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Trump Races to Chalk Up 100-Day ‘Successes’ by Weakening Antiquities Act, Overturning Education Reform, and Unveiling Tax Plan to Benefit Wealthy, Corporations

After his visit to Yosemite in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt pushed through the Antiquities Act of 1906 to prevent the destruction of historic or prehistoric ruins on government land © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Donald Trump is racing to the 100-day mark to do as much as he can to undo progress won over the past century, particularly eradicating every part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

On Wednesday, he signed Executive Orders weakening the Antiquities Act that has been used since Theodore Roosevelt to protect federal land for the American people.

He signed another Executive Order aimed at rolling back national education standards put into place, originally, by George W. Bush under the No Child Left Behind Act, amended with Barack Obama’s Race to the Top (which used federal financial incentives instead of threats of losing federal aid), and reformed under ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act).

Also, his Treasury Secretary introduced the outline for tax “reform” which cuts taxes for the wealthiest and corporations and promises to blow a hold trillions of dollars wide in the national debt, just as previous “voodoo” “trickle-down” tax “reform” by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have done.

According to the pool report by Dave Boyer, White House correspondent for The Washington Times:

The president signed an executive order at the Interior Dept. with Vice President Pence, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and several lawmakers and governors. The order directs Interior to review larger national monuments created since 1996.

Trump said the Antiquities Act “does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up” millions of acres of land and water. He especially criticized the Obama administration for an “egregious use of power” and an “abuse of the monuments designation,” and said that it’s time “to end another egregious abuse of federal power.”

“It’s gotten worse and worse and worse. This should never have happened,” he said. “Now we’re going to free it up.”

“We’re returning power back to the people,” Mr. Trump said. “Today we’re putting the states back in charge.”

Pence called the use of the monuments designation “one of the great federal overreaches in recent decades.”

Mr. Zinke said “somewhere along the line, the act has become a tool of political advocacy.” He said the order “does not remove any monuments” or weaken any environmental protections.

[However, it is clear that the powers that Trump is taking upon himself is aimed at reversing Obama’s designation of Bears Ears in Utah.)

Here’s more of what Trump said:

“In the first 100 days, we have taken historic action to eliminate wasteful regulations.  They’re being eliminated like nobody has ever seen before.  There has never been anything like it.  Sometimes I look at some of the things I’m signing I say maybe people won’t like it, but I’m doing the right thing.  And no regular politician is going do it.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know if you folks would do — I will tell you literally some politicians have said, you’re doing the right thing.  I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do some of these things.  But we’re doing them because it’s the right thing to do.  And it’s for the good of the nation.

“We’re returning power back to the people.  We’ve eliminated job-destroying regulations on farmers, ranchers, and coal miners, on autoworkers, and so many other American workers and businesses.

“Today, I am signing a new executive order to end another egregious abuse of federal power, and to give that power back to the states and to the people, where it belongs.

“The previous administration used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control — have you heard about that? — eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land.

“Today, we are putting the states back in charge.  It’s a big thing.

“I am pleased to be joined by so many members of Congress and governors who have been waiting for this moment, including Governor Herbert of Utah.  Thank you, thank you, Governor.  Governor LePage of Maine, who, by the way, has lost a lot of weight.  (Laughter.)  I knew him when he was heavy, and now I know him when he’s thin, and I like him both ways, okay?  (Laughter.)  Done a great job.  Governor Calvo of Guam.  Thank you.  Governor Torres from the Northern Mariana Islands.  Thank you, thank you, Governor.

“I also want to recognize Senator Orrin Hatch, who — believe me, he’s tough.  He would call me and call me and say, you got to do this.  Is that right, Orrin?”

SENATOR HATCH:  That’s right.

THE PRESIDENT:  You didn’t stop.  He doesn’t give up.  And he’s shocked that I’m doing it, but I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.  But I really have to point you out, you didn’t stop.

“And, Mike, the same thing.  So many people feel — Mike Lee — so many people feel so strongly about this, and so I appreciate your support and your prodding, and your never-ending prodding, I should say, because we’re now getting something done that many people thought would never ever get done, and I’m very proud to be doing it in honor of you guys, okay?  Thank you.  (Applause.)

“Altogether, the previous administration bypassed the states to place over 265 million acres — that’s a lot of land, million acres.  Think of it — 265 million acres of land and water under federal control through the abuse of the monuments designation.  That’s larger than the entire state of Texas.

