Thursday, November 30, 2017

GOP tax bill - It must be Kansas, Toto.

A Republican Tax Scam Advances, observes John Cassidy (The New Yorker). And the GOPlins in the senate are pushing the tax bill even though we have a specific example of a failed version of the GOPlins’ plan. More on that below.

With the economy already close to full employment, and the cost of capital already at historic lows, most reputable economists don’t see the tax cuts resulting in big boosts to corporate investment, hiring, or G.D.P. growth. The White House and some G.O.P.-leaning economists are claiming that passage of the Republican bill would increase the size of the economy by about four per cent over ten years. But, as a briefing paper from the Committee for a Responsible Budget pointed out, most independent studies reckon that the G.D.P. boost will be less than one per cent. And if the budget deficit spirals and interest rates rise, it could end up being negative.

What can be stated for sure is that the Senate bill hurts the poor, does little for the middle class, and rewards the Republican Party’s wealthy donors. (An updated Congressional Budget Office report confirms all of these points.) It is stuffed full of gimmicks to disguise its true cost, and it makes a mockery of the G.O.P.’s claim to being the party of fiscal discipline. Republican leaders dispute all this, of course, but at this stage they would say virtually anything to get a bill passed. We are witnessing twenty-first-century Republican politics in the raw, and it bears virtually no resemblance to responsible governing.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reminds us that the GOP refuses to learn the lessons of Kansas’ failed tax experiment. They are hell-bent on taking the same policies and practices that failed so badly in KS and pushing the disaster onto the nation as a whole.

Shortly after the 2012 elections, with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) radical economic experiment already underway, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said of his former colleague’s plan, “This is exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington …”

… five years later, McConnell and his GOP allies have all the power they need to impose a Kansas-style experiment on the nation. Many who saw Kansas’ failures first hand have some advice to Republican policymakers: Stop.

The Kansas City Star published a piece over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend from Steve Rose, who described himself as a “Bob Dole Republican,” and who lamented the fact that Kansas’ failed tax plan and the current GOP tax plan “are twins.”

Republicans at the federal level are claiming, just like Brownback did, that there will not be a resulting massive deficit if taxes are slashed. Most independent, non-partisan researchers predict a $1.5 trillion deficit will be the result of the tax cuts that have been proposed.

Blinded Republicans claim these huge tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy will stimulate the economy enough that overall revenue will grow, not shrink. Revenue growth is supposed to trickle down to the middle-class taxpayers.

Sound familiar? That is exactly what was sold to Kansans, who saw their state’s budget hemorrhage. Nothing trickled down except cuts in services for the middle class.

The Kansas City Star’s editorial board published a related piece this morning, asking Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), “Why take this failed experiment nationwide?”

Moran endorsed his party’s regressive tax plan yesterday. Perhaps he hasn’t paid close enough attention to what happened in his own state this decade.

the scope of Kansas’ failed experiment is not in doubt. Brownback working with a GOP-led legislature, cut taxes far beyond what the state could afford, slashed public investments, and waited for prosperity to flourish across every corner of the state.

None of that happened. Not only have Kansas’ job growth and economic growth rates lagged behind neighboring states, but the state’s budget is in shambles, and Kansas’ debt rating has been downgraded multiple times.

The state has since decided to go in a different direction, though local officials realize it will take many years to undo the damage. Willfully ignorant Republicans at the national level seem desperate to repeat the same mistakes.

But, you see, neither facts nor history are driving this impending disaster. There is a stench of fear, of desperation, on capitol hill. The GOPlins have to show their base something, anything, no matter how awful, no matter how hurtful to their own base. Failing to do so would reveal the incompetence of the current crop of congressional Republicans in general and of the Twitterer-in-Chief Donald Trump in particular.

A big piece of the federal government may be imperiled by the fight over who runs the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona warns that The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 is about to become a big effin’ deal. That’s because there now are two competing claimants to the acting directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — and two competing statutes. The Blue Meanie sites several legal sources. He treats the various plots and subplots as a Game of Thrones. Snippets from those sources follow.

