Trump’s Tax Plan Is An Assault On Working Families

When the Trump administration says that the tax cuts our President proposed this week would be historic, they’re right in one sense. The plan President Trump put forward on Wednesday is one of the worst legislative proposals for working families in recent history.

I agree that today’s tax code is in need of reform. Working American families need relief, American small businesses need help to compete in an increasingly global economy, and many of our nation’s wealthiest individuals use loopholes to avoid paying their fair share. Congress needs to find bipartisan, workable solutions for genuine tax reform that help all Americans make ends meet, and I am ready to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to make that happen.

But President Trump’s tax plan fails to address our biggest economic challenges all while increasing the burden on low- and middle-income families by raising the deficit and laying the foundation for massive budget cuts.

Out of the trillions of dollars in tax cuts that Trump proposed this week, nearly all of that money would end up in the pockets of America’s highest income households and corporations, like Trump and his family.

By any measure, the President’s tax plan proposes massive giveaways to high-income individuals. For example, President Trump’s plan recommends dropping the top individual tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent – a change that would apply only to individuals making over $400,000 each year. President Trump would also scrap the Alternative Minimum Tax, a tax provision meant to ensure that the richest Americans pay their fair share. On top of that, Trump’s plan would also eliminate a tax created under the Affordable Care Act which applies only to individuals making over $200,000.

Every day I’m honored to represent Alabama’s 7th District, which includes many underserved communities in the rural south. The average income in my district for a family of four is just $34,000 annually, and only one percent of the families in my congressional district make over $200,000.

That means that more than 99 percent of the constituents in my district would see zero benefit from lowering the top income tax bracket and eliminating the healthcare tax.

But Trump’s tax cuts don’t just target wealthy individuals, high-earning corporations are the other main beneficiaries of this week’s proposal. The Trump tax plan calls for reducing the corporate tax rate and “pass-through” tax rate to 15 percent, a proposal that helps wealthy corporations far more than the mom-and-pop businesses in Alabama’s 7th District.

The real impact Trump’s tax proposal would have on my constituents comes in the form of a ballooning deficit and future cuts to essential government programs.

The non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says that the Trump tax plan would reduce federal tax revenue by $3 trillion to $7 trillion over the next decade. At the high end, that represents over a third of our nation’s annual GDP.

Attempting to balance those losses in the federal budget could be disastrous. Already President Trump’s proposed budget targets programs that many constituents in my district rely on, like Meals on Wheels and Community Development Block Grants. Together, these initiatives help to keep our seniors from going hungry and our infrastructure from deteriorating.

But the elimination of programs like these does not even come close to paying for the $7 trillion in tax cuts proposed in Trump’s tax plan.

To put $7 trillion of debt in perspective, consider that Social Security costs our nation about $900 million annually, or that we spend about $600 billion annually to fund the United States military. Trying to balance $7 trillion in revenue loss doesn’t just mean cutting to the bone of our most important federal programs, it means cutting off limbs.

President Trump is known for speaking in hyperbole, whether he’s discussing the size of his electoral victory or defending his claims that Mexico will pay for a border wall. But to call his tax plan “reform,” is one of Trump’s greatest exaggerations to date.

True reform means making our child tax credit refundable to provide struggling parents with the help they need raising a family. Reform means building a tax code that focuses relief on our nation’s small businesses and allows our workforce to compete in a global marketplace. Reform is about helping families make ends meet, giving entrepreneurs the leg up they need, and putting our country on solid financial footing.

Instead, President Trump’s tax plan offers our nation’s wealthiest families the tax break of a lifetime. This tax plan isn’t just a missed opportunity, it actively works against reform by raising the deficit and laying the groundwork for damaging budget cuts.

I know that this Congress can do better. Regardless of party, I believe that every lawmaker wants the best for their constituents and for the future of our country, because that is what brought me to Congress. I urge President Trump to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to craft legislation that gives all Americans the opportunity to succeed in today’s economy.

My constituents have too much at stake and deserve nothing less.

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The Only Way To Win America’s Wars Is To End Them

Today, I saw another article on why America is losing its wars in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The gist of this and similar articles is that America’s wars are winnable.  That is, if we bomb more, or send more troops, or change our strategy, or alter our ROE (rules of engagement), or give more latitude to the generals, or use all the weapons at our disposal (to include nukes?), and so on, these wars will prove tractable and even winnable.  This jibes with President Trump’s promises about America winning again, everywhere, especially in wars.

Nonsense.  The U.S. military hasn’t won these wars since the wars themselves are unwinnable by U.S. military action.  Indeed, U.S. military action only makes them worse.

Consider Iraq.  Our invasion in 2003 and our toppling of Saddam kicked off a regional, religious, ethnic, and otherwise complicated civil war that is simply unwinnable by American troops.  Indeed, the presence of (and blunders made by) American troops in Iraq helped to produce ISIS, much-hyped as the current bane of American existence.

Consider Afghanistan.  Our invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban, at least for a moment, but did not produce peace as various Afghan factions and tribes jostled for power.  Over time, the U.S. and NATO presence in the country produced instability rather than stability even as the Taliban proved both resilient and resurgent.  U.S. and NATO forces have simply become yet another faction in the Afghan power game, but unless we want to stay there permanently, we are not going to “win” by any reasonable definition of that word.

You could say the same of the U.S. military’s involvement in similar conflicts like Yemen or Syria (look at the mess we made of Libya). We can kill a lot of “terrorists” and drop a lot of bombs, spreading our share of chaos, but we aren’t going to win, not in the sense of these wars ending on terms that enhance U.S. national security.

This hard reality is one that the U.S. military explains away by using jargon.  Military men talk of generational wars, of long wars, of fourth generation warfare, of gray zones, of military operations other than war (which has its own acronym, MOOTW), and so on. A friend of mine, an Air Force captain, once quipped: “You study long, you study wrong.” You can say something similar of war: “You wage war for long, you wage it wrong.” This is especially true for a democracy.

America’s wars today are unwinnable.  They are unwinnable not only because they are not ours to win: they aren’t even ours.   We refuse to take ownership of them.  At the most fundamental level, we recognize they are not vital to us, since we don’t bother to unify as a country to declare war and to wage it.  Most Americans ignore them because we can ignore them.  The Afghans, the Iraqis, the Syrians, and so on don’t have the luxury of ignoring them.

Trump, with all his talk of winning, isn’t going to change this.  The more he expands the U.S. military, the more he leans on “his” generals for advice, the more he’s going to fail.

Our new commander-in-chief needs to learn one lesson: The only way to win America’s wars is to end them.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, blogs at Bracing Views.

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The Corrosive Consequences Of The Politics Of Tax Cuts

According to the New York Times, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor needs a $28 billion overhaul, including, most significantly, the replacement tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New York and New Jersey. The significance of the tunnel project is hard to overstate, yet Republicans in Congress ― now with White House backing ― appear almost gleeful at the prospect of defunding the railroad and crippling the region. Perhaps it is payback for the famous Saul Steinberg’s New Yorker cover and all that it represents; GOP members of Congress from the flyover states are itching to tell Amtrak to go f―k itself.

It is an odd way to say thank you. The Northeast Corridor is an essential transportation artery in one of the two most economically vital regions ― along with California ― that drive the nation’s economy, and in terms of annual contributions to the federal government, it stands alone. Given the disproportionate amount of funding that the region contributes to the federal government, one would not think that supporting badly need capital investment required by that critical rail link was too much to ask.

A quick look at the Associated Press’s list of per capita federal taxes paid by states tells the story. The states served by the Northeast Corridor ― from north to south ― Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland represent eight of the fourteen leading states in terms of federal taxes paid per resident. 

Year in and year out, those states ― along with most of their blue state brethren ― are net payers of federal taxes while most red states take out more than they pay in. It would be one thing if there was a hint of appreciation expressed by those deep red states to the productive states that provide all that money, but listening to the braying coming from the halls of Congress these days ― and the hostility to funding Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is just one example ― one would think that it was the red states that were supporting the rest of the country. 

