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Redistribution, Republican style

Dean Baker sets the record straight about the Republican’s alleged aversion to redistribution:

Matt O’Brien’s Wonkblog piece might have misled readers on Republicans views on the role of government. O’Brien argued that the reason that the Republicans have such a hard time designing a workable health care plan is:

“Republicans are philosophically opposed to redistribution, but health care is all about redistribution.”

This is completely untrue. Republicans push policies all the time that redistribute income upward. They are strong supporters of longer and stronger patent and copyright protection that make ordinary people pay more more for everything from prescription drugs and medical equipment to software and video games. They routinely support measures that limit competition in the financial industry (for example, trying to ban state run retirement plans) that will put more money in the pockets of the financial industry. And they support Federal Reserve Board policy that prevents people from getting jobs and pay increases, thereby redistributing income to employers and higher paid workers.

via Beat the Press

Dean often cites these examples of redistribution to the rich. He should think about adding the Republican support for privatization of public schools, which, in the end, is simply another scheme to funnel tax dollars into the hand of the rich. The fact that the end result will be a nation of poorly educated working class stiffs is a feature, and not a bug, from the Republican point of view.

Subtle passes for Trump

Donald Trump has often claimed that our NATO allies are not paying what the owe. Normally, the way he phrases what he says, he leaves the impression that they owe the money to the United States. I’ve often wondered what he is talking about, and have searched in vain for explanations in the newspaper articles that cover those speeches. The reporters neither take issue with his statements nor endorse it, but of course, by failing to enlighten their readers, they leave the impression that there is some truth in what Trump is saying. This, of course, would appear to be highly unlikely if you’re a seasoned Trump watcher, since pretty much everything that falls out of his mouth is a lie. A good example here in today’s Boston Globe, in which the reporter gamefully tries to make the case that Trump has been somewhat “presidential” on his trip, judging of course by the new Trump scale. (It might be nice to adopt a “what would we be saying if Obama had done this” frame of reference.)

Here’s what the Globe reported:

Trump’s rhetoric on NATO, a favorite punching bag during the campaign, was probably modified the least during the trip. In Brussels Thursday, he sternly lectured assembled alliance leaders.

“NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump said, as many of them stood uncomfortably listening. The speech included a cutting remark about the gleaming building where he was giving his address.

“I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost. I refuse to do that. But it is beautiful,” Trump said, of the building that cost $1.2 billion. His intent was plainly to contrast its splendor to the alliance’s parsimony on defense.

European observers had hoped for a more concrete commitment to the mutual defense clause at the center of the treaty — that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. Trump’s staff tried to assuage allies.

Which leaves the reader pondering. Is Trump right? If so, doesn’t he have a point? But if he’s wrong, precisely what is going on here?

Well, as one would expect, Trump has no point, as Josh Marshal points out:

There are two funding issues with NATO. A few years ago, NATO decided to require all member states to spend 2% of GDP on defense spending. The great majority of member states currently spend less than 2%. The ones who do meet that number are the US and a handful of states mainly on NATO’s eastern periphery. But they have until 2024 to reach that goal. So even on the terms of the agreement itself, they’re not behind.

But the key point is that these are not payments owed to the US. They are spending on each country’s own military. There are lots of reasons for that, not least of which is keeping the alliance a real alliance and not one superpower military along with other armies which are either so small or have such low readiness that they don’t add to the force the US can bring to bear on its own.

The relevant point is that that this is a relatively new agreement, which most of the key states are increasing spending to meet – though some faster than others. They’re not behind schedule. They have until 2024.

Separately there are direct contributions from each member state to NATO’s joint operations, costs of the specifically NATO activities etc. – a bit under $1.5 billion. The US pays by far the largest share of that. But that’s because the contributions are based on a formula that broadly tracks national wealth. The US pays 22%, Germany pays 14.6%, France 10.6%, Britain 9.84%. So it’s judged on the basis of ability to pay.

In any case, these are pretty piddling amounts in the big picture: the US direct cash contribution to NATO is 2 or 3 hundred million dollars a year. Trump himself should hit that number with Mar-a-Lago visits soon.

via Talking Points Memo

Would it be so hard for the print media to put a condensed version of this into their stories to, you know…, make sure their readers know the facts? We often hear people bemoaning the ignorance of the American people (e.g., most Americans think a huge percentage of our budget goes into foreign aid), but why is that ignorance surprising when those to whom we look to provide context rarely do so?

A bit of history

Who was the best president in the time since I was born? I’ve often thought about that question. I put Harry Truman to the side, as I can’t recall anything about him. All the Republicans can be set to the side as well.

Despite the Vietnam War and its disastrous aftermath, I keep coming back to Lyndon Johnson. After Kennedy was assassinated, like lots of kids my age, I practically worshipped him, but I’m convinced now that had he lived, we may never have gotten Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act. Maybe Johnson only got those things because Kennedy’s death put some wind in his sails, but in any event, I don’t think Kennedy could have done it, and it remains a fact that Johnson did.

The man was not without his flaws, but the fact that he, a Southerner, fully embraced the civil rights movement was remarkable. And today I learned something even more remarkable about him. My wife is currently reading a piece of historical fiction, and came upon this factoid, which I confirmed on line:

Most students of the Arab-Israeli conflict can identify Johnson as the president during the 1967 war. But few know about LBJ’s actions to rescue hundreds of endangered Jews during the Holocaust – actions that could have thrown him out of Congress and into jail. Indeed, the title of “Righteous Gentile” is certainly appropriate in the case of the Texan, whose centennial year is being commemorated this year.

Historians have revealed that Johnson, while serving as a young congressman in 1938 and 1939, arranged for visas to be supplied to Jews in Warsaw, and oversaw the apparently illegal immigration of hundreds of Jews through the port of Galveston, Texas.

FIVE DAYS after taking office in 1937, LBJ broke with the “Dixiecrats” and supported an immigration bill that would naturalize illegal aliens, mostly Jews from Lithuania and Poland. In 1938, Johnson was told of a young Austrian Jewish musician who was about to be deported from the United States. With an element of subterfuge, LBJ sent him to the US Consulate in Havana to obtain a residency permit. Erich Leinsdorf, the world famous musician and conductor, credited LBJ for saving his life.

That same year, LBJ warned a Jewish friend, Jim Novy, that European Jews faced annihilation. “Get as many Jewish people as possible out [of Germany and Poland],” were Johnson’s instructions. Somehow, Johnson provided him with a pile of signed immigration papers that were used to get 42 Jews out of Warsaw.

But that wasn’t enough. According to historian James M. Smallwood, Congressman Johnson used legal and sometimes illegal methods to smuggle “hundreds of Jews into Texas, using Galveston as the entry port. Enough money could buy false passports and fake visas in Cuba, Mexico and other Latin American countries…. Johnson smuggled boatloads and planeloads of Jews into Texas. He hid them in the Texas National Youth Administration… Johnson saved at least four or five hundred Jews, possibly more.”

via Lyndon Johnson-A Righteous Gentile

I never would have suspected such a thing. I don’t know if this is covered in Robert Caro’s biography, but it appears to be well documented. Anyway, it certainly raises him up in my estimation. I think we can rest assured that we won’t discover facts like this about the person currently residing in the White House.

An idea whose time has long since come

I read about this several years ago, and unless my aging mind is letting me down, I wrote a post or two about it, at or around the time when the bankers destroyed the economy:

Across the country, community activists, mayors, city council members, and more are waking up to the power and the promise of public banks. Such banks are established and controlled by cities or states, rather than private interests. They collect deposits from government entities—from school districts, from city tax receipts, from state infrastructure funds—and use that money to issue loans and support public priorities.

They are led by independent professionals but accountable to elected officials. Public banks are a way, supporters say, to build local wealth and resist the market’s predatory predilections. They are a way to end municipal reliance on Wall Street institutions, with their high fees, their scandal-ridden track records, and their vile investments in private prisons and pipelines. They are a way, at long last, to manage money in the public interest.

via Daily Kos, quoting the Nation

Basic banking is a lot like insurance. The basic rules are well known. The government does insurance far better, at lesser cost, than the private sector. The only innovations that takes place in either sector are methods for soaking more money from the customer while providing less service. In the case of insurance companies, it’s ever more clever ways of refusing to provide coverage. In the case of banks, it’s ever more multiplying ways of extracting excessive fees for what should be basic services. I’m old enough to remember the olden days before ATMs and debit cards. Back then, you went into a bank to cash a check: cost zero. If a merchant took your check the cost to the merchant of depositing your check and getting your money was zero. Now, if you use an ATM, there is no teller for the bank to pay, yet the bankers have combined to, in most instances, extract a fee from you for accessing your money. Their costs have gone down, but their fees have gone up. When you use a debit card you are paying a hidden tax of several percent to your bank, which extracts it from the merchant, who, of course, passes it on to you. My (soon to be former) bank just started charging me $10.00 a month to maintain my checking account, while it pays me as close to 0% on my savings as it can get. It is passing strange that I am paying my bank to borrow my money, for that, when all is said and done, is what banks do: borrow their depositor’s money.

This isn’t a new idea. I believe one of the red states (Nebraska or one of the Dakotas) has a state bank chartered long before the state turned red. People once were able to do their banking at the post office; a system that worked well. 

Unfortunately, I can predict the future on this one. If the movement grows, the state legislatures, particularly in the gerrymandered red states, will step in and forbid towns and cities from forming banks. It’s the same pattern that we saw when municipalities tried creating reasonably priced internet providers or public wireless. Can’t have that sort of thing, when your overriding concern is funneling money into the pockets of the rich.

Still, there’s always hope.

This is Alec Baldwin, isn’t it?

He’s no Nixon

I got out a bit of a kick out of this article (My First Big Boy Trip), at Slate. Trump is quite like a spoiled child. It got me to thinking.

Back during Nixon’s downfall I was a law student, living at home in Hartford. On many an evening I would trek to a friend’s house a few blocks away. We would get stoned and almost inevitably talk about Nixon. He was an endlessly fascinating character. We weren’t the only ones, I’m sure, who spent endless hours trying to plumb his depths. There are no depths there when it comes to Trump.

The Trump phenomenon poses a far greater threat to the Republic than Nixon ever did, but Trump himself holds no fascination. Assuming the republic survives, it will be hard for anyone to make a movie about him without turning it into a dark comedy. Both Anthony Hopkins and Rip Torn, among others, brilliantly portrayed the complicated Nixon. It’s hard to believe anyone could improve, or would want to try to improve, on Alec Baldwin when it comes to Trump. There’s nothing Shakespearean about him, as there was about Nixon. Nixon seemed to struggle Macbeth-like, with his demons. Trump lashes out like a spoiled child.

I guess it’s true that history repeats itself, once as Greek tragedy, and once as farce.

Poor Piglet

Poor Us.

Everything is the opposite of what it is, isn’t it?

I once bought a Playboy publication. And I really did buy it just for the interviews, because it was a paperback collection of the best interviews up to that time (circa 1981). The Mel Brooks interviews were hilarious, by the way. But, I digress yet again.

One of the interviews was with John and Yoko, done just a few weeks before he was assassinated. In the interview, Lennon quoted Harry Nilsson to the following effect: “Everything is the opposite of what it is, isn’t it”. As that’s the title of this post, you can see I’m getting to the point.

So that quote came to mind when I stumbled on this a few hours ago:

Senator Elizabeth Warren had a confounding exchange with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at a Senate Banking Committee hearing today. Mnuchin indicated that the Trump administration supports a 21st century version of the Glass-Steagall Act, except for the part about separating commercial and investment banks, which is substantially what is meant by Glass-Steagall.

Warren wasn’t having it.

Responding to Mnuchin’s earlier testimony that the White House didn’t support “a separation of banks from investment banks,” the Massachusetts senator pointed out that “The president and this administration have repeatedly said that they support a 21st century Glass-Steagall.”

Indeed, Mnuchin said these words in his confirmation hearings. National Economic Director Gary Cohn has said the same. And the 2016 Republican Party platform adds explicitly, “We support reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which prohibits commercial banks from engaging in high-risk investment.” As Warren said to Mnuchin, “Now you’ve just said the opposite.”