The legal question turns on whether the FVRA gives the president an option for appointing its head — i.e., the deputy or someone else — or whether the text of Dodd-Frank forecloses that option. The FVRA says it is the “exclusive means” of filling a position, except if another statute specifies a particular acting successor. English’s proponents argue that Dodd-Frank does precisely that. Better yet, in doing so it uses the word “shall,” not “may.” That word “shall” is significant, legal scholars [say].

On Tuesday, a district court judge declined to grant a temporary restraining order against Mulvaney’s claim to the CFPB throne. That does not settle the merits of the case, of course. And in the meantime, other subplots abound.

One is that the judge in the case, Timothy Kelly, was appointed by Trump and only took the bench in September. He was quickly attacked on social media, in language that had an unsettling echo of Trump’s own much-derided attack on “so-called” judges.

Another is that new acting director Mulvaney already has a full-time job as the president’s budget director, at a time when budget policy is rather salient. Funding for the federal government expires on Dec. 8. Hopes for a bipartisan spending plan keep sinking, further complicated by pending tax cuts that seem likely to add substantially to the federal deficit and national debt. One might imagine that this might require a full-time budget director.

Mulvaney says he will work three days each week at OMB and three at CFPB — which itself adds a new subplot. After all, Dodd-Frank says that the deputy director shall serve as acting director “in the absence or unavailability of the Director.” Does that put English in charge three days a week?

And yet another plot line involves the FVRA itself. Those appointed under its auspices can only serve 300 days at the start of an administration – right about now. Without a new nominee in the pipeline — and the Trump administration has been notoriously slow in putting people forward – any actions taken by an acting official after the 300 days are up have no legal force. While this won’t affect Mulvaney’s seat at CFPB for a while, there are enough long-term “acting” officials in place that political scientist Terry Sullivan says the FVRA could soon trigger an epic “changing of the guard” all across the bureaucracy.

The Blue Meanie concludes:

In other words, there soon could be hundreds of federal departments rendered powerless to act because the Trump administration has failed, either through sheer incompetence or malevolent design, to nominate department heads for confirmation by the U.S. Senate. This has the potential to cripple the efficient functioning of the U.S. government.

I am sure he chooses his words carefully, but “efficient”?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Consumer’s financial protection threatened by Trump pick for agency head.

Why It Matters Who Runs the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is explained by John Cassidy (New Yorker).

On Monday morning, two people reported for work at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as if they were in charge. One was Leandra English, a senior bureau staffer whom Richard Cordray, the C.F.P.B.’s former director, appointed as his deputy shortly before leaving the post, last week. The other was Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget chief, whom the White House tapped to replace Cordray on an interim basis. The showdown has all the elements of a ripping Washington news story: conflict, strong characters, a looming court case, and a whiff of battles to come in the elections of 2018 and 2020.

… To insure that Wall Street lobbyists and their lackeys on Capitol Hill couldn’t hobble the new agency’s operations, the authors of the Dodd-Frank bill made the C.F.P.B. an independent agency: it receives its funding from the Federal Reserve rather than Congress. This structure infuriated Republicans, but the mortgage meltdown had amply demonstrated the dangers of regulatory capture.

So how has the C.F.P.B. used its independence? Last September, in its biggest enforcement action to date, the agency fined Wells Fargo, the third-largest lender in the country, a hundred million dollars, after discovering that employees of the bank had opened more than two million bank and credit-card accounts in the names of customers without informing them or obtaining their permission. And the work the agency has done that hasn’t drawn news headlines has been significant, too.

Examples of the agencies lesser known work include aimed at curbing abusive practices include restricting payday lenders and dealing with student loan complaints.

