Thoughts On Saving Our Democracy.

I have written much about what’s wrong with this nation. Now I want to offer some solutions. Think of the following as the LaMaster platform for good governance:

1 – Secure our elections while, at the same time, increasing participation. Eliminate unduly restrictive voter IDs and all forms of voter suppression. Institute same-day voter registration, expand vote-by-mail, restore the number of polling places in minority districts, stop unnecessary purges of voter rolls, restore voting rights for felons who have served their sentences, and make election day a national holiday.

2 – Reinstate some form of the Fairness Doctrine, which was repealed in 1987. Hold all mass media accountable to a standard of truth and clearly delineate opinion from news. It’s not necessary to resort to censorship. Each medium simply needs to employ editors.

3 – Make civics lessons mandatory in schools. All citizens need to understand how local, state and federal governments work.

4 – Investigate and disarm private militias, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other violent domestic terrorist groups. These groups pose a far greater threat to Americans than Islamic terrorism.

5 – Make courts less partisan. Take judicial appointments out of the hands of politicians and remove them from ballots. Have the American Bar Association provide a list of potential jurors to governments for confirmation based on performance and credentials.

6 – Restore the Article I powers of Congress giving it the exclusive power to impose taxes and tariffs, to appropriate funds for the government, to promote science, to define and punish offenses against the laws of nations, to control immigration, to enter into treaties, and to declare war.

7 – Stop the avalanche of dark money infecting our elections. Outlaw the anonymous dirty money that is funneled into election campaigns through PACs and Super PACs. Hold political advertising to the same standards of truth as that for products and services, which includes civil and criminal penalties for lying.

8 – Demand that the IRS regulate non-profits by limiting their engagement in politics and political “education” to less than 10 percent of their activities. And, to prevent charlatans from ripping off their congregations, all church properties beyond individual sanctuaries and parsonages should be taxed.

9 – Track and tax all money invested in shell corporations both on and off shore for the purposes of tax evasion. Organize the participation of all nations to create increased transparency for all international transfers of money.

10 – Expose and limit the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and any similar organizations to end the practice of corporations writing “model” legislation for state legislatures. End political “think tanks.” Restore congressional budgets to permit Congress to research complex issues, instead.

11 – Demand that Congress pass legislation to overturn the SCOTUS decisions on Citizens United v FEC, which gave corporations the rights of individuals, and Valeo v Buckley, which equated money with free speech.

12 – Ban all former elected and appointed government officials from becoming lobbyists for a minimum of 5 years. Ban the families of elected officials from profiting from their relationship.

13 – Restructure the Federal Elections Commission to include an uneven number of commissioners with three members of each major party and three independents.

14 – End extreme gerrymandering. Require all 50 states to create independent redistricting commissions comprised of two Democratic members, two Republican members and two independents.

15 – Enact a small transaction tax for all securities transactions, especially high-speed micro-transactions. This will not only help level the playing field for small investors who do not have large, high-speed computers and algorithms to manipulate the stock markets. It will generate billions in tax revenue.

16 – Base taxes and minimum wages on the cost of living for the areas in which people live and work. $30,000 per year is not the same for someone living in a rural area as in a large city.

17 – Require all national and multinational corporations to include at least one member of their workforces on their boards of directors.

18 – To prevent the wealthy from escaping their fair share of taxes, make the rate of capital gains taxes the same as for earned income. To protect ordinary citizens for the one-time sale of property, pro-rate the capital gains tax over a period of at least 5 years.

19 – Institute some form of universal insurance. How it works is up to Congress, but the Canadian system would be a good model and a good place to start.

20 – Institute a national program of service that includes both domestic, foreign and military options.

21 – Clarify the Constitution’s emoluments clause to make certain that no elected official profits from their position while in office.

This is just a start. I’m certain that others can come up with more and better ideas to preserve and improve the US.

Why We Must Have A Green New Deal Now!