“In December of last year alone, the federal government asserted this power over 1.35 million acres of land in Utah, known as Bears Ears — I’ve heard a lot about Bears Ears, and I hear it’s beautiful — over the profound objections of the citizens of Utah.  The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice.

“I’ve spoken with many state and local leaders — a number of them here today — who care very much about preserving our land, and who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab.  And it’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place.  This should never have happened.

“That’s why today I am signing this order and directing Secretary Zinke to end these abuses and return control to the people — the people of Utah, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States.

“Every day, we are going to continue pushing ahead with our reform agenda to put the American people back in charge of their government and their lives.

“And again, I want to congratulate the Secretary.  I want to congratulate Orrin and Mike and all of the people that worked so hard on bringing it to this point.  And tremendously positive things are going to happen on that incredible land, the likes of which there is nothing more beautiful anywhere in the world.  But now tremendously positive things will happen.”

The signing took place in a room at Interior with a framed portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, a bust of TR and mounted heads of a buffalo and deer on the wall. Among those in attendance were Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Also Govs. Herbert of Utah and LePage of Maine.

Reversing Education Reform

Trump walked into the Roosevelt Room at 2:44 p.m., having been introduced by Vice President Pence. He was greeted by a group of about 25 people, including teachers, lawmakers and governors, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, according to Boyer’s pool report:

A bit of banter:

Mr. Trump joked with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, incoming head of the National Governors Association, about the length of Sandoval’s prepared remarks, with Trump saying he decided to stay in the room after his own comments because “I know it’s going to be a short speech” from Sandoval.

Mr. Sandoval laughed and told the president, “It just got shorter.”

A few moments later during his remarks, Mr. Sandoval said, “I’m going to skip a page.”

The president, standing to the rear of the group, called out, “Education for North Korea.”

During the event, Mr. Trump also said he was heading afterward for a “very important” briefing for senators on North Korea.

During the president’s formal remarks, he said the education executive order will help to restore local control of education. It calls for a 300-day review of Obama-era regulations and guidance for school districts and directs DeVos to modify or repeal measures deemed an overreach by Washington.

“We know that local communities do it best and know it best,” the president said. He called it “another critical step to restoring local control, which is so important.”

“Previous administrations have wrongly forced states and schools to comply with federal whims and dictates for what our kids are taught,” he said. “The time has come to empower teachers and parents to make the decisions that help their students achieve success.”

Among those in attendance were Sen. Lamar Alexander, Rep. Virginia Foxx and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Gov. Herbert of Utah and LePage of Maine, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, nominee for ambassador to China.

Mr. Trump told Mr. Branstad, “They’re looking forward to seeing you” in China.

From there, Trump honored the Teacher of the Year, who, surprise surprise, is the first to be from a charter school in the 65 years of the award.

Boyer reports no questions taken at this event.

Pool was ushered into the Oval Office around 4:45 p.m. to find the President seated at the Resolute desk, surrounded by 55 teachers from around the nation, plus First Lady Melania Trump (who is celebrating her birthday), Vice President Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The President congratulated Sydney Chaffee, winner of the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, from Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, Mass. The ninth-grade teacher is the first charter school teacher to win the award in its 65-year history, and also the first from Massachusetts.

“That is really something special,” Mr. Trump said.

The president also thanked the group for having sung “Happy Birthday” to the First Lady before your poolers arrived.

The president greeted your poolers with, “Busy day, hasn’t it been?”

He praised the teachers as “the greatest there are. You’re all great, great teachers.”

Near the conclusion of the president’s comments, as he was saying he hopes the teachers’ trip to the White House was special, one unidentified teacher began to cry, apparently tears of happiness.

“Sorry, I’m always crying,” she told the president.

The President told her, “I’ve had some of the biggest executives in the world, who have been here many times, and I say have you been to the Oval Office? No. They walk into the Oval Office and they start crying. I say ‘I promise I won’t say to your various stockholders [that they cried].”

The president did not answer a question shouted near the end about North Korea.

Meanwhile, the outline of his tax plan was unveiled which would:

  1. Slash the corporate tax rate by 60%, from 35% to 15%. This will lose $2.4 trillion over 10 years—enough to fund Medicaid and CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program) serving nearly 75 million Americans for five years.
  2. Cut the tax rate paid by Wall Street money managers and real estate tycoons like Trump down to just 15%―far less than many middle-class families pay.
  3. Continue tax breaks that encourage corporations to send jobs and profits offshore. Corporations currently have $2.6 trillion in profits stashed offshore, on which they owe $750 billion in taxes.