If Mulvaney is confirmed as the C.F.P.B.’s acting boss, or if Senate Republicans confirm some other nominee who thinks like him, the agency’s future and usefulness will be called into question. “The agency will be headed by someone who fundamentally doesn’t believe in its mission,” Elizabeth Warren said. “This would change every calculation that every giant bank makes in the executive suite when deciding just how close to breaking the law they want to come. If the cop is pulled off the beat, then the profits from cheating people look far more attractive to the banking executives.”

To be sure, Warren has a vested interest here, given her close ties to the C.F.P.B. But she is also speaking truths that experience has confirmed. In an industry as opaque and complex as finance, there are endless little ways—and also some big ways—to raise charges and stiff the customer. In seeking to prevent and remedy such abuses, the C.F.P.B. performs an invaluable public service, and its presence has done nothing to prevent the banks from making healthy profits. Indeed, their bottom lines are almost back to where they were at the end of the great real-estate bubble. Trump’s claim that financial institutions “have been devastated and unable to properly serve the public” is an utter falsehood, as is his claim that, in appointing Mulvaney, he was acting in the economic interests of ordinary Americans. The C.F.P.B. showdown provides yet another illustration of the false populism that lies at the heart of the Trump Presidency.

Republican tax bill advances: The devil, the details, and the deep red sea

By this time, even if you’ve just scanned the headlines, you should not be surprised to learn that the Republican senators’ tax bill is a ginormous scam. David Leonhardt (in a NY Times op-ed) exposes The Four Big Tax Deceptions.

The independent evaluations of the Trump tax plan have been rough. They show a plan that deeply cuts taxes on the wealthy, causes the deficit to jump and does little to lift economic growth.

Yet the plan’s defenders continue to describe it as a “beautiful” thing (President Trump’s word) that would transform the economy and bestow gifts on ordinary Americans. How do they keep making these claims? I count four major tactics that they’re using … [Scriber: Following is a short, edited version.]

[1] Describe the benefits of a different tax plan — and make it sound as if they’re talking about this one. The Senate bill is radically different from this imaginary plan the [Republican] economists are praising. Instead of being revenue neutral — technical talk for a bill that neither grows nor shrinks the deficit — the Senate plan would increase the deficit by more than $1 trillion over its first decade.

[2] Talk about the plan’s middle-class tax cuts — and ignore the middle-class tax increases. The plan is a windfall for the wealthy, but it’s quite mixed for the middle class and poor. Some provisions raise taxes on the middle class and poor. Others cut taxes. Long term, most families would probably be worse off …

[3] Pretend that the future will never arrive. By the time the bill is fully implemented, it will be a net tax increase on every income group below $75,000 a year. It will also leave federal taxes virtually unchanged for families making between $75,000 and $100,000. For the wealthy, it’s still a tax cut. And all of these estimates understate the long-term damage to the middle class, because they ignore the cuts to education, transportation, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that will eventually be necessary to reduce the deficit.

[4] Rush, rush, rush. Perhaps the biggest giveaway about the plan is the way that its supporters are trying to push it through Congress as quickly as possible. They’re not holding hearings where experts can debate the content of the plan. They are not even waiting for a final analysis from Congress’s official tax arbiter, the Joint Committee on Taxation. They understand that facts and debate hurt their cause. They are hoping that partisan loyalty is strong enough to overcome substance.

But never mind all that. We are likely to see a party-line vote later this week after yesterday when the Republicans Clear Major Hurdle as Tax Bill Advances.

Senate Republicans took a significant step toward passing a sweeping tax overhaul on Tuesday, with a key panel giving its approval and several wavering senators indicating they would support the tax package, helping clear the way for full Senate consideration later this week.

Passage of the tax overhaul, which seemed uncertain on Monday, strengthened considerably on Tuesday after the Senate Budget Committee voted along party lines to advance the plan. A flurry of last-minute deal making helped garner the support of a few Republican lawmakers who had expressed concerns about the $1.5 trillion package, including its treatment of small businesses and its effect on the deficit.