The courageous and determined teenager, Greta Thunberg, is only the latest and most visible advocate for combating climate change. Then-President George H.W. Bush spoke out about the need to address global warming as early as 1988. Al Gore championed the issue following his defeat in the 2000 election. And many other US politicians of both parties have called for addressing the growing threat in years since. The most recent and most visible is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Unfortunately, many Republican politicians financed by the oily Koch brothers pilloried her. So, too, have conservative pundits. They ridiculed her Green New Deal as “taking away our meat, ending air travel, and forcing us to give up cars.”

Meanwhile, the scientific evidence of a real and present danger keeps mounting. The world’s scientists are nearly unanimous that the consequences of inaction are increasingly dire. They tell us that more than a million species will be forced into extinction, that sea levels could rise as much as 23 feet displacing tens of millions of the world’s population and drowning many of the world’s largest cities. They warn of increasingly more intense and deadly storms. They tell us that, as the ice melts and the permafrost thaws, the effects of climate change will accelerate. They tell us that our oceans could soon be fished clean of species and turned into a worldwide dead zone, that much of our most productive farmland will be devastated by droughts.

If none of that matters to you, consider this: They tell us that, If we don’t act fast, the cost to taxpayers will climb into the tens of trillions of dollars!

Science tells us that this is no longer a distant threat we can ignore. We have now passed the point where ending deforestation and replanting trees can absorb enough CO2 to head off the damage. We must take more drastic action. We must drastically change our collective lifestyles. And we have a very short time to do it. The most recent estimate is that we have about 11 years to prevent a complete disaster!

But, if we act now and we make significant changes, there is reason to hope.

Dealing with climate change will not only positively affect the climate. By changing from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we can reduce many chronic diseases such as asthma. Such a change will also boost the economy, create high-paying jobs, improve infrastructure and cut energy costs. By reducing our reliance on oil, it will cut funding to some of the world’s worst tyrants and corporations. And, since most recent wars have been fought over oil, it could reduce international conflicts.

Addressing the climate crisis with urgency and in a serious way is not just a win-win. It’s a win-win-win-win-win-win!

Putting Trump’s Actions Into Context.

To fully appreciate the lawlessness of the Trump administration, it’s helpful to look at the five GOP administrations that preceded him. As you will see, there is a pattern of disdain for the Constitution and the opposition party. But none of them have taken it to such extremes as Trump.

Nixon – In 1968, before the election, he sent an envoy to undermine the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam leading to hundreds of thousands more deaths in the war. Though his administration did some remarkable things (created EPA and OSHA and opened relations with China), he tried to corrupt our democracy by ordering the break-in of the DNC’s Watergate offices. As a result, 40 Nixon administration officials were indicted or jailed. Separately, Nixon’s vice-president Spiro Agnew was forced to resign amid a corruption scandal and pled guilty to tax evasion.

Ford – Before his forced resignation, Nixon chose Gerald Ford to fill the vacancy as vice-president. When Nixon resigned, Ford assumed the position of president and immediately pardoned Nixon of any crimes. His term in office was largely unremarkable, except for the annual deficits created by his policies.

Reagan – Though charming and inspirational, Reagan’s administration had a very dark underbelly. Before the 1980 election, he undermined a proposed agreement with Iran to release the hostages, convincing Iran to delay their release until after the election. His domestic policies included attacks on labor unions, Reagonomics (aka trickle-down economics) which cut taxes for the wealthy resulting in large deficits, an attempt to relax the Voting Rights Act, attempting to push prayer in schools, creating the War on Drugs and ignoring the AIDs epidemic.

His foreign policies consisted of escalating the Cold War, sending US troops to intervene in the Lebanese civil war resulting in the deaths of 241 US soldiers, invading Grenada, bombing Libya, and opposing the disinvestment from apartheid South Africa. Though the Cold War was ended during his second term, it was the result of an initiative by Gorbachev. The lowlight of his tenure was the Iran-Contra scandal, which consisted of illegally selling arms to Iran and using the proceeds to prop-up the Nicaraguan Contras in their fight against the Sandinistas who were fighting to overthrow a dictator. In effect, the administration was running a shadow government hidden from congressional oversight that destabilized the entire region.