The theory – by Republicans since Ronald Reagan – is that the deficit in tax revenues would be made up by economic growth, except that has never been the case.

In reaction, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) stated:

“At a time when we have a rigged economy designed to benefit the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations, President Trump’s new tax plan would only make that system worse. He would slash taxes for himself and his billionaire friends and significantly increase the deficit, while doing little to help rebuild the collapsing middle class. Rather than making large profitable corporations – many of which pay nothing in federal income tax – finally contribute their fair share, Trump wants to give them a huge tax break.

“At a time when Trump wants to make major cuts in education, health care, senior programs, nutrition and affordable housing, it is especially outrageous that he would propose the elimination of the Estate Tax and provide a $353 billion dollar tax giveaway to the wealthiest 0.2 percent – including a tax break of up to $4 billion to the Trump family.”

New Year’s Resolution: Work for Social Justice so Less Need for Christmas Charity

Bah. Humbug. The obsession with giving gifts and turkeys and charity at Christmas does little to correct the systemic causes of poverty and inequality © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bah. Humbug. The obsession with giving gifts and turkeys and charity at Christmas does little to correct the systemic causes of poverty and inequality © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News & Photo Features

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. As we start the New Year. let me tell you about the “hate” part.

I hate that Christmas becomes the one day of the year that is supposed to make up for all the actions that have resulted in the greatest inequality and lowest upward mobility since the Gilded Age and the greatest of all advanced countries. The American Dream has been exported, outsourced, and rendered to myth rather than reality here at home.

This year, Republicans – even as they cling more ardently than ever to Guns and God – don’t even pretend to care about the less fortunate, and promise to perpetuate and make worse the very policies that have resulted in 22 out of every 100 school-age children living in poverty (16 million), while 45% of children live in low income families; and 14.3 percent of households (17.5 million, or one in seven households) were living with food insecurity.  Rather than doing anything to correct the societal conditions that promulgate these travesties, they prey on people’s insecurities, foment their fears and anxieties (Ebola! ISIS!), but do everything possible to thwart progress to alleviate the real source of daily desperation.

I particularly hate the obsession with Toys for Tots – as if handing out a gift at Christmas will make up for all the misery and anxiety that children live through the rest of the year.

Many of the same people who make a show of handing out a turkey for Christmas also withdrew Food Stamps and attacked the school nutrition program, two of the mightiest tools in a limited tool chest to keep people out of poverty, while helping children succeed in school (hunger is a viscously powerful impediment to learning) – and not incidentally, stimulating local economies to break the vicious cycle.

“There are neighborhoods in Baltimore in which the life expectancy is 19 years less than other neighborhoods in the same city,” Susan Grisby reported in “The Most Racist Areas in the United States” (Daily Kos, May 3, 2015). “Residents of the Downtown/Seaton Hill neighborhood have a life expectancy lower than 229 other nations, exceeded only by Yemen. According to the Washington Post, 15 neighborhoods in Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than North Korea…And while those figures represent some of the most dramatic disparities in the life expectancy of black Americans as opposed to whites, a recent study of the health impacts of racism in America reveals that racist attitudes may cause up to 30,000 early deaths every year.”

We are living Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol” but while the classic story sets out the problems, I have always been troubled by the “moral”: that the rich guy who got so rich by exploiting the desperation of others can simply buy presents and give money away to redeem his soul. That’s not the solution.

But the “billionaire class” as Bernie Sanders likes to call them (George W. Bush called them “the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.”) has no real interest in correcting the institutional causes of systemic poverty – public education system, tax policy, criminal justice system, health care, environmental policy and rigged election system – all of which also bolster the “haves” and “have-mores”. That’s because the demise of the middle class as more and more sink into poverty suits their greater purpose, and what the hey, if you can just throw around some bucks here and there to redeem your soul and your reputation, while lording over everybody else, so much the better.

And because “cash” is increasingly linked with “political power” (the Right Wing Majority on the Supreme Court equated cash with speech and corporations with people for the purpose of buying politicians), the more cash the more power. The converse is the less cash, the more politically silent and invisible you are. People who are juggling multiple jobs and living pay check to pay check tend not to have the same political influence.

