trump — are no doubt rooting for a Sanders Democratic victory. Some are even trying to make it happen. There are GOP leaders in South Carolina calling on Republican voters to cast their ballots for Sanders in South Carolina’s Feb. 29 open primary.
Onlooking D.C. Democrats know their local candidates will be fine regardless of the nominee.
Still, they should be concerned as well. If Democratic convention delegates pick the wrong. 

More Friday Male Beauty

The Hypocrisy and Racism of Jerry Falwell Jr. and the "Leave Virginia" Crowd

Would that Falwell would spend more time with his pool boy.
For 26 years Virginia Republicans controlled the Virginia General Assembly and utterly disregard or thwarted the will of a growing majority of Virginians.   Then, last November, the majority of Virginians, sick and tired of the Virginia GOP's pandering to white supremacists, gun nuts, and religious extremists (the three go together and make up the Virginia GOP's base), finally voted in a Democrat majority to the Virginia General Assembly and long desired legislation is poised to become reality.  But for unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, the Virginia's GOP stranglehold would have ended earlier and it took court rulings striking down GOP drawn districts to help end the tyranny of the GOP minority over the majority of Virginians.  The loss of political power and the ability to ride rough shod over the majority of Virginia's populace has Virginia Republicans and the hate merchants among the party base shrieking as if the world was coming to an end.  In addition, some - including grifter Jerry Falwell, Jr., who must not be spending enough time with the fit much young men he seems to favor - are calling for western Virginia counties to leave Virginia and join West Virginia. 

Several things are noteworthy: (i) West Virginia is a far poorer state with a median income of $43,469 versus Virginia's $71,535; (ii) West Virginia is in economic decline and Wikipedia notes that West Virginia's population is expected to decline by more than 19,000 residents by 2030, and West Virginia is the only state where death rates exceeds birth rates, (iii) in terms of health, West Virginia, however, ranked either last or second-to-last in 20 categories, including cancer, child immunization, diabetes, disabilities, drug deaths, teeth loss, low birth weight, missed work days due to health, prescription drug overdose, preventable hospitalizations, and senior clinical care.  While Virginia doesn't place in the top states in these areas, its economy and population are growing and the health of its citizens is far exceeds what one finds in West Virginia and its education system ranks in the top five nationally. The other reality is that - much like red states that survive off of the federal government teet - rural western counties in Virginia receive far more in state funds than they pay in.  Stated another way, Northern Virginia, Richmond, Hampton Roads and other urban areas financially support these would be seceding counties. 

So why leave an up and coming state to join a failing state with far less financial resources?  The breakdown of the two states' population diversity perhaps provides an answer.  Virginia is currently 62% white,  19.8% African American, 9.4% Hispanic/Latino, 6.8% Asian, and 0.5% Native American  West Virginia, in sharp contrast is 91.1% white, 3.6% African American, 1.1% Asian, 1.1% Hispanic, and 0.1% Native American.  I would suggest, these would be renegade Virginia counties want to join a state where white privilege still predominates and they don't have to deal with those their politicians and scamvangelists like Falwell deem "other."
A column in the Virginian Pilot condemns those who would splinter the state in their conniption fit over having the majority of Virginians plot the state's future.  Here are excerpts:
The loss of political power — and coming to terms with it — manifests itself in different ways. Some may be described as productive. Others as counterproductive.
And some are just downright ridiculous.
Take, for instance, the nonsense which unfolded last month at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., appearing at a media conference with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, argued that new Democratic majorities in the Virginia General Assembly constitute “a tragedy in the making.”
“Democratic leaders in Richmond, through their elitism and radicalism, have left a nearly unrecognizable state in their wake,” Falwell said, perhaps not aware that the legislature had yet to deliver a single bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam.
“If you’re not truly happy where you are, we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia or anywhere where you may be,” Justice said, in making his pitch for a West Virginia empire.
Now, there’s some history to this line of thinking.
Around the time of the American revolution, setters living west of the Allegheny Mountains and east of the Ohio River tried to form their own state, known as Westylvania. Appalachian Magazine writes that the proposed “14th state” would have encompassed “southwestern Pennsylvania, western Maryland, most of modern-day West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and portions of what is now southwest Virginia.”
And West Virginia itself was born during the Civil War, when western counties of the commonwealth objected to slavery and secession, deciding that separation from the Old Dominion was a better course. That’s why West Virginia is known as the child of rebellion.
State lawmakers there are stoking that revolutionary spirit now, urging counties in western Virginia — those upset by Democratic majorities in the legislature and the growing influence of left-leaning voters in northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads — to leave.
They’ve even filed bills in the West Virginia legislature to encourage independence votes and speed those counties toward adoption. The nerve.
But that’s not all.
Republican Del. Dave LaRock of Loudoun County made headlines last month when he suggested the commonwealth concede the cities of Arlington and Alexandria to Washington, D.C. Such an alignment, he argued, would remove communities which skew Democratic from Virginia and “square the box” of the federal city’s original design.
LaRock, a New York native, apparently believes the commonwealth is diminished by people moving to the commonwealth and, well, voting. And he perpetuates the false notion that folks who live in northern Virginia are somehow less Virginian than the Virginians who live in other parts of Virginia.
Never mind that the whole of the commonwealth benefits from the economic power generated by those cities (Amazon’s HQ2 ring a bell?) or that removing the western counties would render Virginia more of a Democratic stronghold.
Recall that Democrats wallowed in the General Assembly for 20 years, watching their bills die in early-morning committee meetings without debate or recorded votes in session after session. For years they perched on the verge of a majority, thwarted only by unconstitutional racially gerrymandered legislative districts.
Calls for secession during that time? Zero. Overtures for West Virginia to please take our western counties? None that anyone can recall.
Not that these "Vexit” overtures are made in good faith. Quite the opposite: They are incredibly reckless and made out of self-interest rather than concern for the people who live in western and southwest Virginia.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Mike Bloomberg: Fixing Inequality Is My Priority

