Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Taxes, tariffs, and trouble for Trump's economy

Trump’s economy? You bet it is. He owns this one. Most of the stimulating effects of the tax break went to the upper class of investors and large corporations; the average worker saw little of that, and what they did get was in the form of one-off bonuses. That piddling amount is going to be more than eliminated by the higher prices due to the tariffs already in place (and more to come). Around 97% of the tax breaks went to the wealthy and the remaining 2–3% went to workers.

Arizona stands to be the 6th hardest hit state in the country by proposed tariffs. (This story appeared on the front page of the Daily Star as “US Chamber: Trump tariffs on Mexico would hurt Ariz.”) But not according to Gov. Doug Ducey. Dismissing the concerns of the Chamber of Commerce, and particularly those of the AZ Chamber’s head, Glenn Hamer, Ducey said “There are no tariffs.” Here is an excerpt that captures that rift.

Arizona stands to be the sixth-hardest-hit state in the country by President Trump’s plan to impose a 5% tariff on goods from Mexico, increasing costs to the state’s consumers by about $452 million, an analysis from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shows.

The chamber also said if the levy goes to 25% in October, as the president has threatened, that would translate to an additional nearly $2.3 billion paid by Arizonans.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, however, was unimpressed, taking a swat of sorts Monday at businesses concerned about the effects of the president’s threatened tariffs on the state and national economy.

But it isn’t just the concerns of the national chamber that Ducey is minimizing. There also are the comments of Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who late last week said the president’s announcement of an escalating system of tariffs against Mexico is “baffling and, if carried out, will be terribly damaging.”

“This will only inflict harm on the U.S. consumer,” Hamer told Capitol Media Services. And Hamer pointed out that tariffs are not paid by the foreign country or even the foreign company that is exporting the goods, but are added on to the costs for customers here.

Ducey on Monday brushed aside that threat of tariffs to the state’s Arizona financial situation.

“Our economy is roaring right now,” the governor said. “Our economy is doing terrific. Our economy is going to continue doing terrific.”

And what of the fact that tariffs are paid not by the host country but by U.S. consumers in the form of higher prices?

“There are no tariffs,” the governor said as he got into his vehicle and left.

That’s reminiscent of Mad Magazine’s Alfred Newman - “What Me Worry”. The “roaring” Ducey boasts about could quickly turn into a whimper because of Trump’s tariffs. Here is an analysis from the NY Times, Trump’s Tariffs Could Nullify Tax Cut, Clouding Economic Picture.

President Trump’s tax cuts provided a temporary jolt to the United States economy by putting more money into taxpayers’ pockets. The tariffs that Mr. Trump has grown so fond of may have the opposite effect.

Two new analyses show that the tariffs Mr. Trump is using to punish China, Mexico, Europe and other governments would more than wipe out any gains from his $1.5 trillion tax cut for low- and middle-income earners, leaving them with less money to spend into a consumer-driven economy. Higher earners would fare only slightly better, with their tax gains significantly eroded but not entirely washed away.

The potential for Mr. Trump’s tariffs to nullify his signature tax cut shows how the president’s trade war could undermine his biggest selling point going into his 2020 re-election campaign: a strong economy.

Investors, bond markets and Wall Street analysts appear increasingly alarmed by the potential slowdown in growth that could result from Mr. Trump’s trade escalations, including his plan to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on Mexican goods and to tax everything that China imports into the United States. He is also mulling tariffs on imported automobiles from Europe and Japan.

AZBlueMeanie has a broad summary of how and why the Trump tax break bill was not the economic “rocket fuel” claimed by Trump: The Trump tax cut bill was as bad as everyone predicted it would be.

Last week the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report that makes it official: the “Trump tax cut bill,” the only legislative achievement of the previous Republican Congress, has not generated any meaningful new economic growth that was not already underway. And the crooks who passed it are laughing all the way to their bank.

Here are some snippets.