With Republicans in full control, the Northeast Corridor states are taking it on the chin. It would be one thing if the GOP simply wanted to take the axe to Amtrak ― it has been a favored target of budget cutters for decades ― but now Republicans are determined to stick it to the blue states on the tax side as well. 

Right at the top of the GOP tax reform agenda ― and reflected in the Trump tax plan as well ― is eliminating the federal deductibility of state and local taxes. This is both a money grab and a political power play. As illustrated in the “tax burden” graphic below, the states that pay the most federal taxes per capita ― the Northeast Corridor, Midwest and West Coast ― tend to have higher state and local taxes than the lower-tax “taker” states as well. For decades, conservative economists such as Art Laffer, Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow have argued that it was only a matter of time before those low tax red states became the shining stars of economic growth.

Yet, for some reason, despite low taxes ― and decades of subsidies from the high tax states ― the future never comes. Federal taxes paid per capita here are directly tied to income per capita of each state, and ― despite the predictions of moralizing tax cutters ― those Northeast Corridor states, from Taxachusetts down to Maryland, continue to produce higher real incomes across their populations and subsidize those low tax, conservative shining stars of Florida, Tennessee and North Carolina, and their brethren. For example, as illustrated in the graph here, per capita incomes in Florida, Tennessee and North Carolina remain essentially unchanged compared to New York State since 1970, a half century ago.

For decades now ― as documented by the conservative Tax Foundation ― more productive blue states have seen their money flow to less productive red states. Yet somehow those red state Republicans get away with saying ― as we now hear in the tax reform discussions on Capitol Hill ― that the deductibility of state and local taxes represents a subsidy by the low tax to the high tax states. While this might be true in a narrow mathematical sense, whatever benefit that deduction provides to taxpayers in high tax states is a pittance compared to the overwhelming subsidies that flow the other way.

It is not that Republican lawmakers object to some states subsidizing others ― after all, Republicans are more likely to represent taker states than payor states. What those Republicans object to is subsidizing what they assert is morally bad behavior on the part of blue states: taxing citizens to pay for government. 

Yet, blue state Democrats look at the same circumstances and see a very different picture. From their vantage point, those higher taxes that Republicans find objectionable go in large part to fund investments in K-12 and higher education that directly contribute to the higher real incomes in blue states ― which in turn have resulted in the higher per capita federal tax payments that are used, in part, to subsidize red states. In the view of those blue state Democrats, red state politicians who prioritize low taxes ― and as a consequence suppressing education funding ― are making policy choices that result in lower levels of education attainment across their communities, and contribute to lower real incomes and less financial security over time.  

In the wake of a presidential election that swung on the devastation wrecked by globalization on less educated populations, one might have imagined that elected officials from those ravaged communities would be focused on the urgency of investments in education to support community economic vitality and family financial security. But instead of pointing to the factors that produce economic success and security over the long term ― for individuals, families and communities ― we just hear more of the same old, same old, as red state politicians continue to hector blue states about what taxes cost, rather than what they produce.

To the extent that the emphasis on low taxes has undermined educational attainment in red state America, the anti-tax Reagan Revolution has turned the GOP into a fount of public policy moralism that has undermined the economic success and security of those communities that it represents. In the modern world, where capital flows to those places that offer the greatest opportunity for an economic return, low taxes are not enough; investments in education and human capital matter. Now, more than ever, investments in primary, secondary and higher education have become critical drivers of long-term economic growth at the state level. 

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trump economic tsar Gary Cohn introduced the key parameters of Donald Trump’s tax cut plan. As in all things Trump, the proposed plan was billed as the largest ever. As if on cue, two days after the press conference introducing the plan, first quarter economic growth came it at a 0.7 percent annualized rate, an unexpected slowdown in economic growth that will surely lead to clamoring among Republicans in support of something approximating Trump’s tax proposals.

The problem is that for the Trump base ― less educated working class whites ― taxes are not the problem and tax reform will not cure what ails them. Despite Trump’s American Carnage rhetoric ― and the urgency that Mnuchin and Cohn sought to convey ― the US economy has been the envy of the advanced economies in its resiliency and rebound from the 2008 financial collapse. The major constraint facing domestic economic expansion is not availability of capital or tax treatment of corporate profits, but tight labor markets and availability of skilled labor. To the extent that proposed tax cuts accelerate US corporate investment and job creation, the primary impact is likely to be increased upward pressures on wages for existing skilled workers rather than the return of jobs to the hardest hit rural communities that have been the focal point of the Trump phenomenon.

Even as the Tax Foundation, Larry Kudlow, Stephen Moore and others have bemoaned the lack of competitiveness of the US corporate tax structure as they make the case for Trump’s massive tax cuts, the Boston Consulting GroupDeloitte (shown here) and McKinsey have published studies showing that the United States offers one of, if not the most, attractive climate for new investment across the globe. Those studies conclude that manufacturing costs in the United States today ― driven by factors including rising wages in developing countries, low domestic energy costs, and rising productivity ― are only marginally higher than in China, with trends that continue to improve.

Donald Trump’s populist politics have turned the discussion of US competitiveness and job creation on its head. The carnage of Trump’s imagination is not a national phenomenon, but a localized one. Nationally, the unemployment rate is low and middle-class real incomes are growing, even as rural communities have been devastated by economic trends. Rather than encouraging families and communities to understand the critical importance of investment in education to real income growth and security over the long-term, Trump ― like generations of Republicans before him ― has chosen instead to play upon the resentments of less educated voters in exurban and rural areas toward economic elites in the relatively successful blue states and urban centers, while promoting tax cuts that offer little or no long-term value to them or their communities. 

The states along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor have done well by their residents over the years. Decade after decade, those states have contributed far more to the federal kitty than they have taken out. Yet for all their success ― and the billions of dollars they pour into the pockets of red state taxpayers year after year ― they continue to be subject to resentment and derision from Republicans in Congress, who take their money and then tell them to pay for their own railroad. Those same politicians, in pursuit of their own advancement, ignore the critical links between educational attainment, and family incomes and financial security, and push policies of cutting taxes rather than investments in education that might improve the welfare and financial security of their constituents over time.

Follow David Paul on Twitter @dpaul. Artwork by Jay Duret. Check out his political cartooning at Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.

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Workers Of The World Unite Behind Loyalty Day?

The President has issued a proclamation that May 1 be celebrated as “Loyalty Day.” Although in doing so he may be revealing his political savvy, he also once again proves the lack of historical awareness animating his White House and the movement that got him there. The text of the proclamation states that the day is intended “To express our country’s loyalty to individual liberties, to limited government, and to the inherent dignity of every human being.” Let’s think about this list for a moment, in light of the founders and of the actions to date of this administration.

We can all agree that the founders valued individual liberties. They enshrined a list of those liberties in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution, a document that the short proclamation references twice). Beyond the much touted right of militia men needed for the defense of the nation to bear arms, they valued many other individual liberties—freedom of the press first among them.

Limited government was not a goal of the Constitution’s authors, rather quite the opposite. The opponents of big government, the anti-federalists, lost the struggle over the Constitution. They feared that the expanded powers it gave to the central government would come at the expense of the states and of individuals. It could easily be argued that their assessment was correct. Trump’s party runs the massive federal government created by the Federalists, enshrined in the Constitution, yet they claim that it is a government dedicated to limited federal powers. They wield the great power that comes with the presidency, but they also want you to believe they are for limited government (especially when they cut health care or open public lands to businesses). So the “limited government” claims of Loyalty Day are both ahistorical and politically self-serving.

Finally the proclamation cites the government’s support for “the inherent dignity of every human being.” This reference may be code for the Republicans’ anti-abortion stance; it is evocative of language used by Catholics when explaining their church’s commitment to opposing abortion, although Catholics, unlike most Republicans, understand that inherent dignity also demands such unpopular policies as care of the poor and opposition to the death penalty.