I have not fully decided what I think of Mike Bloomberg'e presidential campaign.  I do know that he  is a self-made man and did not inherit $400 million like Donald Trump who continues to hid his tax returns because either (i) they would show his is owned by foreign money, especially Russian money, or (ii) that he has far less wealth than he claims. In addition, unlike Donald Trump, Bloomberg supports progressive causes and does not not pander to white supremacists and Christofascists who want to take America back to 1950 with racial segregation and gays forced to hide in the closet. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Bloomberg lays out his proposed approach to raising taxes on the rich, lessening financial inequality, and investing in education and infrastructure.  He makes no claims of being a socialist like Bernie Sanders and, to me would be far more electable than Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.  Here's his op-ed and I suggest people read the full piece: 

Every Democrat running for president agrees that income inequality is one of the great problems of our time. And we all agree that the wealthy should pay more in taxes.
But only one of us has actually raised taxes on the wealthy by persuading a Republican legislature to vote for them: Me.
When I was elected mayor of New York City, seven weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, we faced a budget crisis and a recession. I had a choice: slash budgets and conduct mass layoffs, which would especially hurt the young, the elderly and low-income communities — or raise taxes.
So I took the politically difficult step of proposing tax increases, including one on those making more than $500,000 a year (about $700,000 in today’s dollars). I persuaded a Republican-led State Senate and a Democratic-led State Assembly to pass the bill, and a Republican governor to sign it. The extra revenue — roughly $400 million per year — allowed us to invest in our future and create jobs and opportunity in the neighborhoods where they were needed most.
That is what leadership is all about: bringing people in both parties together to get results. Over my 12 years as mayor, I also helped persuade Republicans in Albany to pass marriage equality, increase funding for public schools and enact juvenile justice reforms that helped lower the number of teenagers in confinement.
I’m committed to helping Democrats win control of Congress this year, regardless of the fate of my own campaign. And if, for whatever reasons, our party falls short of controlling both chambers of Congress, the next Democratic president will have to reach across the aisle to end the Republican obstructionism that has gripped Washington for so long. That’s not something that most of my fellow Democratic candidates talk much about.
Some of them prefer to shake their fists and point fingers, particularly when it comes to taxing the wealthy. I agree with the goal of making the system fairer and more progressive, including by increasing taxes on wealthy people like me. But I have a different approach, informed by my experience in both government and business.
Unlike President Trump, I didn’t inherit my wealth, and I genuinely support causes I am passionate about: gun safety, climate change, women’s rights, universal health care, education and yes, electing Democrats — including those in 2018 who helped create a majority in the House of Representatives, which laid the groundwork for holding this president accountable.
I believe America should always be a country where a middle-class kid like me can start a business and succeed beyond her or his wildest dreams. But just as important, America must always be a place where the middle class grows bigger and stronger. Right now that’s not happening, because the rewards of the economy are far too concentrated at the top.
In nearly every industry, wages are mostly flat. Changing that will require major new investments in our public schools to make sure that all high school students graduate with the skills they need to enter college or start a career. I’ll make that a top priority as president, as I did as mayor.
The tax code is also worsening inequality. We tax income from stocks and bonds at a much lower rate than income from work. We allow great wealth to pass from generation to generation with little or no tax due. And we provide countless loopholes that corporations and the rich exploit to reduce their taxes even more.
The tax plan I released on Saturday confronts these issues head-on. It reverses the Republican tax cuts for high-income individuals. It adds a 5 percent surtax on income over $5 million a year, bringing the top tax rate to 44.6 percent. It raises the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, from 21 percent, which is still competitive with other developed countries. It strengthens the minimum corporate tax on foreign income, to stop companies from moving profits overseas. And it closes loopholes that companies and individuals exploit to avoid paying taxes.
Under my plan, the tax burden on the middle class won’t increase, but for those earning more than $1 million a year, capital gains will be taxed as ordinary income. This will end the unfairness of the wealthy paying far lower tax rates on investment income than working Americans pay on income from their jobs.
My plan also ends the carried interest loophole that allows money managers to categorize their ordinary income as capital gains. And it ends a huge loophole that allows the growth in the value of an estate to escape taxes at death, which benefits the wealthiest individuals.
Unlike other candidates’ plans that are likely to be rejected by Congress or the courts, mine is achievable — and I will get it done. After all, who better to make the argument for raising taxes on the wealthy than me?
Some who are wealthy will call me a traitor to my class. But that’s what they called Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt. Like them, I’ll wear the label as a badge of honor — and I’ll use the new tax revenue, an estimated $5 trillion over 10 years, to invest in America in ways that reduce inequality, strengthen the middle class and restore faith in the promise of the American dream.
It all sounds good to me.  Right now, the husband and I (and countless others who work long hours for their income) pay far more in taxes than large corporations - some of which pay no taxes - and those with far more wealth and high income.  Something is very wrong with the tax code.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Thursday Male Beauty