Bush I – George H.W. Bush’s domestic policies were unremarkable. But there were many questions about his foreign policy. He ordered the invasion of Panama. His administration provided weapons to Iraq and led Saddam Hussein to believe that the US would not intervene in Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. Then he led a coalition to attack Iraq and free Kuwait. Following the Gulf War, he closed numerous US military bases, which thrust the economy into recession. And he ended his term by pardoning those convicted in Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal.

Perhaps the most lasting action by his administration was the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine which held broadcast media accountable for telling the truth.

Bush II – Having lost the popular vote, George W. entered office only as a result of his brother’s meddling in Florida elections and a decision by a conservative-led Supreme Court. (A media consortium that recounted the entire Florida vote, found numerous improprieties and concluded that a significant majority of Floridians intended to vote for Gore.)

Once in office, Bush revived the discredited trickle-down economic theory to reward the big money and oil interests that powered his campaign. His tax cuts sent deficits soaring. He advanced oil interests at the expense of the environment. His administration botched the rescue and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. He ignored the threat of al-Qaeda and advice from the Clinton administration resulting in the attacks on 9/11. He responded with the war on terrorism. And he allowed vice-president Cheney to start the War in Iraq on false pretenses. His administration ended with the collapse of the world financial system as the result of his belief that free markets would self-regulate.

Trump – As bad as they were, the failures of the previous GOP presidents pale in comparison to the man who currently occupies the Oval Office. Donald J. Trump will be chronicled in history books as the worst president in history. He announced his campaign by making racist attacks on Mexicans. He encouraged interference in the election by Russia spawning a Special Counsel investigation which found extensive collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives that likely swayed the election in his favor.

Despite being the second Republican in 16 years to gain the office while losing the popular vote, he claimed a mandate. With the help of a GOP-led Congress he quickly set about undoing his predecessor’s legacy through executive order. He withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear treaty, withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords, repealed DACA, and made cuts to Obamacare. From the beginning, his policies have been marked by greed, cruelty and fealty to Russia. He banned entry from Muslim countries. He gave hope and encouragement to white nationalists with his response to Charlottesville. He has funneled millions into his own properties through weekly golf outings. Foreign leaders have been encouraged to stay at his hotels and resorts in order to gain access. And he ordered the CPB and ICE to place refugees into horribly overcrowded facilities and to separate families.

Trump has exposed the flaws in our current system of government by acting as a monarch. He has refused to cooperate with any congressional oversight. He has ordered anyone connected to his administration to ignore subpoenas and claim presidential privilege and trampled over the separation of powers. Worse, with the help of Mitch McConnell, he has stuffed the judicial system with dozens of unqualified and ideological judges.

On top of all that, he and the GOP exploded the deficits and federal debt by cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy with the intent of eventually ending Social Security and Medicare on the pretense of cutting the budget.

Finally, and worst of all, he has repeatedly acted on behalf of Vladimir Putin and Russia. He has refused to acknowledge Russia’s role in his election, he publicly kowtowed to Putin while attacking our most loyal allies, and he delayed congressionally-ordered sanctions on Russia. Finally, he held military aid to Ukraine hostage in order to elicit Ukraine’s help in his re-election. In doing so, he adhered to a Putin narrative that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered with our election.

No president in history has been removed from office through impeachment. But Trump has richly earned the right to be first.

It’s worth noting that no Democratic president in recent history has been so disdainful of the Constitution and the rule of law. That fact alone should make voters look more carefully at candidates whose names precede the R on a ballot.

Destruction Of The US. (Part Eight – Corruption)

If we are ever going to rescue our nation from oligarchy and restore democracy, we must remove the obscene amounts of money from our politics and prevent government officials from using the treasury as their personal piggy bank.

At no time in our history has that need been more urgent than now!

If you don’t see the urgency, consider this: Two independent studies monitored how legislation was influenced by lobbyists and other moneyed interests versus the desires and interests of ordinary constituents. They found that legislators pandered to corporations, industries and lobbying groups while the interest of citizens were ignored. The inescapable conclusion of the studies was that the US is no longer a government of the people for the people and by the people. Instead, it has become an oligarchy – a government run for the benefit of the richest few.

