Media (287)

 

Equity Theory

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Last Wednesday Donald Trump finally got what he wanted: a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.  The passing of the bill was celebrated in front of the White House, with speeches by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch.  Ryan praised the president for his ’exquisite’ leadership, McConnell said that never a president has achieved so much during his first year in office, and Hatch, who is clearly losing his marbles, said that Trump was everything he could dream of in a president, and that he probably would become the greatest president ever.  During a cabinet meeting in the White House Mike Pence did all of them one better,  by, at Trump’s invitation, praising the president in language that in Evangelical circles is normally reserved for God the Father.  Trump took all the praise that would have made any normal person say ‘stop, please’ – and that would have made even Kim Jong-un blush – in stride, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.  The usual insanity was dripping off his face, and in his own speech he repeated all the lies he has been telling about the tax bill since its first inception.

Instead of being a Christmas gift for the American people the tax bill is a scam.  The bulk of the benefits goes to the richest one percent of the population, while the working poor and the middle class get some crumbs that fell off the table – and that only temporarily.  Not surprisingly the bill is very unpopular, but Republicans hope that when American workers see a small increase in their after-tax wages they will start appreciating it.  They misjudge the situation, however, as do the pundits who believe the bill is simply unpopular because Trump is so unpopular.  Republicans think that people only look at what is in it for them individually, and if they get a raise, no matter how small, they’ll be satisfied, but in an elegant theory formulated in the 1960s J. Stacy Adams showed that workers are very aware of the balance between their own efforts or ‘inputs’ and rewards or ‘outcomes,’ and compare that balance with the balance of other people’s inputs and outcomes, a comparison that will determine if they’re satisfied or not.  Therefor, when someone with a middle class income receives a minimal raise while a retired investor gets a windfall, dissatisfaction is the inevitable result.

So while the tax bill won’t generate public support it succeeded in destroying some reputations in congress.  Susan Collins was bamboozled by McConnell, who promised her that Obamacare subsidies would be secure while they are not, but voted for the bill anyway, with as result that she’ll never be taken seriously anymore when she pretends to take a principled stand.  ‘Deficit hawk’ Bob Corker accepted a $1.5 trillion increase of the national debt in exchange for a golden handshake for his real estate business.

And Trump may pretend to be happy about the tax bill but Robert Mueller’s investigation must be keeping him awake at night.  More proof is emerging that the president knew Flynn had lied to the FBI before he asked Comey to go easy on Flynn, and there are signs that next to collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice Mueller is also investigating money laundering by the Trump organization.

Flynn’s guilty plea and cooperation with Mueller started a host of overt and covert attempts to discredit the FBI and the Department of Justice, as a prelude to eventually fire Mueller.  Mark Warner gave an impressive speech on the senate floor warning for the constitutional crisis such an action would result in.

 
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Reality Show

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Apparently right after his inauguration Donald Trump told staffers that they should consider his presidency a reality show with a new episode every day, and it looks like he meant it.  He started the week with robocalls on behalf of racist and child molester Roy Moore, and on election day issued a statement that voters in Alabama would do the right thing and elect Moore to the senate.  After Moore lost Trump claimed nevertheless that he had been right, because in the primary he had supported another candidate than Moore, sitting senator Strange, and he tried to bury the fact that after the primary he had thrown his full weight behind Moore.  With regards to the child molestation charges against Moore the White House had the peculiar position that the Alabama voters should decide about their validity, just like the 2016 election had decided about the sexual assault accusations against Trump.  Unfortunately for Trump, in the current #MeToo climate he cannot get away with that.  Megyn Kelly interviewed some of his accusers on national television and one hundred Democratic congressmen demanded an investigation.  Six senators asked him to resign.

Trump decided to attack one of those senators, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, with a tweet in which he suggested that she had been willing to give him a blow-job in exchange for a campaign contribution.  Elizabeth Warren called it ‘slut-shaming,’ and it not only reinforced the president’s reputation as a sexist and a misogynist, but also propelled Gillibrand to the frontrunner’s position for the Democratic nomination in 2020.  And she was not the only one who incurred Trump’s wrath.  With Robert Mueller focusing on the first eighteen days of his administration and getting closer and closer to the Oval Office Trump decided to join the Fox News/Freedom Caucus chorus calling for an investigation of Mueller and the FBI, stating that the reputation of the FBI has never been worse than at this point in time.  Meanwhile Trump continued his bizarre public disagreement with Rex Tillerson, who said that the US would be willing to engage in talks without preconditions with North Korea while the White House declared that talks would be pointless unless North Korea changes its course.  Tillerson is expected to step down soon.

While he was feuding with his Secretary of State Trump found the time to continue his bromance with Putin, who praised Trump in a press conference for the performance of the US stock market under his presidency.  Trump called Putin to thank him, and simultaneously it was revealed that in Trump’s daily national security briefings information about Russia he might consider too negative is hidden in a stack of papers he’ll never read, while it is omitted in the oral presentations.

And then there were the departures, current and upcoming.  Omarosa had to be pulled out of the curtains in the Roosevelt Room and announced a tell-all book, and Paul Ryan may soon leave the House.  If Ryan wants to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024 he can no longer afford to be associated with Trump and be partly held responsible for the expected electoral disaster in 2018.

The poor condition of the administration and the GOP is best illustrated by the fact that they try to pass a hugely unpopular tax bill that most Americans understand to be a scam on behalf of corporations and the wealthy, and celebrate it as their only legislative achievement this year.

 

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The Imperial Presidency

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

There is a video lecture from the 1970s in which the late, great Russell Ackoff speaks about democracy and Iran, at the time a hot topic: “In most countries of the world you have God at the top, then the Constitution, and then the Head of State. But in Iran you have God, then the Shah, and then the Constitution. So when the Shah has made a decision the only appeal is prayer, and that is not very effective.” Trump must have had something similar in mind when he had his lawyer declare that the president cannot obstruct justice, because he is the chief executive of the country and therefore ultimately in charge of law enforcement.  Other sources of inspiration may have been Papal infallibility and Richard Nixon’s ‘when the president does it that means that it’s not illegal,’ but Iran seems an appropriate model because Trump also expressed a desire to have his own, presidential secret service, operating independently from the CIA, FBI and NSA.  Hitler of course had the Gestapo and Stalin the NKVD, and considering Trump’s habit to only compare himself with the truly historic greats and to try and outdo them they may have been on his mind too.

The issue came up when Trump released a tweet saying that he knew Michael Flynn had lied to both the vice-president and the FBI when he fired him.  Since Flynn was fired one day before Trump asked James Comey ‘whether he could see his way to letting Flynn go,’ the president’s attempt to obstruct justice was fairly obvious.  The White House’s defense was as old as it was lame.  In a new version of ‘the butler did it’ Trump’s personal lawyer fell on the sword with a public statement that he had written the tweet, and mistakenly mentioned Flynn’s lying to the FBI. Not even a dimwit like Sarah Palin would believe that a lawyer would write a tweet like that, and things got worse when Paul Manafort violated the terms of his bail by contacting one of his Russian associates and was put back on house arrest, while Billy Bush wrote in an Op-Ed that the voice on the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape was indeed Trump’s.  The president tried to regain his mental balance by opening up two national parks in Utah for industrial destruction and going all in for Alabama child molester Roy Moore, forcing the Republican National Committee to follow suit.

Subsequently, by way of an early Hanukkah present, Trump gave a speech announcing that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would start preparations to move the embassy there.  This was as much a gesture towards Evangelicals in the bible belt as towards Israel, but Trump probably doesn’t know that the former support Israel only because its existence is a condition of the prophesy that all Jews must ultimately convert to Christianity or else perish.

During the speech Trump began slurring his words, which led to speculation about his mental health. Answering questions from reporters Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump had just been thirsty, but also that he would have a complete physical at Walter Reed Hospital early next year.  The good news for Trump is that commercial real estate is the industry that benefits the most from the new tax bill.

The low point of the week came when Sarah Sanders lectured Congressman John Lewis, who had his skull broken when he marched with Dr. King in Selma, for not honoring the sacrifice of civil rights leaders by not attending an event in Mississippi where Trump will also be present.  For that alone she’ll go to hell, if there is one.

 

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Trump Unmoored

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The president started his week with an attack on CNN that was almost an invitation to foreign governments to obstruct American journalists in doing their job, and coincided with Putin’s decision to have foreign journalists register as ‘foreign agents.’ Subsequently Trump produced an ethnic slur during a celebration of Navajo ‘code talkers,’ by once again referring to Senator Warren as ‘Pocahontas.’ Then he started the day on which there was supposed to be an urgent White House meeting between Republican and Democratic leadership about keeping the government funded with a tweet stating that ‘no deal’ could be made with ‘Chuck and Nancy,’ causing the Democrats  to stay away and a government shutdown to become much more likely. Later in the week leaks from the White House revealed that Trump now believes that the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape, of which he had previously recognized the authenticity and for which he had apologized, was a forgery, and that he is also revisiting the idea that Obama was not born in the US. To cap it all off the president re-tweeted three anti-Muslim videos from a British fascist account.

When confronted with the origins of the videos Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that it didn’t matter if the content was true, but that the president had wanted to focus the attention on ‘the issues’ and tried to ‘elevate the debate.’ Those intentions escaped England’s prime minister, who publicly criticized Trump, and by that time some prominent journalists, based on contacts with White House staffers, started speculating that the president had entered a ‘pre-dementia’ stage. The cause of Trump’s mental confusion became clear when first it turned out that he had tried to derail the Senate investigation into Russian collusion and the next day it was announced that Michael Flynn had reached an agreement with Robert Mueller, and in exchange for a single indictment for lying to the FBI started cooperating with the Special Counsel. Considering that Flynn could have been indicted for far more serious crimes the information he will bring to the table must be of high value, and almost certainly pertains to instructions he received from either Trump or Jared Kushner to deal with the Russians on sanctions while Obama was still president.

And the week was supposed to end in such a glorious way. Republicans in the Senate were about to pass a tax bill that by 2027 will have families making between $40,000 and $50,000 annually pay $5.3 billion more in taxes, while those who make over $1 million will pay $5.8 billion less, and 13 million Americans will lose their healthcare. Trump called this a ‘beautiful Christmas gift’ for the middle class, denying that his family, which stands to make $1 billion, would benefit.

Because the bill was pushed through the Senate without due process it became only accidentally known that a ‘dynamic scoring’ analysis – the new term for ‘trickle down’ economics – which was supposed to show that the tax cuts would pay for themselves, was never made by the Treasury Department, in spite of promises by Secretary Mnuchin that go six months back.

Tax cuts have never paid for themselves, and as a result of the new legislation the national debt will increase with at least $1 trillion and probably more. When this becomes visible Republicans will start screaming that the debt is too high and demand cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

 

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Flipping Flynn

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

At the beginning of Trump’s week Roy Moore was the problem.  White House representatives could not say that they believed the women accusing Moore of active pedophilia, because they would immediately get the question if the women accusing Trump of sexual assault shouldn’t also be believed.  So a lot of smokescreens were set up, for instance that Moore’s past behavior had been litigated because the voters in Alabama had elected him, and the fact that Trump had not campaigned for Moore was presented as proof of at least passive disapproval.  Only Ivanka Trump issued a statement that could be interpreted as critical of Moore.  But apparently Steve Bannon tried to convince Trump that Moore’s voice is needed to pass a tax bill, ignoring the Republican establishment’s conviction that if Moore is elected he’ll be a ball and chain on the leg of every Republican running for office in 2018, as well as a royal pain in Mitch McConnell’s ass.  In the end Bannon prevailed.  Kellyanne Conway, violating the Hatch Act, in effect declared that a pedophile is better than a Democrat, and Trump emphasized that Moore has denied all allegations.

With regards to the tax bill the attitude of both Republicans in Congress and the White House is that passing something, anything, even a very unpopular bill, is better than not passing one.  So at a time when social and economic inequality is at a longtime high in the US the country faces a redistribution of wealth on behalf of corporations and the richest Americans at the expense of the middle class.  The lopsidedness of the GOP tax plan is only matched by its viciousness.  Citizens of ‘blue’ states are punished for voting Democratic, and for inexplicable reasons graduate students are being targeted by taking away their tuition deduction,  which will force many of them to break off their studies.  After all, who needs doctors and engineers?  One of the selling points of the plan, most forcefully brought forward by Gary Cohn, is that tax cuts for corporations will result in job creation.  Cohn, however, got a cold shower when he asked an audience of CEOs for a raise of hands by those who expected to invest in jobs as a result of the tax cuts and saw only a few.  Even more bizarre is the assumption that the tax cuts will result in an average $4,000 raise for workers.

With all this going on the president somehow found the time to engage in a number of digital altercations via his Twitter account.  Of the NFL he demanded a suspension of football player Marshawn Lynch for kneeling during the national anthem, he blasted LaVar Ball, the father of a college basketball player who had been detained in China, for not showing enough gratitude after his son’s release, and he predicted that Senator Flake, spelled Flake(y), would vote against the tax bill.

Towards the end of the week Trump got bad news concerning his current and his former National Security Advisor.  According to multiple sources McMaster called Trump an ‘idiot’ and a ‘dope,’ echoing Tillerson’s ‘fucking moron,’ and Mike Flynn’s lawyers stopped communicating with Trump’s defense team, a strong indication that Flynn is now collaborating with Mueller.

And then there were the expulsions.  Trump considered it time that 59,000 Haitians, admitted after a devastating earthquake, go back to homes that don’t exist anymore, and the latest rumor is that he wants Ivanka and Jared to quit their White House jobs and move back to New York City.

 

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