Virginia to Become First Southern State Banning LGBT Discrimination

For the 26 years that it held control of the Virginia General Assembly, the Republican Party of Virginia ("RPV") sought to make life hell for LGBT Virginians.  When not pushing anti-gay policies such as the 2006 constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, to curry favor with its masters at The Family Foundation, Virginia's most prominent hate group, the RVP sought to block any and all bills that might have protected LGBT citizens.  This intransigence and arrogance was in spite of the fact that large majorities of Virginians favored non-discrimination protections - just as they favor common sense gun control and other progressive measures blocked by the RVP.  In November, 2019, Virginian's finally said "enough" and handed control of the Virginia General Assembly to Democrats.  Now, Virginia is poised to be the first state in the South to enact sweeping LGBT non-discrimination and public accommodation protections. Shortly after last November's sea change election, Governor Northam told the husband and I during a private visit to the Executive Mansion that he wanted "bold" action on LGBT rights.  He and the Democrat controlled legislature are about to deliver.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post's coverage:  
RICHMOND — Sweeping LGBT rights legislation that bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations sailed out of the Virginia Senate and House on bipartisan votes Thursday.
Virginia would become the first Southern state to adopt such protections if the measures become law as expected. The bills also would for the first time apply Virginia’s civil rights protections to public accommodations such as restaurants and stores — not just for the LGBT community but also for racial minorities, women and religious groups.
The Senate and House bills have to cross over to the opposite chamber and win passage again before Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who requested the legislation, can sign them into law.
But those steps were seen as technicalities by advocates cheering what they regard as landmark human rights legislation.
“Its sends a message that the commonwealth is a safe and welcoming place for all people,” said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who was Virginia’s first openly gay legislator when he joined the House of Delegates in 2004.
Previously, Republican House leaders always killed those measures in committee.
Both chambers are under Democratic control this year for the first time in decades. The LGBT rights measures are part of a flood of Democratic priorities advancing this year, including bills to limit access to firearms, boost the minimum wage and loosen voting rules.
The legislation that advanced Thursday would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing or public accommodations such as restaurants. It applies to public and private entities alike.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national group that invested in Virginia legislative campaigns last year, said there are 30 U.S. states where “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can be fired from their jobs and discriminated against in housing. Today we take Virginia off that list.
The public accommodations portion of the bill was especially notable because Virginia — the former capital of the Confederacy, which bitterly resisted racial desegregation — is one of just five states with no public accommodations law of any kind.
So the bills would not simply add LGBT people to an existing list of protected classes that cannot be denied service. Instead they would create an entirely new public accommodations provision, making it unlawful to deny services to individuals “on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran.”
The Senate’s bill passed 30 to 9, with nine of the chamber’s 19 Republicans voting in favor. Nine were against, and one GOP senator was off the floor when voting took place.
In January, the Senate voted to ban conversion therapy on children, repeal the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage and establish statewide policies for the treatment of transgender students.
The chamber also voted to replace “husband and wife” with gender-neutral “parties to the marriage” language in divorce law and make it easier for transgender people to change how their sex is listed on their birth certificates.