The Republicans are working feverishly to increase the invisibility of the underclass, mounting a Supreme Court challenge that will effectively erase unregistered voters from the census altogether, meaning less representation, less funding (which is also apportioned based on that head count).

“Wages are too high,” self-proclaimed billionaire Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, bellowed in response to a call to raise the federal minimum wage, doing a perfect but unintended imitation of Ebenezer Scrooge.

The United States of America is not supposed to have an aristocracy or a class system of privileges, but these policies have done exactly that. And in the nation with the highest percentage of incarcerated prisoners in the world (5% of population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated), you even have a new criminal classification, “Affluenza” – the “affliction” that resulted in a 16 year old getting off scot free after murdering four people with a car he was driving unlicensed and drunk (he has since fled after violating the terms of his probation). It’s a justice system which sees the very bankers who bankrupted millions of Americans and clawed back pensions and health benefits of bankrupt cities (Detroit), collecting millions of dollars on their parachutes.

It’s “free money” (actually, not really free, it comes out of others’ pockets) that they turn around and “invest” in political campaigns and, yes, in philanthropy.

Some of the most notorious “banksters”, like Madoff and Great Neck’s own Steven Cohen, whose investment company SAC racked up $9.4 billion, are also some of the most generous. Cohen is a $1 billion patron of the Robin Hood Foundation among other philanthropic contributions (museums, hospitals, schools).

Another Great Necker, Leonard Litwin, who made a fortune with his Glenwood Real Estate company, has been a generous supporter of Temple Beth-el of Great Neck, funding the Litwin Challenge that enabled the synagogue to pay off its multi-million dollar mortgage. Glenwood Real Estate was at the heart of the corruption scandal that has (so far) taken down state leaders, Democrat Sheldon Silver and Republican Dean Skelos. In essence, his company made tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions that helped put these politicians in power, then gave favors in order to secure favorable legislation, like tax abatements.

“The money, according to Mr. Dorego, Glenwood’s senior vice president and general counsel, was used to ensure the developer would continue to benefit from tax breaks, government financing and favorable rent laws. One program alone saved them as much as $100 million, he said,” William K. Rashbaum reported in the New York Times (“Albany Trials Exposed the Power of a Real Estate Firm,” Dec. 18, 2015).

“Glenwood also benefited from another state-administered program, using it to obtain more than $1 billion in low-interest, tax-exempt bond financing since 2000, to buy land and construct eight buildings it has put up since 2001, according to testimony at Mr. Silver’s trial.”

This is far from benign, but has a big ripple effect on working stiffs. It is a big reason why New York City, with the richest property in the world, doesn’t raise enough in property taxes to pay for its public schools, but depends New York State aid for 50 percent of its $25 billion operating budget. That $12.5 billion comes from income taxes from the rest of us, and is a major reason why Long Islanders pay such high property taxes (we don’t get 50% of our public school budgets paid for out of state aid). Who pays for tax abatements? Why working stiffs, of course.

That’s where philanthropy comes in. Charity does not just buy redemption, it also buys respect and resurrects a reputation. Take the Koch Brothers, for example. They are the singularly greatest example of money buying political power (and vow to spend $889 million in the 2016 campaign) in order to direct policy to their own interest and against average people (promoting fossil fuels over renewables, overturning environmental regulations, tax policy that favors the rich especially a repeal of the estate tax, gun rights, anti-reproductive rights, and the latest, criminal justice “reform” so that their companies can pollute and claim ignorance of the law to evade accountability).

They slap their name on everything, from the Smithsonian Institution’s Hall of Human Origins to PBS programming, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so we are to feel grateful for their patronage, like the Medicis. What we should feel is like peons, increasingly dependent on their largesse while public coffers are bankrupted.

It is especially dangerous when the contributions come with strings – like the Kochs funding economics departments at colleges in order to pick and choose the academics and the particular brand of economic philosophy. Or the Waltons (the six Waltons have more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of all Americans, 100 million people) funding charter schools in order to insert their own particular educational agenda (creationism as science, worker bees instead of independent thinkers).

It is in this same vein that we have Ebenezer Scrooge, who by the end of his spiritual awakening, “solves” the problems of horrendous poverty and inequality by throwing toys and money at it. It is like putting a band-aid on a patient with tuberculosis.