From Think Progress: “Large corporations with shiny accounting departments ended up being the largest beneficiaries of the tax bill’s largesse, with the rate of tax they actually pay dropping by half in 2018, according to the CRS analysis. ” “Annual growth hit 2.9% … right in line with what the CBO had predicted the economy would have done without Trump’s corporate-tax munificence.”

From Philip Bump at the Washington Post: “Although the economy did grow, the cuts came nowhere close to paying for themselves … 95 percent of the increase in the deficit wasn’t offset at all.” “Although the repatriation and cuts occurred, “relatively little” went to the worker bonuses that Trump celebrated after the cuts were signed into law. “One organization that tracks these bonuses has reported a total of $4.4 billion,” the report states. “With US employment of 157 million, this amount is $28 per worker. This amount is 2% to 3% of the corporate tax cut, and a smaller share of repatriated funds.” ”Put directly, the CRS report finds no justification for Trump’s dubious claims that the tax cuts served as a significant boost to the economy, much less played a central role in “America’s revival.”"

Now, adding in the negative effects of higher consumer prices, that $28 evaporates quickly.

If you really wanted to stimulate the economy try inverting those percentages: 97% to workers and 3% to corporations. AZBlueMeanie wraps it up.

Republican faith based supply-side “trickle-down” tax policy is and always has been a lie — George H.W. Bush was right when he called it “voodoo economics” — and yet too many Americans keep falling for it, time and again, to their own financial detriment. I guess it’s true that you can’t fix stupid.

And adding insult to injury, as only Trump can do, AZBlueMeanie reports this:

In an insult to economic science and all that is good and holy, Trump is Giving a Medal Of Freedom To ‘Trickle Down’ Economist, ‘Trumponomics’ Co-Author Arthur Laffer, the “father of supply-side economics” and “trickle-down” tax fraud, and the notorious “Laffer Curve.”

Monday, June 3, 2019

Scribers on vacation

The Scribers will be on vacation for the next couple of weeks. Our access to the internet will be spotty in places and when we do get on, I’m likely to post more about what we are doing (hiking) and where (Peruvian Andes, Amazon river) than about politics.

Meanwhile back at the ranch ...

Every so often it’s worth taking a break from the fog of national politics and check in on happenings here at home in Arizona. The Arizona Corporation Commission (which I think of as the Arizona Corruption Commission) is back in the news. Gov. Ducey elevated one of the commissioners, Andy Tobin, to a department directorship with a big bump in pay: $79,500 to $195,000. And who will replace him? Ducey named to the Commission Lea Marquez Peterson who has received campaign contributions from a power company regulated by the Commission. Suppress your gag reflex and read on.

The Arizona Capitol Times (to which I subscribe) reports that Governor Doug Ducey’s choice for agency head shuffles Corp Comm.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday tapped former Republican congressional contender Lea Marquez Peterson to the agency that decides how much utilities can charge their customers.

The announcement came just moments after Ducey announced that Andy Tobin, currently serving on the Arizona Corporation Commission, will leave that agency to become the head of the state Department of Administration. That is the agency that handles internal matters for the state, like payroll and managing office space.

Tobin, a former speaker of the House, was … named to the commission by Ducey in 2015. He won election to a four-year term the following year in a campaign in which APS openly spent $4 million to ensure the commission remained an all-Republican affair.

Marquez Peterson, who formerly was president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, will fill out the balance of Tobin’s term, which runs through 2020.

The announcement comes at a particularly critical time at the commission, which is looking at whether Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility, is earning too much, particularly after the regulators gave the go ahead in 2017 for the company to collect another $95 million from customers.

… Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of APS, reported profits in the first three months of 2019 of $17.9 million, versus $3.2 million for the same period a year ago.

Hmmm. Ya gotta wonder how they spent that increase. Read on.

Pinnacle West gave Marquez Peterson $2,500 in the Republican primary last year. Marquez Peterson’s congressional campaign also was the beneficiary of $5,000 from David Hutchens, chief executive of Tucson Electric Power, and $350 from TEP lobbyist Steve Eddy.