Nowhere is this more obvious than Trump’s refusal to abide by the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Not only has he not released his income taxes as past presidents had done. He refused to relinquish control of his businesses by placing them in a blind trust. Moreover, he has quite obviously used his position to pump money into his resorts and hotels. Virtually every weekend is spent golfing at his resorts causing the Secret Service and other government employees to rent rooms and golf carts. That has already totaled millions.

While conducting business in Europe, he chose to travel out of his way to spend time and government money in his Scottish and Irish resorts. He “recommended” that vice-president Pence stay at his resort rather than in a Dublin hotel where his government meetings were to take place. And, recently, it was discovered that, during the Trump administration, our military signed a contract to refuel aircraft at the financially struggling Glasgow Prestwick airport near his Turnberry resort.

Additionally, in order to curry favor with Trump, foreign leaders and lobbyists have spent millions at the Trump hotel in Washington.

Of course, Trump also named his daughter and son-in-law (the son of a man convicted of illegal campaign contributions and filing false tax returns) as special advisors giving them access to classified information and influence among foreign leaders which will, no doubt, lead to more profits for their businesses.

Many other Trump appointments to the administration have used their positions for personal gain, including the Secretaries of Treasury, Labor, HUD and Interior, as well as the administrator of the EPA. We have also learned that Moscow Mitch and his wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, have invested money in offshore shell corporations. For what purpose other than to shield their fortunes from federal taxes? We can’t be certain. But there should be enough transparency for government officials that we don’t have to speculate.

All of this is in addition to Trump’s corrupt, illegal and treasonous attempts to use his office to threaten and encourage foreign governments to interfere in our elections and to damage his political opponents.

Never before in the history of our nation has an administration been so completely and obviously corrupt. But never before has the Oval Office been occupied by a wealthy conman. (And that’s the most polite term I can think of – mob boss may be a more accurate description.)

$15 Trillion Hidden In Offshore Shell Companies To Avoid Taxes.

A recent study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has found that corporations and the wealthy have hidden $15 trillion in offshore shell companies for the purpose of avoiding taxes. At the newly reduced US corporate tax rate of 21 percent, that represents a loss of $3.15 trillion in revenue. And at Germany’s 29.79 percent tax rate, it would create more than $4.46 in revenue – revenue that could be used to improve infrastructure, to help millions out of poverty or to reduce the tax burden of ordinary people.

To put this monumental sum into perspective, it is roughly equivalent to China’s 2019 GDP of $15.5 trillion – the world’s second-largest economy. It’s more than 70 percent of the US economy of $21.4 trillion. And, by most estimates, the number of hidden dollars has increased by at least 10 percent over the last decade.

Given the impact of this lost revenue, one has to ask: Why have governments done so little to recapture the revenue and to penalize the perpetrators? It’s not as if they don’t know where the money is hidden. The study notes that 10 nations host 85 percent of the money – countries that include Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, Jersey, Ireland, Mauritius, Bermuda, Monaco, Switzerland and the Bahamas.

What’s more, recent leaks have given governments the names of people and institutions that have engaged in such tax shelters. The leaks known as the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers have revealed millions of names and documents. Those named include numerous world leaders and celebrities. For example, the Trump name appears in the Panama Papers 3,540 times.

Maybe the answer for the inaction is the fact that most of the people who have the means and the opportunity to hide their money are those who control our government like Moscow Mitch; those who buy their way into office; those who use their money to lobby and influence office-holders. Or maybe it relates to the death of a journalist investigating the Panama Papers. Daphne Caruana Galizia, a reporter who was killed with a car bomb while following a lead in Malta. Her murder is not entirely surprising, since those hiding their assets include Vladimir Putin, Russian oligarchs and many individuals who are involved in organized crime. After all, these mobsters are likely using shell companies as a way to disguise their ill-begotten funds and to launder them.

Of course, that should give governments even more reason to halt the practice of hiding money. Doing so, would create obstacles for international crime syndicates and make it more difficult to finance operations such as drug trafficking and human trafficking. These and other heinous crimes annually cost governments and societies hundreds of millions of dollars to address.

If that’s not enough to motivate you to demand the action of your government, consider this: It almost certainly would cut your tax bill.