“The world may need a reimagined charter of philanthropy — a ‘Gospel of Wealth’ for the 21st century — that serves not just American philanthropists, but the vast array of new donors emerging around the world,” wrote Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, in a New York Times op-ed, “Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough,” (Dec. 16, 2015).

“This new gospel might begin where the previous one fell short: addressing the underlying causes that perpetuate human suffering. In other words, philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.

“Feeding the hungry is among our society’s most fundamental obligations, but we should also question why our neighbors are without nutritious food to eat. Housing the homeless is an imperative, but we should also question why our housing markets are so distorted. As a nation, we need more investment in education, but not without questioning educational disparities based on race, class and geography….

“Whatever our intentions, the truth is that we can inadvertently widen inequality in the course of making money, even though we claim to support equality and justice when giving it away. And while our end-of-year giving might support worthy organizations, we must also ask if these financial donations contribute to larger social change.

“In other words, ‘giving back’ is necessary, but not sufficient. We should seek to bring about lasting, systemic change, even if that change might adversely affect us. We must bend each act of generosity toward justice.”

What would make a difference to break systemic poverty and inequality? Here are key ones:

Tax policy, which is supposedly “progressive” but in toto perpetuating extraordinary advantage to the wealthiest, taxing wages more than wealth. Raising the cap on income taxed to pay for Medicare and Social Security would alleviate the burden which is disproportionately placed on workers (if all income was subject to tax, you could reduce the percentage by a lot, which would mean a big boost in take-home income for everyone). Transaction tax on securities to de-incentivize short-term investing and make capital function more productively, as it is supposed to; making corporations pay their share, and taking away the incentive to offshore profits and jobs. (See, “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 2015).

Promote a living wage: raise the minimum wage and cease the war on unions.

Reform immigration and provide a path to legal status for the undocumented residents (deal with the question of citizenship separately). This will eliminate a gigantic underclass which presently depresses the wages of everyone while suppressing the economic stimulus that would come from legal status.

Reform criminal justice that unfairly penalizes and imprisons poor people, disadvantaged people, people of color, and destroys families as well as that individual’s ability to get a decent job.

Continue the progress of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) to make health care more affordable, accessible. Continue putting more resources into prevention and wellness, which will increase productivity and savings. Expand, don’t shut down, Planned Parenthood and access to contraception and reproductive rights. Treat gun violence as the public health crisis it is – not just in the dead, but in the lifetime of lost productivity due to injury, a cost estimated at $228 billion ($8.6 billion in direct costs, $221 billion in indirect costs, according to SmartGunLaws.org),

College affordability – eliminating a barrier to the best ticket to upward mobility, as well as the chains that result from student debt. Now amounting to $1.2 trillion, student debt is like indentured servitude, preventing graduates from buying a home, taking a loan to start a business or even pursuing careers of choice.

Improve access to home ownership – this not only gives a family an asset, a hedge against ever-rising rents, stability, roots, but a connection to community (and likely greater inclination to vote).

Make quality child care accessible and affordable.

Improve mass transportation and safe streets, so that people can get to work affordably, efficiently and without fear.

Give the underclass a voice and a force: Improve access to voting. Make voter registration more efficient and reliable and clear. Make Election Day a holiday, expand voting to include a weekend, overturn arbitrary limitations to absentee ballot. Have standards for polling places and voting machines so that some districts are not forced to wait hours to vote. Make sure the census counts everyone (not just registered voters). Eliminate gerrymandering. Because, just as money is becoming a greater factor in campaigns, politicians are increasingly beholden to maintaining the policies that only add to inequality and social injustice.

It’s scary how much “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” still resonate today.

Consider what George Bailey says to Mr. Potter, speaking about George’s father who founded the Building & Loan: “He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!” 

In essence, such systemic improvements to our society would directly benefit, rather than detract from the wealthiest. It is the “rising tides lift all boats” scenario – not just in requiring less of society’s resources to go to “save” the destitute, but in a healthier, more productive society altogether. There will still be rich, middle class and even poor, but the difference is that poverty would not be as severe, as prolonged, or a generational sentence. Society would restore upward mobility – the essence of the American Dream – and benefit from individuals being able to fulfill their full potential.

So let’s turn to New Year’s resolutions, when we make pledges to be better people. And let’s hope this resolution carries through the Presidential Campaign season which already seems to be a test of who can be the cruelest (which to many interpret as “powerful” and “leadership”).

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© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email krubin723@aol.com. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin