Tuesday, January 2, 2018

DECEMBER 2017 IGNOMINIOUS ABSURDITY AWARD: THE IGGY


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1. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The federal estate tax applies to money over $5.49 million dollars that a person leaves behind when they die—$10.98 million for a married couple. Here’s what Republican Sen. Grassley thinks of all those bums who didn’t bother to leave $5.49 million apiece and therefore won’t benefit from an estate tax repeal:

"I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley (R-Iowa) told the Des Moines Register, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Yes, if you’d just stopped spending every darn penny your $40,000-a-year job paid on booze and women and movies, you’d have the nearly $6 million that would mean your heirs would benefit from Republicans repealing the estate tax. Why, when you think about it that way, it’s not about massive generational wealth at all!

In reality, of course, the estate tax isn’t about some people who can’t lay off the booze and movies, it is about massive generational wealth transfers, with only two out of 1,000 estates paying any federal estate tax at all. Because it turns out that even if you drink no booze and watch no movies and invest pretty damn carefully, you can’t save $5.49 million in a lifetime of work, not if you’re making the average American salary-- or twice the average American salary, for that matter. To have estate tax-level money, you either have to have inherited a lot yourself, been paid an amount that only a couple percent of Americans are paid, or hit a lottery jackpot. Oh yes, you couldn’t have been a lucky early investor in Apple.

Shame on you if you don’t have $5.49 million to leave your heirs.

2. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). More hypocrisy on the tax cut plan. During the Senate “debate” over the Tax cuts and Jobs Act, Hatch was challenged over the implications of the proposed cut for the children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers nine million children, whose funding lapsed two-months ago and has not been renewed. Hatch insisted that “the reason CHIP’s having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore.”

Hatch uttered these words just as he voted for a trillion-and-a-half tax cut that will mainly benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations. If this wasn’t enough hypocrisy, Hatch went on to say:

“I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”

To whom might Hatch be referring? Food stamps that help children, the elderly and disabled? Maybe he’s talking about Medicaid, which again mainly benefits the same groups? Ah, could it be he’s thinking about hard-working people whose jobs don’t provide for healthcare, or people who can’t make ends meet? I could go on and on. The fact is there are very few Americans who willingly “don’t lift a finger” because they can get some government subsidy.

He surely couldn’t be thinking about Americans who inherit large estates, even though most didn’t lift a finger to earn it. On second thought, maybe he is. Maybe that’s why he supports the Republican tax plan that will increase the estate tax exemption to $22.4 million. The hypocrisy is sickening: gut assistance programs for children, the elderly and disabled while padding the pockets of super-rich folks. Make no mistake about it, this is the entitlement reform the GOP has in mind.

Not that any of this bothers Hatch; quite the contrary. When asked about the GOP Christmas gift to the super-wealthy, Hatch had this to say:

“I’m going to just say to you that I … come from the poor people. And I’ve been here working my whole stickin’ career for people who don’t have a chance. And I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich. I think you guys overplay that all the time and it gets old. And frankly you ought to quit it.”

Hatch may claim that he came from “the poor people,” but, if so, that was many decades in the past. Because the 83-year-old Hatch is now one of the richest members of Congress. Oh how perspectives change.

3. The Mormon Church. One thing that most religions are good for is trying to control people’s morality by shaming them for their natural sexual impulses. Newsweek has published the findings of a leaked 1981 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ guidebook, provided by a group called MormonLeaks. Here’s an important bit of information to pass on to your children.

“Early masturbation experiences introduce the individual to sexual thoughts which may become habit forming and reinforcing to homosexual interests,” the guidebook claims. “Self-masturbation is almost universal among those who engage in homosexual behavior, and is a very difficult habit for most to overcome.”

The Mormon church believes homosexuality is “of grave concern” because it may involve violent or criminal behavior and is as sinful as heterosexual adultery and fornication, the guidebook says. The book also claims that homosexuality is a learned behavior influenced by unhealthy development in early childhood, and says that absentee fathers and dominant mothers are among the main culprits for these developmental problems leading to homosexuality. The guidelines also include excommunicating LGBT people from the church as well as from any Latter-day Saints’ affiliated institutions (schools, etc).

Since that time the Mormon Church has loosened up some of its more restrictive rhetoric around the issue of homosexuality—including finally coming out against conversion therapy and other barbaric homophobic practices. But it’s still a big “no-no” for the church. The tweaks to the religion’s official rhetoric, however, do not include changes in its doctrine. Being LGBT is still considered a “sin” in the Mormon Church.

4. The Republican Party. Well, they did it! In the dead of night, Republicans passed the giant giveaway to corporations and the wealthy that they like to bill a “middle-class tax cut” or “tax reform.” The Republican tax bill is the most unpopular major legislation in decades and economists say it will not help the economy in the ways Republicans keep promising, but that wasn’t going to stop them. The House voted on Tuesday afternoon, passing the bill by 227 to 203, with 12 Republicans joining every Democrat in voting no. The Senate voted after midnight, passing the bill 51 to 48 on a party-line vote (Sen. John McCain was absent).

