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2 – Reinstate some form of the Fairness Doctrine, which was repealed in 1987.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!

Destruction Of The US. (Part Six – Deficits & Debt)

When President Obama took office, the economy was in flames. Unemployment was soaring and entire industries were in jeopardy. Indeed, the entire world economy was on the verge of collapse. In order to help stem the bleeding, the Obama administration, the Democratic-led Congress and the Federal Reserve implemented a series of stimulus actions, including tax cuts. Those actions temporarily added to the deficit. But they were necessary. Nevertheless, Republicans howled about the “wasteful spending.”

By contrast, Trump inherited a healthy economy and declining deficits. Instead of allowing interest rates to gradually rise, raising taxes to increase revenue and doing what most economists recommended, he orchestrated a massive tax cut for corporations and the very wealthy. Contrary to his grandiose promises and projections, the economy did not noticeably change. Rather, it continued on the same path begun under Obama. What did change was federal revenue, which dramatically dropped. At the same time, deficits soared. The deficit for 2020 is $1.10 trillion and the national debt has now surpassed $22.5 trillion!

And what do you hear from those Republican deficit hawks now? Crickets.

What we are beginning to hear from Republicans is that we must reign in “entitlements” – those safety net programs for the elderly and the poor. They say they want to make serious cuts to Social Security and Medicare. They want to cut food stamp benefits for 3.1 million Americans. They want to cut lunch programs for school children. And they want to end the Affordable Care Act, which made health care affordable for millions of Americans.

In other words, they now seem intent on punishing the poor while continuing to give away hundreds of billions to the Pentagon, an organization that cannot account for trillions in past spending. They want to continue giveaways for corporations. And many Republicans have even stated that they plan to further cut taxes for the very wealthy.

If they are successful, it will mean that the federal deficits and the debt will continue to soar while more ordinary Americans will suffer. Seniors will struggle to pay bills, even to eat. Poor men, women and children will struggle more. The number of homeless will continue to grow. And middle class Americans will not only be asked to make up for the lost revenue with higher taxes. The number of people in the middle class will dramatically decline.

But you can be certain that the incomes of Trump, his family and his wealthy friends will continue to grow.

The Cleansing Has Begun.

The Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler, recently announced on The Rachel Maddow Show that the impeachment process is underway. It took far too long for the House to reach this point. Nevertheless, Nadler’s announcement is welcome news.

Unless the Trump-stacked courts intervene to unconstitutionally rule that the presidency is immune from any oversight, the Judiciary Committee’s actions will lead to a number of revelations from the testimony of White House insiders, from tax documents, from banking records and much more. I believe this will expose the Prince of Orange for what he really is – a sociopathic narcissist, a racist and a felon. A criminal who attained office only because of Russian intervention then did everything in his power to obstruct justice.

If the impeachment is successful, Trump will be removed or forced to resign. Even if he isn’t, the dirt that is certain to be revealed by an impeachment inquiry should lead to a landslide victory for whoever wins the Democratic nomination. (Of course, that’s assuming that our election apparatus isn’t once again hacked and corrupted in Trump’s favor.) Once he’s out of office, he may well be indicted and convicted for his long history of breaking laws. I already have images in my mind of him dressed in an outfit color-coordinated with his orange hair and complexion.

Even prison isn’t sufficient punishment for the damage he and his corrupt minions have done.

The only possible remedy is to nullify his every action while in office. His every appointment. His presidential orders should all be immediately overturned. His agency heads fired. His judges and justices removed. His tax cuts repealed. His trade war ended. His wall torn down. His oil leases and other deals vacated. The National Monuments returned to pre-Trump status. The Iran Deal and Paris climate accords rejoined.

I want Trump and his entire administration relegated to the dustbin of history. I want his name to become synonymous with Benedict Arnold, Joe McCarthy, and the Rosenbergs. Better yet, given his extreme narcissism, let’s scrub him from the history books altogether. Take down his Twitter account. Pass a law making it illegal to ever mention his name or to show his image. I want his children to be forced to change their last name. (Would it be asking too much that all of his relatives and offspring be neutered?) I want people to forget that he ever existed.

It’s not that I’m a vengeful person. I just want to see a punishment commensurate with the damage he has done. But I suppose I’ll have to be satisfied to merely call someone else president. With luck, a new administration will lead to a fresh start – a national and international cleansing.

Free Stuff.

The GOP, its propaganda network, and the corporate-owned media are fond of accusing progressive Democrats of trying to buy votes by offering “free stuff” to voters. Disregarding the fact that nothing the government does is, in fact, free, this has been a popular accusation for longer than I can remember. The GOP used the same talking point when Social Security and Medicare were first proposed, claiming that the programs were unaffordable and that they would bankrupt the nation. Then, like now, the GOP also accused the Democrats who backed those programs of being socialists.