More obviously, references to the inherent dignity of every human being makes a transparent bid to commandeer May 1, international workers’ right day, to the Republican cause. May Day is already dedicated to human dignity because it fights the abuse of the powerless by the powerful. A day celebrated across Europe and elsewhere, May Day features marches and rallies in support of workers’ right. In the United States May Day has made a modest comeback as a left-leaning (pro-worker, pro-immigrants’ rights) holiday. In the 20th century, the U.S. government tried to suppress its celebration, fearful of its association with Communism. They replaced it with Labor Day four-months later in the year, since that day had no larger political meaning. Declaring May 1 Loyalty Day, the President was no doubt aware that his political opponents mean to take to the streets on Monday.

May Day as celebrated internationally represents the opposite of patriotism. It rejects the idea of elevating one country over others, as Loyalty Day does, in favor of promoting workers’ shared needs and goals across all countries. Demanding public affirmations of Loyalty instead invokes not just patriotism but repressive regimes: loyalty oaths, loyalty parades honoring the Führer, or allegedly disloyal Soviet citizens sent to the Gulag. Put alongside our now nearly ubiquitous use of the term “homeland”—so reminiscent of the Russian “motherland” or the German “fatherland”—Loyalty celebrations have unsettling associations, as many have already pointed out. May Day, in contrast, is inherently internationalist. That is why it was opposed as potentially Communist in an earlier era in U.S. history.

Trump’s move to remake May Day into an event celebrating the government he runs is transparent, but it may also be brilliant. Perhaps, ever the showman, he intends to claim all those hundreds of thousands of protesters holding signs to stop the deportations and rein in big business as his supporters, which would amount to an Orwellian move of monumental proportions. Since he threw an under-attended party in Washington in January, he may imagine himself running to the front of someone else’s parade so he can pretend he planned it all along. More likely he hopes some well-staged loyalty celebrations on the part of his dwindling numbers of supporters will give the right-wing media something to cover other than the traditional May Day events. When workers of the world unite, it seems unlikely to be behind this President.

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Five Ways Donald Trump Has Broken His Promise To Protect Social Security, Medicare And Medicaid In His First 100 Days

Co-authored by Linda Benesch, Communications Director, Social Security Works

Donald Trump ran for President as a different kind of Republican. During the primary, he stood out from the crowd by promising to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He went on to make that promise a centerpiece of his general election campaign.

Even before the election, there was good reason to be extremely skeptical of Trump’s promise. After all, prior to running, he had called Social Security a Ponzi scheme, said that “privatization would be good for all of us,” and, in true elitist fashion, called for raising the retirement age to age 70, because “how many times will you really want to take that trailer to the Grand Canyon?” Moreover, he selected Mike Pence as his vice president. Pence has a long record of attacking Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Indeed, Pence criticized Bush’s Social Security privatization proposal for not going far enough, fast enough!

It is clear that Trump understands how popular these programs are. Social Security has famously been called the third rail of politics – go after it and your political career is dead. In a 2011 interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said he was on board with plans to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — but that Republicans should be very careful “not to fall into the Democratic trap” by doing it in the open, without bipartisan cover, or they would pay the price politically.

So, did Trump mean what he said during the campaign? Or, did he say what he needed to in order to get elected, knowing all along he would break his campaign promise? Unfortunately, It looks like the latter. After only 100 days in office, he has already jeopardized his promise to the American people in at least five ways:

1. Championing a “health care” bill that would raid Medicare and gut Medicaid

The American Health Care Act, AKA Trumpcare, would be very destructive to both Medicare and Medicaid. Trumpcare raids $117 billion dollars from Medicare, depriving the program of essential funding and giving Congressional Republicans the perfect excuse to call for cuts a few years down the road. It cuts nearly a trillion dollars from Medicaid, which would be a disaster for, among others, millions of seniors, who rely on Medicaid to pay for long term care costs, both at home and in nursing homes.

Trumpcare would also be a disaster for Social Security beneficiaries in their early 60s who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare. The bill would allow insurance companies to charge older customers far more, which the CBO estimates could lead to a massive 750% increase in their premiums. Not only has he not opposed these campaign-breaking promises, he is “disappointed,” he says, that House Republicans haven’t yet rammed this harmful legislation through.

2. Appointing Anti-Social Security Mick Mulvaney as Budget Director

If Trump truly intended to keep his promise to protect Social Security and Medicare, he would be surrounding himself with people who support that goal. He has done exactly the opposite. For the key position of Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Trump appointed Mick Mulvaney, a member of the House Freedom Caucus well known for his fervent support of Social Security and Medicare cuts.

Mulvaney has enormous influence over the budgets of the agencies responsible for administering Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If that weren’t bad enough, he promised both GOP lawmakers and right-wing media personalities that he will push Trump to cut Social Security. On recent television appearances, including Face the Nation, Mulvaney has outrageously asserted that Social Security Disability Insurance isn’t “real” Social Security.

Obviously, Social Security’s insurance against the loss of wages in the event of disability, as well as old age and death, are all essential parts of working families’ earned Social Security benefits. But, it is not hard to see the method in Mulvaney’s madness. By Mulvaney’s Orwellian illogic, Trump could cut Social Security, but claim he did not!

3. Appointing Anti-Medicare Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary

Tom Price, Trump’s choice to head the cabinet department that runs Medicare and Medicaid, is just as dangerous as Mulvaney. Moreover, by virtue of his position, Price is a trustee of Social Security and Medicare. Talk about a fox in the henhouse: Price has said “nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government’s intrusion into medicine through Medicare.” and “We will not rest until we make certain that government-run health care [e.g., Medicare] is ended.” Trump has now put him in the perfect position to carry out that threat.

On top of his abhorrent policy views, Price also faces very serious accusations of insider trading, working with pharmaceutical corporations to block regulations they opposed and lining his own pockets in the process, but that’s an aside. Even if he were above reproach, his long history of wanting to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is a breach of faith with those who believed Trump on the campaign trail when he said he would protect these vital programs.

4. Instituting a Months-Long Hiring Freeze That Hurt Social Security Beneficiaries

Social Security doesn’t add a penny to the deficit. Indeed, it has dedicated revenue and an accumulated surplus of $2.8 trillion, out of which is paid not only benefits but the associated administrative costs. Nevertheless, only days after taking office, President Trump instituted a federal hiring freeze that included the Social Security Administration, which is already in a weakened state due to years of budget cuts imposed by Congressional Republicans. The hiring freeze forced SSA to turn away beneficiaries who came to their field offices for assistance.

Trump claims he wants to run government like a business. Any business that had a product as successful and profitable as Social Security would be increasing customer service, not restricting it. Making it harder for Americans to access their earned Social Security benefits – access they have already paid for – is terrible policy and a violation of Trump’s promise.

5. Staying Silent in the Face of Attacks on Social Security and Medicare From His Own Administration and Party Leadership

During the election, Trump had no problem attacking leaders in his own party for supporting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid cuts. He went so far as to say “they want to really cut [Social Security], and they want to cut it very substantially, the Republicans, and I’m not going to do that” and even called out Paul Ryan by name. He, also, has not lost his flair for tweeting.

But since the election, Trump has been completely silent in the face of attacks on Social Security and Medicare from GOP leaders. Not one comment. Not one tweet.

Just days after the election, Ryan made it clear that he plans to make 2017 the year that he finally accomplishes his decades long goal of destroying Medicare via privatization. Trump said nothing. In December, the Republican Chair of the House Social Security Subcommittee introduced a bill to gut Social Security. Trump said nothing. This silence even extends to his own administration. Mulvaney is all over television attacking Social Security and saying that Trump’s promise isn’t binding, and the President has declined to reprimand him.

A few weeks ago, reports emerged that the White House was considering, as part of its tax plan, the idea of weakening Social Security, perhaps fatally, by raiding a substantial part of its dedicated revenue. Though that proposal has not yet emerged, the tax proposals that have been released have encouraged right-wing ideologues to argue, in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page and elsewhere, that the proposed tax cuts for corporations and billionaires are great but would be even better if they were paid for by cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Still, Trump has said nothing.

As Trump acknowledged during the primaries, Republican politicians are hostile to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Even though Trump’s first 100 days have shown no fidelity to his campaign promise, it is not too late for him to prove he really is different from the Republican establishment.