As a good citizen, I hope the “tax cut” will work out as Republicans predict, but there is virtually no chance this will happen. In the past, gigantic tax cuts have not spurred the kind of in vestment and growth that raises wages and improves the lives of ordinary Americans. They have overwhelmingly benefited the wealthiest citizens. This one will be no different. It will predictably raise taxes for many middle-class Americans (especially after 2018), increase the cost of medical coverage for most Americans, and undoubtedly widen our already obscene inequality.

But give the GOP credit. If this is part of a larger scheme (scam!) to please wealthy donors, explode deficits which will lead to spending cuts (except for defense), and lay the groundwork for replacing social security and Medicare with market-driven schemes, then their strategy is brilliant. Republican disregard for expert analyses of the plan and their behind-the-scenes rush to passage lead me to suspect that this is exactly what they're up to. Brace yourselves.

5. President Donald Trump. I couldn’t resist one little tidbit. Commenting on the East Coast cold spell, the Donald brilliantly observed:

“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

The moron equates weather with climate change. Maybe next he’ll bring a snowball to his golf resort New Year’s Eve party as his evidence that the planet isn’t warming.
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AND THE WINNER IS . . .

Grassley is undoubtedly worthy of an IGGY, but for its duplicity, hypocrisy and contempt for ordinary Americans, this month’s winner is THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS ROTTING


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By Ronald T. Fox

My parents were life-long Republicans—or nearly life-long. My father in 2008, nearing his ninth decade of living, voted Democrat for the first—and only--time. He had been alienated from the GOP by the party’s cheer leading for the wealthy, George W. Bush’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction, and “that little smirk” Bush seemed to always have on his public face. In retribution, he joined the ranks of the ‘independents,” noting that he didn’t much like either party. He would not vote for a president in 2016.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

GUEST COMMENTARY ON “ALTERNATIVE FACTS”

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Kellyanne Conway’s defense of Trump Press Secretary Sean Spencer’s false statement about the attendance numbers of the president-elect’s inauguration, by referring to the falsehood as “alternative facts,” ushered a new term (though not the practice) into our political vernacular. While not the first to practice mendacity, the Trump administration has taken the disregard for facts and contempt for truth to a new level. We shouldn’t be surprised. Donald Trump told us about his affection for the Orwellian practice in his book Trump: the Art of the Deal.

An indifference to truth has now pervaded our political culture. People believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. Political debate falls largely along partisan lines and is usually conducted at the level of emotion disconnected from facts. Factual rebuttals of false claims are ignored. Welcome to America’s post-truth political world.

Professor Buzz Fozouni, a former colleague of mine in the Political Science Department at California State University Sacramento, offers his observations about America's post-truth problem.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

NOVEMBER 2017 IGNOMINIOUS ABSURDITY AWARD: THE IGGY


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NOTE: A-number-of Phronesis readers have requested that because President Trump is a certified ignominious “human,” who would predictably saturate the monthly list of IGGY-worthy statements, I should eliminate him from future consideration. While acknowledging that Trump is indeed an evil, despicable “human being,” I’ve decided to continue to include him, but will limit his monthly absurd expressions to one.


1. President Trump. in the monthly ignominious award Trump lying is nothing new, but lying to politicize a tragedy is disgusting in the extreme. This is what we come to expect from the Donald. Trump’s ignorance, looseness with facts, and insensitivity to the human condition bodes ill for our country.

In the aftermath of the most recent terrorist (i.e., jihadist sympathizer) attack, the President decided to blame Chuck Schumer and Democrats. Using a program that no longer exists, Trump fumed:

“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program," a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.” … We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).” … Senator Chuck Schumer helping to import Europe’s problems." … We will stop this craziness!” 

Republican Senator Jeff Flake promptly exposed this lie in a tweet to Trump, while defending Democratic Senator Schumer in the process.

“Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there.”

And, so it goes . . .

Monday, October 30, 2017

OCTOBER 2017 IGNOMINIOUS ABSURDITY OF THE MONTH

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On guns and the Las Vegas shooting:

1. Republican Senators. On Sunday night, a man armed with an automatic weapon opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing more than 50 and wounding more than 200 people. On script, a number of Republican Senators quickly took to Twitter to offer their thoughts and prayers.

Marco Rubio said: I’m praying for all the victims, their families, and our first responders in the #LasVegas #MandalayBay shooting. Senator Orrin Hatch: Woke up this morning to the horrifying news out of Las Vegas. Shocking and senseless. God bless the victims and their families. Richard Shelby: Praying for the victims and the families of the victims involved in the tragic Las Vegas shooting. Thankful for brave first responders. Pat Roberts: God bless the victims of the terrible and senseless shooting in Las Vegas.