But she told Capitol Media Services those donations are different than the money that APS funneled into commission races in 2014 and 2016 to help elect regulators of their choice.

Remember the old Texas saying: Ya gotta dance with them that brung ya.

“That was an entirely different race, a different position, representing a district in southern Arizona,” Marquez Peterson said. “So I consider that completely separate from a role at the Arizona Corporation Commission.”

And by inference she has no biases regarding important issues like renewable energy?

The Tucson Hispanic Chamber, under her leadership, took a position last year against an initiative that would have required utilities like APS and TEP to generate half of their electricity from renewable sources. But Marquez Peterson, noting other business groups also opposed the measure, said that does not necessarily align her with the interests of the utilities.

The AZ Blue Meanie had a lot to say about how Gov. Ducey replaces one ‘Kochtopus’ crony with another on the Arizona Corporation Commission. Quoting from the AZ Daily Star on-line:

APS has been embroiled in controversy for several years after suspected political spending in the 2014 commission election and political activity it acknowledged in more recent elections. The utility recently acknowledged it spent $3.2 million to elect favored regulators in 2014 and gave an accounting of its later political spending, including $4.1 million to influence its regulators’ 2016 election and nearly $40 million to defeat a citizens’ initiative last year that would have required that it get much more of its power from solar and other renewable sources.

Former Democratic commissioner Bill Mundell said Marquez Peterson “is deep in the pockets” of APS as a recipient of campaign money and a supporter of APS positions while at the chamber.

“Of all the unbiased and qualified people in Arizona that Ducey could have appointed, he picked an APS lobbyist that I’m concerned will do the bidding of APS when she gets to the commission,” Mundell said.

Marquez Peterson will fill out Tobin’s term and is expected run for election in 2020. Mundell, a really qualified candidate, is also running for election to the Commission in 2020.

I was going to lead with an audio version of the Illustrated Gnus. But then Mueller went silent.

  • When it comes to Mueller, we just have to figure out the code.
Mueller breaks silence
Silence is worth a thousand words.
Mueller breaks silence
Mueller chooses his words carefully

Here are the rest of themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Mournday Mourning Gnus (aka cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).

  • The difference between Barr and Mueller is the color of their magic markers. One obscures and the other highlights.
  • What Mueller said: If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so. What Trump tweeted: The President clearly did not commit a crime. What Pelosi admits: “If we had confidence”
  • Kim: “Trump and I deal with staff differently. He says ”You’re fired.“ I say ”open fire." That opens up two versions of the perennial question: If Trump shot an outgoing staffer on the White House lawn, (a) would that be enough for the House Dems to move impeachment? (b) would that be enough for the Republican Senate to convict?
  • U. S. Navy admits to pressure to hide USS John S. McCain while Trump is in Japan. I wonder if the Japanese press renamed the ship USS Bone Spurs.
  • Harriet Tubman knocked off the $20 bill - Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources say she will be replaced by Steve Bannon.
  • Trump announces his key issues for his 2020 run: health care, immigration, deficits, trade, infrastructure, climate change. Democrats rejoice.
  • 20-odd states are banning reproductive freedom. Think positively. Think of economic opportunity. Open a chain of burqa shops.
  • When it comes to McConnell filling SCOTUS seats, here’s an analogy for you. 2016 : No :: 2020 : Yes.
  • When it comes to Cynthia May, there is no “May” be, just BRExit.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Why Democrats may lose Roe v. Wade.

In the Transcript of Pelosi Weekly Press Conference for May 23rd. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi likened the House’s capabilities to walking and chewing gum. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time. I hope [the President] can, too.” She cited legislation and various investigations in support of that claim.

So here is a quiz. Which of these activities does not belong?

(A) legislate
(B) investigate
(C) confirmate

If you’ve been tracking the back-and-forth between Pelosi and Trump, you will know that Pelosi was referring to the House legislating and investigating at the same time. I thought I had invented (C) but only to find out that it is the “first-person plural present active imperative of cōnfirmō”, a Latin word present in the Wiktionary.