He can repudiate that part of Trumpcare that undermines his promise. He can make clear that Mulvaney and Price are not running the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid show. He can propose and push for the adequate funding of SSA and the part of HHS responsible for the administration of Medicare and Medicaid. And most important, he can attack those in his party who propose dismantling these essential programs and tweet his continued commitment to them.

If he was not just conning the public when he promised to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, he should do all of those things. The first 100 days should not make any of us hold our breath in anticipation, though.

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As A Physician Practicing In The Safety Net, I Worry About The Patients We Do Not See

By Dave A. Chokshi, New York University Langone Medical Center

In medicine, we speak of “seeing patients” when we are rounding in the hospital or caring for those who come to our clinics. But what about those people who may be sick but do not seek care? What is our responsibility to the patients we do not see? The Conversation

This question takes on greater urgency in the current political climate, as patients face the threat of losing health insurance. Renewed efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act leave millions wondering whether they will be covered.

For me, as a physician practicing in the safety net, abstract numbers evoke the very real stories of my uninsured patients. One of my patients, whom I’ll call Elsa, had not seen a doctor since immigrating to the United States 15 years ago. That abruptly changed one morning: She awoke to find the room spinning around her and, terrifyingly, she could not articulate the words to explain to her husband what was going on. She was having a stroke.

There are many reasons that patients like Elsa may not seek care – until they have no choice. Although she felt no symptoms before her stroke, Elsa was one of about 13 million U.S. adults with undiagnosed high blood pressure. I wondered if making her aware of her blood pressure would have been enough to avoid her suffering.

But even if high blood pressure may sit atop the list of problems I write out, from his or her perspective it may not crack the top five. Food security, job stability, child care and affordable housing understandably feel more urgent. Time and again, I have learned that taking care of my patients starts by trying to walk a mile in their shoes.

Why patients may not seek care

Sometimes, forgoing care is a symptom of social isolation. I asked another patient of mine – whom I had recently diagnosed with uncontrolled, likely longstanding diabetes – about his eating habits. I learned that in his routine, he would go for days at a time without interacting with another person; he did not have any family nearby and worked from his home computer.

Aside from deterring access to care, loneliness and social isolation have direct effects on health. One review of 148 studies showed that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death was comparable with risk factors such as obesity and alcohol use.

In other cases, the health care system must take responsibility for barriers to patients that we ourselves erect. Beyond costs, structural barriers include inadequate language interpretation services and the assumption of health literacy when conveying information. Meanwhile, historical inequities often underlie wary attitudes toward health care.

Dr. Mary Bassett, the health commissioner of New York City, has spoken plainly about this: “We must explicitly and unapologetically name racism in our work to protect and promote health…We must deepen our analysis of racial oppression, which means remembering some uncomfortable truths about our shared history.”

In the same vein, new immigration policies may have a chilling effect on the willingness of people like Elsa to see a doctor, if they perceive negative repercussions for themselves or their families.

Many patients with the greatest unmet needs are therefore marginalized, with only glancing interactions with the health system – or none at all, in the most wrenching cases of suicide, drug overdose and other chronic illnesses that end in catastrophe.

When they do seek care, it is sporadic. They may show up in the ER, but not to a primary care follow-up appointment. If an ensuing phone call goes unanswered, or their phone is out of service, we label them as “lost to follow-up” and move on to the next patient on the list.

What needs to change

Doing better by these patients will require moving the locus of accountability for health further into communities. It means bringing more of a public health mindset to health care; that is, not reflexively restricting our purview to those who happen to cross our clinic’s threshold.

Hospitals and health systems must have the humility to reach across boundaries and partner with local institutions that are sometimes more trusted, and often more relevant, in people’s daily lives, including churches, schools, food pantries and parks.

In one recent example, the 54 branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia were shown to be vital community nodes for health-related services like literacy programs, healthy eating initiatives, job fairs and food preparation courses. Public libraries are particular safe havens for those experiencing mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness – as well as youth and recent immigrants. We should consider how the these locations are therefore already a part of our health ecosystem.

Doctors and other clinicians may balk at trying to take care of the patients we do not see. After all, with the harried pace set by the 15-minute office visit, it is hard enough to keep up with the patients we do see. But the goal is not to schedule doctor’s appointments for all library-goers, but rather to equip them to be better stewards of their own health, which sometimes involves health care providers, sometimes not. While physicians can’t do it alone, we can lend our voices to those calling for greater outreach, less stigma and protection of the most vulnerable.

Prevention, not regression

In Elsa’s case, when she had her stroke, she was rushed to the ER and received excellent care from the hospital team. Neurologists treated the blocked vessels in her brain and diagnosed her with a narrowed heart valve and high blood pressure.

As a doctor in a system that accepts all patients, regardless of ability to pay, I was proud to be a part of her follow-up care. She underwent heart valve surgery, and we put her on blood thinners and blood pressure medicines to reduce her risk of another stroke. Her rehabilitation, all things considered, was going well. The health care system had reacted to Elsa’s crisis with swift competence.

At our last clinic visit, my mind turned to what could have been done to prevent her stroke. But the chances to intervene were too few. She and her husband made a living as bottle-pickers; they spent hours every day sifting through trash for bottles to recycle. Elsa told me they made enough money to get by, since they lived with her nephew. But visiting me in clinic, not to mention a cardiologist, neurologist and physical therapist, cost her time and thus cash.

And so for every Elsa who walks into our clinic I know there is another patient we do not see.

With health coverage for millions of Americans in limbo, we must speak out and organize just to keep seeing the many patients who have been newly brought into care. And at the same time, we must develop better ways to find and support people like Elsa – even before we see them as patients.


Dave A. Chokshi, Physician, New York University Langone Medical Center

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The Heineken Ad Is Worse Than The Pepsi Ad — You’re Just Too Stupid To Know It

If you asked me to describe the worst blind date ever, it would go something like this:

We arrive at an abandoned warehouse for drinks. My date looks like a cross between John Malkovich and Britney Spears when she was struggling. I can tell I’m gonna need to get drunk to get through this. But first, for no discernible reason, we have to build an entire fucking bar from scratch. Now I’m sweating. Midway through the date, it’s revealed that the person I’m working with is an actual neo-Nazi. A strained conversation ensues about why my humanity isn’t up for debate. Then we drink the third shittiest beer on the planet until one of us dies from kidney failure. The end.

If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the new Heineken commercial being dubbed “The Antidote To The Pepsi Kendall Jenner Ad.” Well, the funny thing about antidotes is, over time, they can be just as deadly as the poison. And that’s why this ad is high-key worse than Pepsi’s latest tragedy and/or brilliant marketing ploy.

I understand the urge to like the Heineken ad. It shows people with opposing viewpoints finding common ground while engaging civilly and bonding over capitalism. It’s a liberal turkey lightly basted with conservative values. The Pepsi ad was more like a frozen Butterball to the face. So what’s not to like? Well… everything.

For starters, we have to stop putting regressive ideology on equal footing with progressive ideology. If for no other reason because it’s mathematically disingenuous. For example, in the Heineken ad, one of the “blind date” subjects doesn’t believe in climate change, while the person he’s paired with does.

Can I pause here for a second and be honest? I don’t give a shit about climate change. I’m too busy trying to find affordable housing and childcare. But that doesn’t mean I go around trying to pretend it’s not happening. I don’t have to be among the 97% of scientists who agree climate change is real and man-made. I know climate change is real because I gave birth in November and my child has only seen snow twice, even though we live in New England and she sleeps in the freezer. Climate change is already having real and lasting effects on the most marginalized communities and impoverished nations, so why would we give the “alt” view any air time? Especially when that view is completely false. If we’re gonna do that, the commercial should have included a member of the Flat Earth Society paired with somebody who… I don’t know… graduated from fourth grade.

We have to stop putting regressive ideology on equal footing with progressive ideology.

I’m also annoyed that racism wasn’t touched on, but transphobia was. Heineken apparently knew it would be taboo to have one of their subjects admit, “I don’t like Mexicans that much,” but thought it was fine to have a cis man stare at a camera and reveal that he’s grossed out by trans folks. By doing so, Heineken managed to aid in normalizing bigoted and violent views. Not to mention his pseudo-acceptance at the end of the ad was for a thin, white, “passing” trans woman with military experience. I doubt he’d have been down to pop bottles with a fat Black trans woman with five o’clock shadow and no intention (or resources) to transition.

For me, the final pairing was the most infuriating. It featured a presumably queer Black woman and the villain from Ant-Man. At one point he says earnestly, “Women need to remember” that their purpose on Earth is to “have [his] children.” I had to pause the commercial at this point to go and rewatch the Pepsi ad, just to recalibrate my capacity for white bullshit. I only continued because I convinced myself that the sista’ might bash a Heineken bottle upside dude’s head. She let me down.

The commercial ends with everyone smiling and laughing over their bigotry and diminished humanity. And just like in real life, cis white women don’t even bother to show up. Cue the sound of liberals furiously masturbating to the idea that terrible white men and marginalized folks can get along if only they spent more time building Ikea furniture and drinking European Coor’s Light.

This commercial is the worst type of propaganda. It tricks you into thinking social problems can be resolved if only people tolerate their oppression just a LITTLE while longer. It pushes the idea that bigotry, sexism, and transphobia are just differences of opinion that are up for debate, and deserving of civil discourse and equal consideration. And it makes folks think that four minute commercials are a viable way to address societal ills that corporations have no interest in fixing.

I’m sorry, but Heineken’s going to have to do a better job if they want us to forget about that time they hung promotional banners in an underground dog fighting club. Oops.

Note: My use of “blind date” (and “stupid”) is ableist. I’ll go sit in the corner.

Reposted from DiDi Delgado’s Medium page.

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Friday Talking Points [434] — 99 Days And Counting…

Tomorrow, in case you hadn’t heard, will be Donald Trump’s 100th day as president. Grading his performance has been a weeklong event in the media. Rather than our normal Friday format, what follows is our honest evaluation of Trump’s first 100 days, which might be summed up as: “Coulda been better, coulda been a lot worse.”

The most heartening conclusion for liberals, after 99 days, is that Trump’s incompetence is his saving grace. Imagine how much worse things could have been right now if Trump really did have his act together, in other words.

The most obvious conclusion to be drawn is one that everyone should know already ― Trump likes style a lot more than he has ever cared about substance. He loves signing things in media photo opportunities, not caring in the slightest what is actually on the papers he’s signing. The media attention is what he craves, not making actual policy changes. Which, as previously mentioned, is a huge relief to his political opponents.

Most presidents pay attention to the voters they didn’t convince, in their first 100 days. Some sort of effort at reaching out to the other side of the aisle normally gives an incoming president a “honeymoon” period with the public, as even those who hadn’t voted for him decide to give him the benefit of the doubt. Trump ― again, unsurprisingly ― didn’t do any such thing, and the concrete result was the complete absence of a honeymoon. The highest job approval average he’s managed yet has been 46 percent ― which is smaller than the percent that actually voted for him.

Trump has lurched between trying to please his base by making good on promises he made on the campaign trail and smacking his base in their metaphorical face by either completely flip-flopping on other promises or just going along with anything Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell put on his desk, no matter how bad the impact of such actions among his own base is going to be.

A perfect example of this is Trump now bragging about how many executive orders he’s signed. All throughout the campaign, Trump excoriated President Obama for doing exactly the same thing. “Tyranny!” was the cry, or “He thinks he’s an emperor, not a president!” Concerns about tyrannical imperialism are heard no more, however, because Trump is now downright proud of doing exactly what he supposedly disapproved of when Obama was doing it. Such a reversal has been par for the course for Trump. Everything he said on the campaign trail was some sort of performance art, as far as Trump is concerned, and he will be held to none of it now that he’s in office. On balance, this is a good thing, because it allows him to disavow all sorts of inane things he promised he’d do.

In fact, Trump has seemed to get into the most trouble when he actually tries to follow through on his promises. Perhaps he’s learning the lesson “don’t even try,” one would like to think.

But we do try to be fair, so let’s take a realistic look at what Donald Trump has and has not accomplished during his first 99 days in office. These can be broken down into four main categories: stuff he’s undone, stuff he’s done, stuff he’s tried but failed at, and stuff he hasn’t done at all.

Stuff Trump has undone

Republicans in Congress have ― very quietly ― been undoing all they can of Barack Obama’s legacy. They discovered a law that had only been used once before, which allowed them to undo Obama’s final actions as president. They’ve only got a few more weeks of this legislative window being open, though, so this will soon cease to be even a possibility. But the larger impact of their frenzied undoing may be that it becomes a regular event. Congresses in future may go through similar “tear it all down” periods at the start of future presidents’ terms, in other words. Time will tell.

The reason they (and Trump) have been very quiet about all this is that most of the regulations they’ve been so busy overturning were actually good ones that poll very favorably with the public. There simply was no outcry to undo this stuff ― in some cases, exactly the opposite was true. What possible constituency of actual voters were demanding that everyone’s browser history be sold to the highest bidder? If the media hadn’t been so distracted by all of Trump’s tweets and other bumbling, this would have been an incredibly unpopular thing to do, but Congress snuck it by while most people weren’t even looking.

The other Obama actions that Republicans overturned were almost as breathtaking as the browser history fire sale. Who was demanding that mentally unfit people be given easier access to purchase guns, after all? Other rules overturned (that few noticed) have resulted in the following: making it easier for coal companies to destroy streams and rivers with toxic pollution, making savings for retirement harder, letting Wall Street completely off the leash again, allowing Trump to “take back” designations of National Monuments from previous presidents, not requiring federal contractors to disclose violations of labor regulations, getting rid of a rule requiring records of worker injuries, and allowing bears to be shot while hibernating. Other than a few small interest groups (and a few large corporate interests), who was clamoring for any of this to happen?

What’s really astonishing about all of this is that this is the area where Trump has actually accomplished the most. Bills passed Congress, Trump signed them, and the new policy became law. The way things are supposed to normally work in Washington, in other words. But due to Trump’s amusing antics (on Twitter and in person), the media largely yawned at all of it. If these new laws had been the only thing happening, more attention would have been paid, and the public may have gotten outraged over at least a few of these extremely unpopular actions.

Trump has been most effective when the media is not paying attention ― a fact which surely must annoy him on some level.

Stuff Trump has done

A recent Saturday Night Live sketch had “Trump” in the Oval Office, demanding to be read a list of his accomplishments in advance of the 100-day milestone. The list consisted of: “Neil Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court,” and nothing else.

It was funny because it’s so close to being the entire truth. Trump has not managed to achieve any major goal at all during his first 100 days beyond getting his nominee confirmed to the highest court in the land. All of those grandiose things he promised while campaigning ― many of which he promised “on Day One” ― simply have not happened. No major bill has even made it through a single chamber of Congress, much less been put on Trump’s desk. The wall remains unbuilt. Obamacare still exists. Muslims are not being banned, nor are they being subjected to “extreme vetting.” China is now our best buddy. There is no magic plan to defeat ISIS.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves ― this category is supposed to be stuff Trump actually has done. And, late-night comedy aside, Trump has managed to score some minor victories even while his major promises remain almost completely unfulfilled.

To accurately measure Trump’s 100 days, we started with his own explicit 100-days promises. Trump, very late in the campaign, gave a speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was in many ways the most concrete speech he ever gave as a candidate, because it made 28 solid promises that Trump said he would achieve in his first 100 days. Read off a TelePrompTer (rather than ad-libbed), Trump pledged to the public that these things would all be quickly accomplished.

Trump has successfully done five of them, and partially done at least seven more. Here are the things Trump promised that he achieved, in some fashion or another [Note: in all of the below lists, many items have been reworded for brevity, but the ones in quotes are taken directly from Trump’s speech]:

  • Federal workforce hiring freeze (this was temporary and has already been lifted, but Trump did follow through on his promise early in his term).
  • Requirement that every new regulation requires getting rid of two other regulations (Trump signed this into being, but the effects of it have yet to be seen, really).
  • Allowing the Keystone XL pipeline (and other pipeline projects) to move forward.
  • Withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (largely symbolic, since it was dead on arrival in Congress, but Trump did formally withdraw very early on in his presidency).
  • Nominate a Supreme Court justice.

On that last one, Trump was even more successful than he promised, since he couched it as “begin the process of selecting a replacement,” but he not only named Gorsuch, he also got the Senate to confirm him. So on the one big thing he’s achieved, he actually did better than he promised.

Trump has at least partially succeeded on several other promises:

  • Lift restrictions on oil and coal.
  • “Cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama” (Trump has certainly tried his best to live up to this one).

The other three on this list all deal with lobbying. Trump promised a 5-year ban on White House and congressional officials becoming lobbyists, a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, and a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for elections. While some of this was announced by the White House, there also have been stories of “waivers” being issued already, so that Trump White House officials can indeed move right into a cushy lobbying job. Also, all that insistence on stopping foreign influence has to be seen as more than a little ironic, given all the problems Trump and his team have been having over Russian influence in his own campaign. So Trump may have achieved some sort of Potemkin-village “lobbyist ban” (to use an appropriate Russian metaphor), but in reality the swamp has not been drained one tiny bit.

There are two other items that Trump could claim at least partial credit on as well:

  • “I will direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately.”
  • “Begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.”

On the first, Trump just announced a new tariff on Canadian softwoods. But all Trump really promised was to begin the process, so perhaps other tariffs will be forthcoming in the next 100 days. On the second, Trump has indeed created a much more aggressive deportation policy, but he hasn’t gone nearly as far as many of his supporters had hoped. This too will be a developing story, but in all fairness Trump has to be given some sort of credit for at least starting the processes he said he would.

Stuff Trump tried but failed to do

There are three big items in this category. Two of which failed (so far) in the courts, and one of which failed (so far) in the House of Representatives. Here they are, in Trump’s language from the Gettysburg speech:

  • “Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.”
  • “Cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities.”
  • “Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act. Fully repeals Obamacare and replaces it with Health Savings Accounts, the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, and lets states manage Medicaid funds. Reforms will also include cutting the red tape at the FDA: there are over 4,000 drugs awaiting approval, and we especially want to speed the approval of life-saving medications.”

Trump has tried to do the first one twice now, and both times federal judges have stopped him. Trump made it pathetically easy for judges to rule against him because all the judges have to do is to listen to Trump’s announcement of the policy idea on the campaign trail to see how unconstitutional the intent behind it truly is. Trump wasn’t helped by a Chris Christie interview, either, where Christie admitted that Trump directed him to “make a Muslim ban legal” somehow.

Just last week, another federal judge halted Trump’s policy towards sanctuary cities as well. The federal government is not supposed to blackmail states or cities in this fashion, to put it bluntly.

But while Trump has so far been stymied, liberals shouldn’t get complacent about the status quo quite yet. Yes, Trump has been blocked. But Trump can appeal, and he just put a staunch conservative on the Supreme Court ― so he might just win these cases in the end.

As for repealing and replacing Obamacare, Trump doesn’t even get partial credit. All throughout the campaign, Trump promised voters the moon, the sun, and the stars on healthcare reform. His plan would be wonderful. He knew how to fix everything. Everyone would be covered. Everyone’s costs would go down. It would be far, far better than Obamacare in every conceivable way. Trust him, he knew exactly what to do.

Once in office, Trump did nothing. Not a thing. He had no plan. He couldn’t come up with even the bare-bones outline of a plan. Not even a one-page memo on what his goals were. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Trump never had a plan and couldn’t create one if his life depended on it (as indeed many Americans’ lives do).

Then Trump thought he was saved by Paul Ryan’s hastily-assembled trainwreck of a bill. “Aha!” Trump thought, “I’ll just get behind this and sign it and then I can say I repealed Obamacare!”

But Ryancare was (and continues to be) nothing short of a spectacular failure. When the public learned what was in it (and how many of them would lose health insurance), only 17 percent backed the Ryancare plan. During the same period a rather astonishing thing happened ― Obamacare suddenly became very popular, for the first time since the law’s passage. Obamacare began polling at higher than 50 percent approval, something it had never managed previously, as the public finally learned what all of the components of it were (all of which were under threat of removal in Ryancare). So the only thing Paul Ryan achieved was to make Obamacare a success. That’s gotta hurt ― but don’t worry, Obamacare covers that pain.

The White House increased the pressure on Ryan as the 100-days marker approached, and there was supposed to be a last-minute push to revive Ryancare ― after making it even worse in an attempt to get Tea Partiers to vote for it. No vote has happened, because by making it worse Ryan alienated moderate members of his own party. All of Trump’s pressure tactics have not even moved the bill through the Republican House.

So not only did Trump fail to come up with his own big, beautiful healthcare plan (as he had promised), the one he got behind is a total Dumpster fire and will not pass even one house in Congress. That is an abject failure, any way you look at it.

Stuff Trump hasn’t done

The first eighteen points on Trump’s Gettysburg agenda were actions he was going to personally take as president. He has failed to deliver on four of them:

  • Propose a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on Congress.
  • Label China a currency manipulator (Trump completely flip-flopped on this one).
  • Renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA (this one is somewhat of an embarrassment for Trump, since he was all set to announce he was withdrawing on his 100th day, but then some advisors talked him down off the ledge, so now he’s merely promising to renegotiate at some unspecified future point).
  • “Cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure.”

Anyone think that last one is going to happen? Billions for water and environmental infrastructure? Yeah, right. Trump has (so far) not backed out of the Paris agreement on climate change, but could do so at any time.

But the big list of things Trump has not even attempted yet is the last ten items in his Gettysburg speech. This was a list of all the wonderful bills Trump was going to personally propose to Congress, and “fight for their passage within the first 100 days.” Not a single one of them has happened. Trump has gone zero-for-ten, on a list he created.

Donald Trump has not proposed a single item on this list as a bill Congress could pass. Here are eight of the ten things Trump promised, but has not delivered:

  • “End The Offshoring Act. Establishes tariffs to discourage companies from laying off their workers in order to relocate in other countries and ship their products back to the U.S. tax-free.”
  • “American Energy & Infrastructure Act. Leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years. It is revenue neutral.”
  • “School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends Common Core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make 2- and 4-year college more affordable.”
  • “Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act. Allows Americans to deduct childcare and elder care from their taxes, incentivizes employers to provide on-side childcare services, and creates tax-free Dependent Care Savings Accounts for both young and elderly dependents, with matching contributions for low-income families.”
  • “End Illegal Immigration Act. Fully funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall; establishes a 2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S. after a previous deportation, and a 5-year mandatory minimum for illegally re-entering for those with felony convictions, multiple misdemeanor convictions or two or more prior deportations; also reforms visa rules to enhance penalties for overstaying and to ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first.”
  • “Restoring Community Safety Act. Reduces surging crime, drugs and violence by creating a Task Force On Violent Crime and increasing funding for programs that train and assist local police; increases resources for federal law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors to dismantle criminal gangs and put violent offenders behind bars.”
  • “Restoring National Security Act. Rebuilds our military by eliminating the defense sequester and expanding military investment; provides veterans with the ability to receive public V.A. treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice; protects our vital infrastructure from cyber-attack; establishes new screening procedures for immigration to ensure those who are admitted to our country support our people and our values.”
  • “Clean up Corruption in Washington Act. Enacts new ethics reforms to Drain the Swamp and reduce the corrupting influence of special interests on our politics.”

Not a single item on that list has appeared from the White House.

The remaining two Trump tried to “accomplish” right before the bell rang, but can’t be counted as any sort of serious efforts towards achievement. The first was:

  • “Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act. Fully repeals Obamacare and replaces it with Health Savings Accounts, the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, and lets states manage Medicaid funds. Reforms will also include cutting the red tape at the F.D.A.: there are over 4,000 drugs awaiting approval, and we especially want to speed the approval of life-saving medications.”

Trump gets no credit for this, even with the Ryancare bill, because he never came up with even a shadow of his own plan, which is why it’s in both our “tried and failed” and “didn’t even try” categories. The final item is one where Trump thought he could do his homework on the bus and hand it in for some sort of partial credit:

  • “Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act. An economic plan designed to grow the economy 4% per year and create at least 25 million new jobs through massive tax reduction and simplification, in combination with trade reform, regulatory relief, and lifting the restrictions on American energy. The largest tax reductions are for the middle class. A middle-class family with 2 children will get a 35% tax cut. The current number of brackets will be reduced from 7 to 3, and tax forms will likewise be greatly simplified. The business rate will be lowered from 35 to 15 percent, and the trillions of dollars of American corporate money overseas can now be brought back at a 10 percent rate.”

Trump did announce his “tax plan” this week. It was a joke, really ― a one-page document with fewer than 200 words, and only seven actual numbers. All that talk about big benefits for the middle class didn’t make the final cut, although all the goodies for corporations did. But a one-page memo isn’t any sort of “Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act.” It’s a one-page memo, no more. And even Trump advisors aren’t now cheerfully talking about four percent growth rates, instead they’re guardedly speaking of three percent growth. In the first quarter of this year, the American economy grew at 0.7 percent, if anyone wants a reality check.

We wrote yesterday about one glaring conclusion that pretty much everyone in the political and media world has missed, when considering Trump’s tax plan ― with one change, Trump would save himself 81 percent of the taxes he paid on the one form we have for him (from 2005). Thank you, Rachel Maddow and DCReport.

Trump paid $38.4 million in taxes, on gross earnings of over $150 million. But if the Alternative Minimum Tax is abolished (as Trump’s tax plan calls for), he would only have paid $7.2 million in taxes in 2005. That’s an effective rate of only 4.7 percent, and it would mean Trump would save a whopping 81 percent of his tax bill. Why aren’t Democrats screaming this from the mountaintops? We have no idea, because it’s pretty obvious and pretty egregious. It would make a dandy talking point, in other words, for any Democrat who cares to point it out.

Other Trump promises

All of the items we discussed above come directly from that one Trump speech in Gettysburg. But Trump made plenty of other promises to the voters, and he’s either failed to follow through or completely reversed course on so many of them it’s hard to keep track of them all.

Trump was going to release his tax returns, now he’s not ever going to. He was going to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, but has not. He was going to pay off the entire national debt in a few years (sometimes ten, sometimes eight, sometimes “in my first term”), and yet everything he’s even proposed at this point would explode the deficit and debt enormously (his tax plan, by some estimates, would blow a $7-trillion hole in the budget, in the first ten years alone). He was going to appoint a special prosecutor to hound Hillary Clinton, but (thankfully) decided not to. He was going to sue all the women accusing him of sexual misconduct, but (thankfully) decided not to. NATO was obsolete, until it suddenly wasn’t.

First, Trump already had a secret plan to defeat ISIS. Then he was going to have one “in his first 30 days.” Then he punted entirely to “the generals,” who were going to create such a plan in 30 days. It’s been 99 days, and no plan has been announced. Thankfully, he’s largely following the Obama plan, which has been chalking up success after success in the fight against ISIS (especially in Iraq).

Trump was also going to reverse Obama’s Cuba policy, but hasn’t. He was going to sock it to all those nasty hedge fund managers by eliminating the carried interest loophole, but this didn’t make it into his tax memo.

Trump was going to build a wall, deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, and institute “extreme vetting” in 90 days. None of these have happened. Trump is caught in the fight over what was supposed to be a “temporary travel ban” and apparently forgotten about why it was only going to be temporary (because once the extreme vetting started, it wouldn’t have been necessary).

Here’s a Trump promise for anyone craving a belly laugh: “I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off.” Or you could listen to any of the numerous times Trump took Obama to task for playing too much golf ― all real knee-slappers, now.

Trump has followed through on a few of his campaign promises, to be scrupulously fair. He signed a bill allowing states to defund Planned Parenthood. He promised to accept no salary, and donated his first paycheck to the National Park Service (while simultaneously proposing a budget which would severely slash their funding).


On big-picture items, Trump’s first 100 days certainly resembles that SNL list. He got a Supreme Court justice confirmed, and not much else. No big legislative victories at all ― not even if you only count “passed the House of Representatives” (usually a pretty low bar, when your own party controls it).

On smaller-bore stuff, Trump is touting his achievements using the same executive powers he once disparaged Barack Obama for using (Trump even sneered at Obama because he “couldn’t get anything through Congress”). But while Trump gets his signing ceremonies for each of these, most of them don’t really have any effect at all. He signs orders which instruct a cabinet member to, essentially, do their job. “Use the powers of your office to get some stuff done” isn’t really that groundshaking a policy statement, in other words.

The Trump administration’s incompetence is at least partially a self-inflicted wound. Trump has famously disdained staffing the executive branch, letting hundreds of positions remain unfilled. Because of this, he has nobody to go to who has the experience of actually turning policy ideas into legislation. So nothing gets sent to Congress, and the policy goal remains no more than an early-morning Trump tweet. Call it “small government in action” (or, perhaps, “inaction”).

This is good news for liberals, of course, because as we began by pointing out, the first 100 days would have been a lot worse if Trump did actually have a full and experienced staff who knew how to get things done.

On the domestic policy front, Trump has done nothing major. He has not proposed an actual piece of legislation yet. He put out a bare-bones budget paper which is never going to see the light of day in Congress (it’s too brutal for even Republicans to act on), and he put out a one-page memo of bullet points on taxes. That’s it.

On the foreign policy front, Trump has not started World War III or dropped a nuclear weapon on anyone. This normally wouldn’t be seen as much of an achievement, but for Trump it truly is. Sad!

Snark aside, though, we already wrote about Trump’s first-100-days military actions earlier, where he has had mixed success at best. He launched a botched raid in Yemen, he sent 59 cruise missiles into Syria, and he dropped one whale of a big bomb in Afghanistan. He finally figured out where his aircraft carrier was, and it’s now where he said it was supposed to be a few weeks ago.

More generally in foreign policy, Trump has tried to appear distant from Russia and has fully embraced China. Tensions are at an all-time high with North Korea, but with all the bluster coming from the White House, Trump is seriously constrained by what he can even threaten, due to nobody wanting to see North Korea destroy Seoul.

Trump cleaned out the incompetents he originally hired in the national security area, and the second-stringers he put in are actually sane and know the limits of American military power, so that’s something in his favor. The whole Michael Flynn fiasco may still come back to bite Trump, though, if recent revelations of illegal payments from Russia are any indication. The whole “Russian influence” storyline is not going away any time soon, either, on a more general level.

One thing Trump has been able to achieve success at is keeping his base happy. No matter how many times Trump fails to come through on his promises to the working class, they still solidly support him for now. Over 90 percent of Trump voters say they’d still vote for him, which is kind of astonishing, but has to be seen as a clear win for Trump at this point.

Overall, however, Trump making zero moves towards Democrats or even independents has kept his poll numbers historically low. On job approval, Trump’s average has fluctuated from just under 40 percent to a high of 46 percent. That represents not just the lowest first-100-days ratings since polling began, but a jaw-droppingly-low ceiling of support. Trump likes superlatives (especially about himself), but it’s doubtful he’ll be bragging about being the “Most unpopular president ever!” any time soon. Trump had no honeymoon, because he refused to even attempt reaching out to anyone other than his base, and he hasn’t even gotten a bump in the polls after successful military actions (the traditional “rally ‘round the president” bump for Trump was only two percent ― much lower than usual).

Donald Trump’s first 100 days are almost over. So far, they’ve been pretty unimpressive. Granted, this measure may be a false one to judge the success of any president (nobody remembers George W. Bush’s first 100 days, they remember what happened after 9/11, for instance). But at this point in time, it’s what we’ve got to work with.

The overarching conclusion that has to be drawn is that Trump is an ineffectual president. He doesn’t know much about following through when it comes to governing, which is obvious in many ways. He still loves making news (especially with his tweets), but it usually turns out to be a lot of sound and fury, signifying not very much. The other conclusion worth drawing is that Trump is a very reactive president. His daughter can show him something on cable news, and he is immediately convinced that he should launch a missile attack. He planned on announcing his withdrawal from NAFTA, and then a few phone calls changed his mind. Right or wrong, he makes snap decisions with immediate consequences. He has shown a willingness to ignore just about any of his campaign promises, and his base forgives him for doing so each and every time.