And every single one of those Senators voted against the 2013 Assault Weapons Ban that would have prohibited:

… the sale, manufacture, transfer and importation of 157 of the most commonly-owned military-style assault weapons … In addition, the bill bans large-capacity magazines and other ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Perhaps they should stuff their thoughts and prayers and instead support common sense gun reform. But that doesn’t pay as well as the NRA.

Monday, October 2, 2017

REPUBLICANS AND THE HURRICANES

HARVEY III

By Ronald T. Fox

NOTE: This essay is highly critical of Republicans and the Republican Party. In making my points, I admit to taking generalization liberties. Not all Republicans are guilty as I charge below; some, to be sure, are not completely heartless. Such Republicans, though, are few and far between. Today’s GOP is under the control of radical right true believers in unrestrained capitalism and the insulation of private property rights from the reach of government. Their emphasis on economic libertarianism leaves little space for humanity, or, for that matter, democracy. So, when I use the terms “Republican” and “Republican Party,” I’m referring to the party’s dominating--and uncompromising-- radical right.


Hurricanes Harvey was the largest rainfall event in American history. Over 51 inches of rain fell in some areas around Houston. While not bringing as much rainfall, Hurricane Irma delivered powerful winds and vast destruction to Florida, leaving more than a dozen dead and millions without electricity. Not to be outdone, Hurricane Maria, a category five hurricane, brought even greater devastation to Puerto Rico. Ninety percent of the islands is still--two weeks later-- without power or fresh water.

Terrible as this destruction was, it pales in comparison to mega-storm damage elsewhere in the world.  In India, Nepal and Bangladesh torrential monsoon rains and flooding has placed some 16 million children in urgent need of life-saving support.

High magnitude hurricanes, along with record heat waves, wildfires, and draughts, have been occurring with increasing frequency. These destructive natural events, climate scientists report, are almost certainly growing in magnitude because human behavior is causing the earth’s oceans to become warmer.

Each new gigantic hurricane makes me both sad and angry. I feel empathy toward victims, especially low income people who invariably suffer the most. (I’m not so sorry, however, for wealthy folks who choose to build in flood zones or live in fancy houses along a coastline). The know-nothing climate science deniers who have prevented our government from attacking the global warming problem spark my anger, as does the mainstream media, which relishes reporting on hurricane destruction, telling human interest stories, and showing journalists knee deep in flood water, but rarely probes deeper questions about what might be causing storms to grow larger and arrive more often.

In the U.S., climate change deniers are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Republican Party. In alliance with wealthy donors from the oil, gas and coal industries who have a financial stake in opposing any effort to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels, the party has blocked meaningful initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In doing so, the GOP has blood on its hands. It has aided and abetted the extreme weather horrors we are experiencing.

And that is not all. Republican support for unrestricted development, opposition to regulations aimed at protecting the environment, and public health and safety, hostility toward immigrants, and opposition to federal spending that compromises principles of economic libertarianism, exacerbates the human costs of high magnitude storms and wildfires.

The GOP can’t help itself. Decades ago it threw in with billionaire and millionaire ideologues bent on changing the rules of democratic governance to promote unfettered capitalism. The party has become passionately dedicated to promoting their various agendas. This means, among other things, pushing for tax cuts for the rich and austerity for everyone else. It also means rolling back regulations that prioritize human beings over profits.

I’ve been wondering how the Republican Party will respond to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Could these catastrophic climate events, coming so close together, lead them to question Republican "truths" about climate change? Could riveting visuals of destroyed neighborhoods, uprooted families, submerged towns from Houston to Jacksonville to San Juan, and flattened Caribbean islands, along with the realization that it will take years for full recoveries, reach into hard Republican hearts and squeeze out a little humanity? In short, will they learn any lessons from the hurricanes of 2017? 

The extensiveness of destruction in the paths of the hurricanes of 2017 cannot be fully explained by what we know about climate science. Republican opposition to reducing greenhouse gasses, and the party’s policies on land development, deregulation, immigration, and federal spending, made the hurricane-hit areas more vulnerable to destruction. I wish, in the aftermath of the great hurricanes, Republicans will ask themselves the following tough questions.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

SEPTEMBER 2017 IGNOMINIOUS ABSURDITY OF THE MONTH

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1. President Trump’s Staff. Staff for the self-styled “billionaire” are reportedly pushing the Republican National Committee to pick up the growing Russia-related legal bills for Trump’s attorneys. From the Washington Post:

Another question is who will pay the growing legal fees for the president and administration officials caught up in the Russia inquiries. Some in Trump’s orbit are pushing the Republican National Committee to bear the costs, according to three people with knowledge of the situation, including one who euphemistically described the debate as a “robust discussion.”

Though the RNC does have a legal defense fund, it well predates the Russia investigation and is intended to be used for assisting with legal challenges facing the Republican Party, such as a potential election recount.

The RNC has not made a final decision, in part because the committee is still researching whether the funds could legally be used to help pay legal costs related to Russia. But many within the organization are resisting the effort, believing it would be more appropriate to create a separate legal defense fund for the case. Stay tuned.