It is a new day in Virginia.  It is also ironic that in Northam, whom a number of LGBT organizations stupidly called upon to resign, LGBT Virginians have found their strongest ally and advocate - something the husband and I have long known.

Gov. Northam at a 2019 Pride reception at the Executive Mansion.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Joe Biden's Disastrous Iowa Results - Is He 2020's Bob Dole?

I was still a Republican back in 1996 when Bob Dole was the Republican presidential candidate.  Despite all his past accomplishments and distinguished service in WWII, many found it difficult to get excited and enthusiastic over Dole's presidential campaign.  Tellingly, when Dole accepted the GOP nomination, he stated, "Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith, and confidence in action."  Then president Bill Clinton's response was "We do not need to build a bridge to the past, we need to build a bridge to the future." Joe Biden's campaign for the Democrat 2020 nomination, to me, bears an uncanny similarity to Dole's failed venture in 1996.  The results from Iowa's disorganized caucuses would appear to bear this out as Biden finds himself in 4th place - 38 year old Pete Buttigieg is the apparent first winner - and suffering from a huge enthusiasm and excitement deficit. All of which get to the electability issue which will require excitement and enthusiasm if Donald Trump is to be defeated and America's nightmare ended. A piece in the New York Times looks at Biden's situation and growing fears among numerous Democrats.  Here are excerpts:
“I am not going to sugarcoat it,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday as he campaigned in New Hampshire. “We took a gut punch in Iowa.”
Certainly over the past year, Mr. Biden has proved far more resilient than many expected. He has led national polls for months despite verbal gaffes, scrutiny of his long and sometimes controversial record in Washington, and a relentless assault from Republicans over his son’s dealings in Ukraine. The slow drip of vote totals in Iowa — and a swirl of other major news events — may blunt the attention on Mr. Biden’s challenges. And Iowa is an overwhelmingly white state, while Mr. Biden’s biggest political strength is with black voters, whom he is counting on for support in later-voting, more diverse states.
But he now faces jittery donors, an uncertain landscape in upcoming Democratic contests and a sharp challenge to the central argument of his campaign message: that he is the party’s strongest candidate to win a general election.
Interviews with more than a dozen advisers, allies and Iowa strategists show that Mr. Biden was late in focusing on Iowa, put together an organization there that fell well short of his top rivals’ and that his core pitch about electability and experience wasn’t enough to persuade voters who wanted a fresh face or more boldly progressive ideas.
Mr. Biden was also a less-than-inspiring presence on the trail, according to some voters, struggling at times in the homestretch to deliver crisp, energetic, on-message performances.
When Mr. Biden announced his candidacy on April 25, some of his chief rivals had already been running for months. . . . . When he did get to the state over the summer and into the fall, Mr. Biden’s team produced carefully managed events. He traveled with a phalanx of staff, sometimes used teleprompters and typically spoke from behind rope lines. None of that prevented a spree of verbal stumbles in Iowa in August — but according to some of his allies, it did keep Mr. Biden from showing off his biggest strength: his retail politicking skills.
Yet no amount of glad-handing could remedy an organization that even his supporters here found frustrating.  “His campaign is not a good campaign,” Roxanna Moritz, the Scott County auditor and a Biden supporter, said late last month. “They’re not embedding loyalty to the organization, he doesn’t do groundwork.”  She said that the campaign was “not returning phone calls, no follow through.”
Mr. Biden spent the next weeks grappling with the best way to respond to the Ukraine controversy. And party officials continued to describe his Iowa organization as scattershot, an issue thrown into sharp relief at the party dinner in November, the Liberty and Justice Celebration.
Mr. Biden’s team said that it had around 1,200 people in the arena, many of whom went on to become precinct captains and dedicated volunteers. But the empty seats and the smaller and less boisterous Biden sections spread throughout the arena cut a sharp contrast with the loud, unified crowds of Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., in a major test of organizational strength.
More damaging than the evident differences in crowd strength was what many Iowa Democrats were seeing for the first time in person: a once-fiery candidate who was looking his age compared with a number of his younger rivals.
A New York Times/Siena College poll released late last month found that even in eastern Iowa — home to many white working-class voters with whom Mr. Biden expected to be strong — he was struggling.
Ahead of the 2016 campaign, David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s former campaign manager, had warned Mr. Biden, according to an article in The Atlantic, “Do you really want it to end in a hotel room in Des Moines, coming in third to Bernie Sanders?”
In the final weeks before the 2020 Iowa caucuses, Mr. Plouffe’s warning was starting to sound prescient.
Recognizing the need to win new supporters, Mr. Biden’s Iowa director, Jake Braun, floated a deal over dinner in Des Moines with an adviser to Ms. Klobuchar of Minnesota. The two moderate Democrats should form an alliance, Mr. Braun suggested a week before the vote, and urge their supporters to back the other if one of them did not advance to the final round in a precinct.
Ms. Klobuchar’s camp quickly shot down the prospect when the story leaked, and Mr. Braun, who had already been marginalized by Mr. Biden’s national campaign, found himself isolated by his enraged superiors, who had warned him not to freelance, according to a person familiar with internal discussions.
Sue Dvorsky, a former Iowa Democratic chair, . . . was appalled at the state of Mr. Biden’s organization, which was lacking precinct captains even in her own heavily Democratic community. Last week she endorsed Ms. Warren.
“This has been a sloppy effort that was always aimed at a general election,” she said of Mr. Biden’s organization, deeming it worse than his first two Iowa campaigns. “Right now, they’re bringing in hundreds of people from out of state — not to be canvassers but to be precinct captains.”
On the Saturday before the caucuses, Ms. Judkins had an uneasy feeling about the decision her state was about to make. . . . “I said to my husband, ‘I feel like all of these people from around the country are coming in to try to save us from ourselves,’” she said when they went out that evening. “Here we are, going out dancing. Kind of like the Titanic, the ship going down.”
As I said, I feel the same vibe as what happened with Bob Dole. I do not think Biden can take out Trump.