Of course, to be fair, he could always improve. Eventually maybe he’ll staff up the departments under his control with some people with real governing experience. Eventually maybe his “we’re going to study this for the next few months” executive orders may come to fruition, and actual policy may appear. Eventually he may figure out how to work with the Republican Congress to actually pass some bills. Anything’s possible, in other words.

For now, though, liberals are all breathing a lot easier after seeing Trump’s peripatetic first 100 days. Trump can’t seem to get his act together on multiple issues, and the Republican Congress is fast becoming the “can’t-do” Congress. That’s all to the good, when you consider what their stated goals are. Other than confirmation battles, we simply haven’t had a big showdown in the Senate yet ― because the House hasn’t been able to pass any important bills. Today, we avoided a government shutdown, showing (for the time being) that Paul Ryan is fully aware of the futility of letting the Tea Party run rampant over must-pass bills. Democrats are cheerfully embracing the concept of congressional gridlock, in much the same way Republicans did after Barack Obama became president. Nothing getting done is a lot better than seeing them competently pass a Republican agenda, in other words.

Meaning that Trump’s first 100 days were a lot better than any liberal probably hoped for. Trump couldn’t get anything done, Paul Ryan couldn’t get anything done, and this was all good news. The White House spent all their time and energy over internal squabbling and jockeying for access to Trump.

So, realistically, we’ve got to end with an honest statement to sum up Donald Trump’s first 100 days: “It could have been a lot worse.” Let’s hope that he stays just as unfocused and ineffective for his entire term in office, because so far that has been the best restraint on the damage he could be capable of. That’s not exactly a rousing statement for the history books, but it is an honest assessment of Trump’s first 100 days in office. It could have been much, much worse.

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Weekend Roundup: In France, Reality Has Escaped Its Institutions

The first round of France’s presidential elections last weekend demonstrated that the clear-cut division of loyalties to the old mainstream parties ― the left and right political divide born during the French Revolution ― has collapsed in France. In the industrial era, the left always stood for social protection from the insecurities spawned by the market, while the right championed the blood, soil and tradition of “a certain idea of France,” as Charles de Gaulle once put it. All that has now been fatally disrupted by globalization and rapid technological change.

Alain Touraine, the country’s “dean” of sociology, captured the moment well at a Berggruen Institute meeting in Lisbon last week. “Reality has escaped its institutions,” he quipped. And not just in France.

As in the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in America and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, this partisan dissipation has been accompanied by the consolidation of a territorial rift between rural and deindustrialized zones of France on the one hand and the globally integrated, cosmopolitan coastal zones and cities on the other.  

The French elections, as Pascal Perrineau writes from Paris, pitted “patriots” against “globalists” worried about a Brexit-like split from Europe that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has promised. He also notes that Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-elite and anti-globalization narrative, which also embraces a strong welfare state, attracted significant numbers of working-class voters once faithful to the left.  

Surprisingly, Le Pen appealed widely to young voters as well in her campaign against the centrist “En Marche!” vision of Emmanuel Macron, who came out on top in the first round. Together, Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the opposite extreme of the spectrum, garnered more than 50 percent of the youth vote. Mélenchon attracted that support in part through cutting-edge social media and hologram appearances at rallies, as well as through his calls for a 100 percent marginal tax rate on the rich and the limiting of CEO pay to 20 times that of the lowest-paid employee. His campaign exploited longstanding fears over the “Uberization” of the economy by Macron’s pro-Europe, pro-market proposals for American-style deregulation and a “flexible” labor market that would only create a new “precariat class” of insecure, part-time, low-paid workers with few benefits. Unlike the other competing candidates and parties, Mélenchon has so far refused to support Macron against Le Pen in the final vote on May 7, throwing open a desperate contest to win over his constituency.

Anne Sinclair reacts to these results and lays out the new political landscape as it now stands as the country prepares for the runoff election. “One quarter of French people dream of a gentler and less precarious life,” she writes. “Another quarter prioritize taxes and debt reduction. A third quarter is seeking national security and a populist leader who doesn’t represent the elite. And finally, a fourth quarter, slightly more confident about the country’s future, is interested in profound modifications to governance and French politics.” 

Nicolas Tenzer writes from Paris that “whoever becomes the next president will have to cope with this divided France, large sections of which distrust open-society values, Europe and the free market.” If Macron, who is so far favored in polling, has a chance of obtaining a governing mandate, Tenzer continues, “he will have to demonstrate that Europe and globalization can bring justice and fairness and that France can mend its divided society.” But, “if Macrons’s center can’t mend this divide,” he warns, “populists will be waiting in the wings.”

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After Years Of War, U.S. Policy In Afghanistan Is A Mystery

At 15 years and counting, the war in Afghanistan is by far America’s longest war and among its most costly. We’re draining our resources, sustaining military casualties and spending huge amounts of money as the conflict grinds to a stalemate.

No U.S. official seems to want to talk about our policy in Afghanistan and where we are going. The media has largely forgotten it. Basic questions about our national interests in that country, our objectives and how we are going to meet those objectives are largely ignored.

As our policy drifts, the situation in Afghanistan is dire.

The Afghan government is divided, ineffective in fighting corruption and in unifying and governing the country. Among many Afghans, we are not welcomed in their country. In denouncing the American military’s recent use of a giant American bomb on an Afghanistan cave cluster occupied by ISIS militants, former president Hamid Karzai vowed to try to oust the U.S. from the country.

Much of the economy is illicit, driven by drugs and criminality.

As the war intensifies, the military situation is bleak. The Taliban are resurgent. They may not represent anything close to a majority of Afghans, but they have strong support in parts of the country and are not going away.

The Afghan military commanders have not been truthful about the readiness of their troops. They have been almost entirely on the defensive while the Taliban gain more territory. There are record casualties, including more than 100 deaths in a deadly attack this month that lead to the resignation of the defense minister and the Army chief of staff.

Our ally Pakistan is supporting elements of the Taliban. Iran and Russia remain active in the region. Russia sought unsuccessfully to gather representatives from China, Iran, Pakistan and India (but not the United States) to participate in peace talks.

There is talk of starting a peace process in which all the major players try to negotiate the end of the conflict. But the talk is vague, and nothing significant seems to be happening on the diplomatic front.

Under these difficult circumstances, Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces, has called for a surge of several thousand additional American troops.

One can understand why more troops, and more economic and political aid, would be sought. But from my point of view, we should know the answers to the basic questions about Afghanistan before we send more troops into harm’s way and expend many more dollars.

We have about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, down considerably from previous levels, but still a significant number. We have spent scores of billions of dollars, much of it to equip and train the Afghan National Defense and Security forces. But those forces have deep internal divisions and have been ineffective.

Under U.S. law, aid is subject to Afghanistan making progress in preventing corruption, fighting drug trafficking and improving human rights and women’s rights. But the certifications are routinely approved every year, and the funds are made available, even though progress is by no means apparent.

We need to reassess where we are in Afghanistan. We need to demand answers to a series of questions. What are our interests in Afghanistan? What are our objectives? What is our strategy for meeting those objectives? In short: What is the end game? How long are we prepared to stay there? And for what purpose?

If we decide to stay in Afghanistan, we have a full plate. We need to find ways to fix the frictions that are rampant within the Afghan government. And the Afghan government must demonstrate a sense of urgency and support for reform.

The Pakistanis have to decide whose side they’re on. We have to stop sending money and equipment to the Afghan forces that end up in the hands of our adversaries because of corrupt Afghan leadership. We must insist the government deal with corruption, act with basic competence and govern the country effectively.

Without doubt, President Donald Trump inherited a tough, messy situation in Afghanistan. But he has said little about the situation and has done nothing to clarify objectives and policies. We should not expect miracles or quick solutions, but we should demand clear objectives and goals. The lack of clarity in U.S. policy and strategy is not fair to our military forces, not fair to the American people and ultimately not fair to the people of Afghanistan.

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