But it’s important to note that GOP candidates also regularly offer free stuff as a way of buying votes. And they also engage in a form of socialism. The difference is in the beneficiaries.

Social Security and Medicare are, in reality, retirement and medical insurance that directly benefit those who pay the premiums through payroll deductions – ordinary working Americans. And the current Democratic proposals, like universal health care and debt-free college education, would also directly benefit ordinary American workers.

The GOP proposals, on the other hand, pander to a different audience: Large multinational corporations, the military-industrial complex and the very, very wealthy.

Take the GOP-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Most working Americans saw little to no cuts in their income taxes while corporations and the wealthy realized dramatic cuts to their tax burden. The law also allowed multinationals to “repatriate” corporate profits held offshore to avoid paying US income taxes. The GOP promised that the bill would boost the economy and create jobs. It didn’t. Instead, most of the money was used to pay executive bonuses and to buy back stock. That had the effect of starving the companies of capital resulting in layoffs. The same thing happened in 2004 when the US last “repatriated” corporate dollars at reduced tax rates. That year, 58 giant corporations realized 70 percent of the benefit, saving an estimated $64 billion in taxes while, at the same time, slashing an estimated 600,000 jobs.

The real cost of the 2017 tax cut has yet to be tallied. But it has already resulted in record deficits and a record national debt. It was nothing less than a giant gift to corporations paid for by average working Americans!

And that’s but one example. There are many, many others.

The GOP has pushed cuts to inheritance taxes and cuts to capital gains taxes that benefit the wealthy. And, under the guise of its repeatedly debunked trickle-down economic theory, the GOP offers much more free stuff to corporations. Those gifts take the form of corporate incentives to expand or to relocate, long-term tax relief to corporations for expanding in their current locations and promising, but seldom delivering, new jobs, and Tax Increment Financing which exempts corporate facilities from property taxes whenever their owners build or purchase a building and promise to create jobs – a practice so pervasive that many cities have never collected property taxes on their most iconic buildings. Sadly, some “moderate” Democrats have voted for these things, too.

In addition, there are many less obvious free gifts to corporations. Governments pay the cost of building utilities and other infrastructure to reach corporate building sites. And governments are often forced to pick up the cost of food stamps and housing assistance for the employees of Walmart and other companies that fail to pay a living wage. (The cost of subsidizing Walmart’s underpaid workers was estimated at $6.2 billion in 2014.) Governments also pick up the cost of cleaning up mines and other sites despoiled by extraction industries after the corporations have walked away with the resources and profits.

Even more subtle are the allocations to defense contractors who have little oversight and few, if any, real penalties for cost over-runs and delays. In fact, a 2016 study found that the Pentagon can’t account for trillions of dollars in spending. Similarly, private prison corporations have been given sweetheart deals by their GOP sponsors. During the current border crisis, it has been reported that private prison corporations are being paid more than $700 per day to house the refugees and economic immigrants in horrific conditions. For that price, the detainees should be living in luxury hotels. Not suffering in conditions where they are denied access to sufficient food and water, denied basic hygiene, and forced to sleep on concrete with only a foil blanket.

The estimated cost of universal healthcare and free education is dwarfed by the gifts currently being passed along to corporations and the uber-wealthy. Moreover, the progressive Democratic candidates have done something the GOP hasn’t. They’ve explained how they will pay for their “gifts.”

So, the next time you hear someone deride progressive Democratic candidates by calling them socialists and attacking them for their offers of “free stuff,” keep in mind that what’s being “given away” is simply a matter of priorities. The question is: What’s more important to you? American workers? Or greedy corporations and the very wealthy?

A Powerful Voice For Social Democracy.

Rutger Bregman, Dutch historian and author of Utopia For Realists recently spoke to some of the world’s wealthiest people at Davos, Switzerland in which he said, “I hear people talking the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency, but almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance and of the rich just not paying their fair share. I mean it feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water. We’ve got to be talking about taxes! That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.”

His speech went viral.

Following that event, he appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, where he was asked to address the current debate over socialism in the US. “To me, it seems a bewildering discussion,” he replied. “Because what we’re actually talking about are policies that are hugely popular among the vast majority of Americans. 67 percent want guaranteed paid maternity leave. 70 percent want Medicare for all. 81 percent is enthusiastic about the New Green Deal. 75 percent want higher taxes on the rich. These are hugely popular policies that work really well in the countries that tried them. So it has nothing to do with socialism or communism or whatever.”

“Actually, capitalism and the welfare state need each other. So something like a guaranteed basic income that I’ve been arguing for would actually be venture capital for the people. So that everyone can start a new company or move to a different job or a different city, which will make the economy much more dynamic. Now if we look at the history of innovation – take the Iphone, for example – every sliver of the fundamental technology of the Iphone was invented by researchers on the government payroll….all these breakthrough technologies are financed by the government. Capitalism and the government – they need each other.”

Asked how Democratic candidates should handle this in the campaign, he responded, “You’re just being a realist, right? Basically advocating the ideas that the majority of Americans want. We need a massive transformation of the economy when we talk about issues like climate change or inequality. It’s really the so-called moderates…the centrists…I think that’s the real radical fringe. It’s really a crazy radical idea of sticking to the status quo right now. The challenges are huge right now. We have to halt emissions on a global scale by 2050. So we need that huge transformation of the economy. So then if you say, ‘I’m a moderate, we should tinker around the edges’ that’s a pretty crazy proposition if you ask me.”

Exploitation Of The American Dream.

The American Dream is a belief firmly rooted in our culture that anyone – regardless of race, gender, or circumstances of birth – can achieve prosperity through determination and hard work. That belief has led to our nation’s success and made it a beacon for people the world over.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the American Dream has been exploited by the wealthy and the powerful to serve their own self-interests. By encouraging you to believe that their success is the result of hard work, they have convinced you that you, too, can be a billionaires or, at very least, a multi-millionaire. All you have to do is work hard and vote to protect their wealth from extraordinary taxes.

But the reality is that most billionaires like Donald Trump achieved their wealth through a combination of luck, unethical or illegal activities, and by inheriting it their families. Indeed, very few Americans will become billionaires. The vast majority will struggle just to make ends meet. Nevertheless, the idea that you, too, can be obscenely rich is persuasive. So many Americans continue to vote against their self-interest by voting for those who propose tax cuts that benefit only the powerful and the wealthy.

Want to know why we can’t afford to rebuild our infrastructure? Why your child can’t afford the tuition of a college or university? Why your children are likely to be worse off than you? It’s because you’ve been conned into supporting tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy.

While you struggle to pay your taxes, the people you admire pay a much smaller tax rate than you. And many don’t pay any taxes at all. Many have hired skilled tax lawyers who help them hide their wealth in shell corporations in places like Bermuda, the Caymans, Luxembourg and Panama. Some of the wealthy don’t even have to go to those lengths. They simply invest in shell corporations located in the on-shore tax havens of Delaware, South Dakota and Nevada. Didn’t know those tax havens exist? That’s because you don’t have the resources to take advantage of them.

And those multinational corporations that promised to create more jobs if only you cut their tax rate? They used the money saved from their lower tax rates to buy back their stock and pay their already wealthy executives bigger bonuses. Some are still stashing their international profits off shore until they can con you into supporting even larger tax cuts.

Don’t be angry at them. The wealthy and the corporations are just doing what they always do – finding ways to make more money. Instead, be angry at yourself. It is your own greed – the idea that someday you, too, will be obscenely wealthy that has led to the current situation. After all, you’re smart. And you’re willing to work hard. But the reality is that you have a better chance of winning the lottery – 175 million to one – than becoming a billionaire by creating a Microsoft or a Facebook.

In other words, you’re being played for a sucker. If you really want to succeed, look to the example of the greatest generation – the generation that survived the Great Depression and World War Following the war, the soldiers then came home to build the American middle class. They taxed the wealthy in order to build roads and all of the things we take for granted today. Executives were content to take a modest salary in order to make their corporations stronger. Unlike today’s generations, they didn’t consider themselves exceptional. They weren’t given Cs for just showing up in class. Most were proud to refer to themselves as just an average Joe or an average Jill. They didn’t expect to become wealthy. They just wanted to work hard, earn a good wage, live comfortably and make things better for their kids than themselves.

For them, that was the American Dream. I believe it should be enough.

“Patriotism Is The Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel.”

Samuel Johnson’s statement from the 18th century is just as true now as it was then.

When exposed, scoundrels will often claim patriotic intentions while questioning the patriotism of their accusers. For example, in order to hide their true beliefs, anti-government conservatives decorate their homes, their cars and their persons with the stars and stripes of the American flag. To disguise their racism, white nationalists also hide behind the flag. In an attempt to hide the treasonous complicity of his presidential campaign with Russians, Donald J. Trump questioned Hillary Clinton’s patriotism by alleging that she sold 20 percent of US uranium to Russia. And at this year’s CPAC, the traitor-in-chief waddled onto stage and made a show out of embracing the flag.