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Mitt Romney: A Profile in Courage as the American Republic Dies

On 16 January 27 BC the Roman Senate gave Gaius Octavius (a/k/a Octavian) the titles of Augustus and Princeps and effectively gave him dictatorial power despite the fact that the Roman Senate continued to have a facade of authority.  With that grant of powers, the Roman Republic died.  Today, Senate Republicans with one exception took a similar action and gave Donald Trump a clear signal that (i) their oaths sworn on a bible to defend and protect the U.S. Constitution meant absolutely nothing to them, (ii) how history will view them similarly means nothing, and (iii) Trump is free to whatever he wants and is above the law except to the extent the House of Representatives continues - for now - to have the power over initiating spending bills to finance the federal government.  The lone Republican was Mitt Romney, a man I have never particularly liked but who showed that he both took his oath of office seriously and that he cared how history would view him. A piece in The Atlantic looks at Romney's unlikely courage - I will look at some of his speech which can be found here later in this post - and where America now finds itself. Here are article highlights: 
Mitt Romney is doing something nearly unheard of these days: He’s putting his country above his party. He’s voting his conscience when doing so comes at a cost. He’s not rationalizing weakness and timidity by prettying them up as virtues. He will vote to convict President Donald Trump, in an act of extraordinary political courage.
This decision would have negative ramifications for Romney in any era, but he faces particularly harsh consequences in this one, when political tribalism has never been more acute, when hating those who see things in politics differently than you do is fashionable, and when invective against perceived enemies is more emotionally powerful (and satisfying) then is affection for those you believe to be on your side.
Mitt Romney knows this, and he therefore knows the attacks on him will be vicious. He will be accused of being a traitor not only by [Trump] the president, a cruel and unforgiving man, but also by his fellow Republican lawmakers, the right-wing media complex, and even many of his constituents.
The truth is quite the opposite, of course. Romney, on whose presidential campaign I briefly worked in 2012, is doing something he believes is morally right even while knowing he will face quite a high cost, both professionally and personally.
To see so many Republicans who know better tie themselves into ethical knots to justify their fealty to Trump—and then to watch them lash out defensively when they are called on it—is a sad and pitiable thing.
But Republicans aren’t alone in being exposed by Romney’s admirable conduct. Maybe Democrats and those in the media who delighted in vilifying Romney in 2012. . . . might, in their private moments, rethink and even feel some remorse for what they did.
There’s an old hymn with which Romney is familiar, “Do What Is Right.” The chorus includes this line: “Do what is right; let the consequence follow.” It’s one thing to sing those words. It’s an entirely different thing to live them out.
Mitt Romney has lived those words, and history will honor him for having done so.
I heard Romney's speech while driving and it was truly remarkable and suggests that he is the last honorable Republican (assuming he remains in the GOP).  Here are some excerpts:
The allegations made in the articles of impeachment are very serious. As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the President, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong. [T]he President’s insistence that they be investigated by the Ukrainians is hard to explain other than as a political pursuit. There is no question in my mind that were their names not Biden, the President would never have done what he did. The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a “high crime and misdemeanor.” Yes, he did.
 The President asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival.
The President withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The President delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The President’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust. What he did was not “perfect”— No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine. [M]y promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience. [W]ith my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the President did was wrong, grievously wrong.
Wow!  If history looking back on today shows that the American republic did, in fact died today,  Romney will stand out like those who opposed Hitler and other vile dictators, putting their oaths and consciences above pandering for political advantage. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