The Senate has the constitutional responsibility to confirmate judicial nominees (or not). Why are the Republicans racking up more and more hits for conservative judges and SCOTUS justices? Why cannot Dems in Congress do all three of those things at once?

Jeffery Toobin writing in the New Yorker has the answer: Why Mitch McConnell Outmaneuvers Democrats at Filling the Supreme Court. To be sure “… the main reason that McConnell might push through a Republican nominee to the Court while blocking a Democratic choice is simple: because he can.”

There’s another, less obvious reason that McConnell can game the Supreme Court confirmation process with impunity. The Republican Party has been far more invested in the future of the Supreme Court, and of the judiciary generally, than the Democratic Party has. Judicial appointments, especially to the Supreme Court, are a central pillar of the Republican agenda, and Republican voters will forgive any number of other transgressions if the Party delivers on the courts.

Donald Trump understood this. … That’s why, during the 2016 campaign, he released a short list of possible nominees to the Court. The list was largely compiled by Leonard Leo, the executive vice-president of the Federalist Society, and the names on it demonstrated to the Republican base that Trump was serious about following its agenda—starting with overruling Roe v. Wade. Trump’s nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and of dozens of other conservatives to the lower courts, have been crucial to the President’s preservation of his stratospheric level of support from that base. Conservatives forgive Trump his louche personal life and his casual dishonesty because they know that they are getting the judges and the Justices they want.

Democrats are different. Consider what happened after McConnell blocked the Garland nomination. After a few days of perfunctory outrage, most Democratic politicians dropped the issue. …

Four years later, this pattern is recurring. Consider, for example, the Web sites of three leading contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Each site has thousands of words outlining the candidates’ positions on the issues—and none of them mentions Supreme Court nominations, much less nominations for lower-court judges. …

It’s difficult to pinpoint why Republicans are so much more motivated by the Supreme Court than Democrats are. Complacency could be part of the reason. Despite a preponderance of Republicans on the Court for the past couple of generations, the Justices have expanded gay rights, including the right to marriage, and preserved abortion rights, by reaffirming Roe. But, thanks largely to McConnell, and, of course, to Trump, those days are likely over. Trump rallied his supporters by promising to appoint Justices who will vote to overturn Roe, and the day of that vote may soon be upon us. By the time Democrats wake up to the importance of the Court, it may be too late.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Required viewing - over 1,000 ex-prosecutors from both parties make a 'damning case' for obstruction of justice by Trump

Please, please don’t take a pass on this one. It’s a powerful video produced by Republicans for the Rule of Law and Protect Democracy. It features officials from three Republican administrations, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. (h/t AZBlueMeanie)

Here is the YouTube link: Former Republican Federal Prosecutors Speak Out Against President Trump’s Obstruction of Justice. It ends with them calling out fellow Republicans for not taking a principled, truly conservative stand against obstruction of justice and for the rule of law. The stakes are nothing short of the fundmental basis of our democracy.

Let’s move forward on a constitutionally mandated impeachment inquiry. And let’s put a representative bipartisan sample of those 1,000 plus prosecutors on the witness stand with their testimony for Americans all to see.

Justice Department refuses to obey court order

Only in these dark times for America would you see such a headline.

Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show we learned that Justice Department prosecutors in the Flynn case refused to obey Judge Emmet Sullivan’s court order to hand over additional transcripts of conversations with Russians (notably the Russian ambassador) and to un-redact portions of the Mueller report dealing with Flynn.

The first thing that came to (my) mind was whether this is another example of stone-walling by Trump’s Justice Department. Note that just now I did not say “our” Justice Department - I meant “his” Justice Department. IMO, increasingly, now referencing other posts on this blog this morning, the Justice Department is being used by Trump for his own corrupt purposes.

If you don’t want to spend the several minutes viewing the Maddow video, check out the AZ Blue Meanie’s summary, DOJ lawyers defy Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order in Michael Flynn case.