Mnuchin responded that there wasn’t any reversal, despite Warren’s incredulity. He said that the administration merely supported a 21st century version of the law. “Which means there are aspects of it, OK, that we think may make sense. But we never said before that we supported a full separation —”

“There are aspects of Glass-Steagall that you support but not breaking up the banks and separating commercial banking from investment banking?” Warren interrupted. “What do you think Glass-Steagall was if that’s not right at the heart of it?”

While the Glass-Steagall Act was part of a larger bill, the Banking Act of 1933, which also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, for about 80 years it’s been pretty clear that “Glass-Steagall” refers to the firewall between commercial and investment banking. There are no real “aspects” of the policy to pick from without that fundamental structure.

via The Intercept

So, the 21st Century Glass-Steagall is the opposite of what it is, or at least of what it purports to be. I’m not sure Nilsson was right at the time he uttered those words, but it’s a pretty fair description of the situation at present. I’m too lazy to catalogue all the additional examples, but here’s one that just occurred to me. You know that a piece of legislation is designed to screw the consumer when the industries pushing it call it pro-consumer, an example of that being their labeling mandatory arbitration clauses pro-consumer. The way was prepared for Donald Trump by the right’s destruction of language and meaning, and it truly has engaged in a determined push to make everything the opposite of what it is.

So far, so good

There are times when it feels good to admit you were wrong, and this is one of those times. When the Comey thing broke I said it would be forgotten by the following weekend, but at least so far, it is still front and center. Of course, the Donald, in his own childish way, has done all he can to keep it there, but nonetheless, it is the case that it continues to have repercussions.

So, now I’m grappling with another question. Would it be better for Trump to be impeached and convicted (or removed due to mental illness) or left to hang on and drag the entire Republican Party into the garbage with him. We must, after all, bear in mind that Pence is every bit as bad as Trump, and would probably be more effective in doing a host of bad things. I’m really not sure, but it occurs to me that if Trump were impeached or removed, he would lash out at his tormenters, who would (given their majority status) be Republicans by definition. He would likely enjoy nothing more than holding rallies with his adoring fans, stirring up anger against the Republicans who did him in. All he need do to hand the Congress to the Democrats is dampen Republican turnout be 10% or so.

On the other hand, I do fear that if he gets impeached, much of the new blood in the Resist movement will figure they have done what they set out to do and lose interest. It would be absolutely critical that they realize that Pence needs resistance too.

Comcast/MSNBC cave to pressure from Trump

A couple of weeks ago I noted that the folks on the right appeared to have a more expansive view of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee when the person doing the speaking was a right winger. I noted at the time that no one has a right to a forum, and that denying them one was not a free speech violation. I also noted that a private employer, such as Stephen Colbert’s employer, had every right to fire an employee if they didn’t like what he or she said in the course of their employment.

Today we learn that Lawrence O’Donnell is likely going to be fired by MSNBC, despite his high ratings, in response to pressure from the White House:

Showbiz 411 reported, “My NBC sources say that O’Donnell’s tireless criticism of Donald Trump is the cause of the trouble. O’Donnell calls Trump a liar on TV almost every night. Says my observer: “Phil Griffin fought back Trump’s demands to Comcast chief Steve Burke that O’Donnell get fired for years. But now he’s president and now it’s Andy Lack’s decision and Andy has never run a single promo for O’Donnell and he wants access to Trump for Lester Holt interview and more.”

Vvia Politicus USA

We can expect deafening silence about this from the right. If, in fact, MSNBC is responding to pressure from the White House, then this situation does come close to an infringement of O’Donnell’s right to free speech, because there is state action involved in the firing. My guess is that it’s a close call, but it’s far closer to a free speech issue than the type of things about which the right typically complains. There is a petition at Americablog aiming to save O’Donnell’s job. I feel I’m being a bit fraudulent for signing it, since I don’t own a TV, but my wife and I do watch his show if we happen to be staying at an inn or hotel.

If this embed code works you may be able to sign the petition here:

I’m with Lawrence O’Donnell

Target: MSNBC

Sign This Petition

Not in the US?

United States


Action by: John Aravosis
Sponsored by: AMERICAblog