Now facing the pressure of a Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee determined to fulfill its constitutional duty, Trump has built his re-election campaign around the same strategy by labeling his tormenters and potential opponents “un-American socialists.”

There are two distinct problems with that claim: One is that Trump doesn’t know the meaning of patriotism, and he doesn’t give a hoot about the majority of Americans. He has never tried to govern from the center in order to represent all Americans. He has done nothing to reach out to those who voted for his political opponents. Instead, he continually tries to pit his angry, loyal base against others – Democrats, people of color, Muslims and the LGBTQ population. He continues to call for investigations of Hillary by leading his followers in chants of “Lock her up.” He has refused to denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists. In fact, he has embraced them. And he still maintains that President Obama was born in Kenya.

Second, he is mischaracterizing social democracy by calling it socialism in order to equate Democratic proposals with those of the failed Soviet Union and Venezuela. But, in fact, the “socialist” policies being proposed by Democrats are similar to those of Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden and much of the developed world – policies such as universal health care, free or affordable education, the Green New Deal, higher marginal tax rates for the extremely wealthy, and higher rates for estate taxes. These are all necessary if we are to rebuild our infrastructure, our middle class and the American dream. Without such policies, we may soon find ourselves lagging behind other global powers.

At the same time, in the name of patriotism, Trump and his administration have gone to extremes to destroy or diminish our nation’s most important institutions. If successful, his declaration of a national emergency to build his wall will diminish the power of purse given to the House of Representatives by our Constitution. He has damaged the power of the press by convincing his followers that any news critical of his actions is “fake news.” He has convinced his followers that the FBI, the DOJ and most other government agencies are controlled by the “deep state” which is determined to undermine his decisions. He dismisses the findings of our intelligence agencies and takes the word of our nation’s greatest enemies, instead. He and the GOP-controlled Senate have filled our court system with ideologues with neither the experience, the objectivity nor the temperament to act as judges. In addition, he has undermined our relationships with our most loyal allies.

And, according to many of those who have known him longest, if impeached or defeated in the 2020 election, Trump will not relinquish his office quietly. Indeed, they fear a second civil war. If those people are correct, Trump and his followers will no doubt claim that they are declaring martial law out of a sense of patriotism.

The Shutdown Is Not A Negotiating Tactic. It’s The Goal.

It seems that most Americans and much of the media believe that the shutdown is the result of a failed negotiation between Trump and Congressional Democrats. But, in reality, the great dealmaker has not been negotiating in good faith all along. Indeed, his latest “proposal” was to offer Democrats things that he has previously taken away – DACA protections, immigration judges, etc.

Prior to this January, if Trump wanted $5.7 billion to fund his wall, all he had to do was ask. The Trump sycophants in the Republican-controlled House and Senate have given him everything he wanted. As evidenced by the Trump tax cuts, which have resulted in nearly $2 trillion in additional debt, they certainly weren’t worried about fiscal constraint. And, if Trump and the GOP really wanted to end the shutdown, they could do it today by voting on the budget bill that has already been passed by the House and was previously passed in the Senate by a unanimous voice vote. Or they could accede to the Democrats’ wishes and negotiate funding for increased border security where it would do the most good – at legal ports of entry. That, after all, is where the majority of illicit drugs enter our country in trucks, shipping crates and private vehicles. And they could use the funds to step up the monitoring of the people who enter our country legally and simply overstay their visas. Those people represent approximately half of undocumented immigrants. The Republicans’ failure to do so shows that the shutdown isn’t really interested in border security.

I believe the government shutdown is what Trump and his minions wanted all along.

For Republicans and this outlaw administration, the shutdown serves a variety of purposes. First, it is a distraction from the Russia investigation that is nearing completion. Second, it deprives the incoming Democratic House members the necessary funds to staff their offices, thus potentially impeding their investigations into Trump world. Third, it offers the bully in the White House an opportunity to frustrate and blame Speaker Pelosi. Fourth, in the twisted mind of Trump, the majority of government workers are Democrats, so it’s mostly Democrats who are suffering the consequences. Fifth, if as I believe, Trump really is beholden to Putin, a shutdown throws Russia’s greatest adversary into chaos.

Finally, and most important, Republicans despise government. So the shutdown allows them to call back only those workers that are necessary to their cause. For example, while many in the EPA and Interior are furloughed, Republicans have called back only those Interior employees who are responsible for issuing drilling and mining permits for public lands.

We must all face the reality that the shutdown is a right-winger’s wet dream. The most extreme among them believe the federal government should only be responsible for law and order, the protection of private property and national defense. Anything else – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, HUD, the EPA, public education – is, in their minds, a waste of money and an unwelcome intrusion into their ability to plunder the national resources and squeeze money out of the populace.