The Trump Economy Has Been Terrible for the Non-Rich

As noted in a previous blog, I did not watch the State of the Union since Trump's voice is nauseating and I knew his "speech" would be packed with lies.  On the latter front, Trump lived up to expectations and lied through his teeth, especially about the economy.  One has to wonder when his racist/Christofascist base will belatedly realize that his regime is killing them financially even as the super rich gobble up more of the nation's wealth.  Two pieces look at Trump's glaring untruths.  The First is in New York Magazine and looks at Trump's false claims of a blue collar boom.  Here are excerpts:
Americans are flourishing, Donald Trump insisted during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. Unemployment is down; so is poverty. Everyone is delighted and having a very good time. “Under the last administration, more than 10 million people were added to the food-stamp rolls,” he added. “Under my administration, 7 million Americans have come off of food stamps, and 10 million people have been lifted off of welfare.” Congressional Republicans leapt to their feet and roared approval.
I note, because this is a Trump speech, and certain traditions must be observed: [Trump] The president is not telling the full truth. The number of Americans on food stamps did increase during the Obama administration. But the increase was linked to the recession, which Obama did not cause. . . . . If Trump’s criticism is that the wastrel Democratic president threw gobs of money away on lazy poor people, it doesn’t quite hold.
Trump’s braggadocio about his own record is similarly undermined by reality. [Trump] The president spoke tonight of a “blue-collar boom,” an economic golden age instigated by his administration’s deregulatory policies. This is false — unemployment is down, but wages are largely stagnant, and income inequality reached historic heights last year. People didn’t stop using food stamps because their economic circumstances had drastically improved. The percentage of Americans on food stamps shrank because the Trump administration changed eligibility standards. The president took help away from people who needed it. That’s not proof of a blue-collar boom. In fact, the administration has demonstrated no real interest in creating a blue-collar boom at all.
Trump’s economic priorities consist of slashing welfare, deregulating industry, and passing tax cuts that mostly enrich the wealthiest people in America. No standing ovation can obscure the basic fact that the Trump presidency has been disastrous for the poor. 

As for how those other than the poor have fared, a piece in Yahoo Finance looks at some of Trump's biggest lies.  Here are some highlights:
Trump seems unable to resist lies and exaggerations. When he gave a speech on the economy in November, Yahoo Finance tallied 22 glaring lies on trade, jobs, interest rates, wages and Trump’s record compared with President Obama’s. His main thrust seemed to be taking credit for economic developments that were likely to happen anyway.
“We have added nearly $10 trillion of value to our economy.” GDP was $19.2 trillion when Trump took office, and it’s $21.7 trillion now. That’s a gain of $2.5 trillion, not $10 trillion.
“Under my administration, [median income] rose $5,000.” Census data shows median household incomes have risen from $62,626 to $63,179 since Trump has been in office. That’s just $553. The data ends in 2018, but another 11 months won’t account for that extra $4,447 Trump tossed in.
The average household is $10,000 richer under Trump. He gets this figure by starting with the $5,000 in income gains he’s inflated by a factor of 10, then making similarly gassy claims about savings from tax cuts, deregulation and “energy cuts,” whatever that means. Nobody can come close to substantiating this figure, and ordinary people can fact-check that by looking around for their own magical $10,000 windfall.
“We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars in tariffs that China is paying for.” American importers and businesses are paying the tariffs, not China. The tally so far is about $75 billion in new taxes on businesses on an annualized basis, according to the American Action Forum. This may be Trump’s most prolific economic lie—he’s told it at least 100 times, according to a Yahoo Finance tally.