The rapid turnaround underlines the pressure Republicans face to pass a tax cut and notch a significant legislative victory in their first year controlling both Congress and the White House. To help push the effort forward, President Trump went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a lunch meeting with Republican senators, where he made promises to some and admonished another.

The flipping senators include Ron Johnson, Bob Corker, and Susan Collins. All kinds of stuff got dangled in front of these floppers to get their votes. For example:

Ms. Collins said that the president was supportive of her wishes that $10,000 of property taxes be deductible under the Senate plan, a change that would be similar to the compromise that House Republicans made on the repeal of the state and local tax deduction. She also said that Mr. Trump was supportive of backing legislation to help stabilize health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, which she said would help mitigate the effects of ending the law’s requirement that most people have insurance, as the tax bill would do.

One of the truly heinous proposals is the tax increase automatically triggered should the Republican’s promise of a pot of gold in very middle class household not be realized. We already know that tax cuts don’t generate revenue, especially in this economically hot environment. So if that proposal is in the final tax bill, we can look forward to tax hikes.

Going forward, remember two things about the senators who are pushing the GOP’s tax bill. First, if those senators really truly believe what they are telling us, then in the face of ample contradictory economic facts, their beliefs disqualify them from elected office. Second, and alternatively, if they know those facts and are selling their tax bill anyway, they are lying to their constituents and deserve to be hounded out of office.

Monday, November 27, 2017

GOPlins want a tax bill for all the wrong reasons - personalities and politics, not practical policies.

Stephen Collinson (CNN) is counting the days left in Trump’s first year: Tired of winning? Clock ticks down on Trump’s first year.

President Donald Trump has just one month left to salvage a lost legislative year in a presidency that he vowed would be an endless victory lap — but has yet to produce a major new law that reshapes the nation.

The President’s road to a congressional win could be paved by passing the first sweeping tax reform package in decades, which would appease restive Republican voters and represent an undeniable personal political triumph.

Back in D.C., big week for Tax Cuts and many other things of great importance to our Country,” Trump tweeted Sunday night. “Senate Republicans will hopefully come through for all of us. The Tax Cut Bill is getting better and better. The end result will be great for ALL!”

That may be the only thing that is “undeniable.” Other than for the sexual harassment scandals, the legal entanglements (most recently a law suit over Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), and the Russia collusion probe, the tax cut bill will prove Donald Trump’s definition of “ALL” to be Orwellian double-speak.

Republican senators openly admit that their supporters could deal them a rebuke in November if they fail to produce tangible results for their lease on power by passing the tax reform bill.

[Other Senators including] Outspoken Republican Trump opponents, such as Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, must decide whether to hand a victory that could strengthen a President they have argued is barely fit for office.

Democrats must decide whether to make government funding conditional on their priorities — including the renewal of a children’s health care program and a rescue of undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, who are facing deportation.

Disagreement between the parties on those issues could spark a period of political brinkmanship and a government shutdown before Christmas.

The tax and government funding showdowns could also be colored by the question of whether Democratic gains in this November’s elections are a dark omen for Republicans heading into midterm polls.

So the benchmark that caps Trump’s first year is the passage of some version of a tax cut bill. But that is far from certain and carries its own negative political baggage.

The NY Times editorial board shows the GOP tax bills to be The Republican Tax on the Future.

Of all the lies Republican lawmakers and President Trump tell about their tax bills, the biggest whopper is that these windfall tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy would generate so much growth that they would pay for themselves.

The House and Senate tax bills probably would provide a tiny lift to the economy for a couple years — enough, supporters no doubt hope, for them to cynically claim success. It’s what comes next that the G.O.P. glosses over: the addition of more than a trillion dollars to the federal debt in just 10 years. Far from paying for themselves, these cuts would leave a bill for several future generations to pay off.

In other words, Republican leaders aren’t just trying to transfer money from current middle-class and poor Americans to corporations and the very wealthy. They are also trying to transfer money from future middle-class and poor Americans to corporations and the very wealthy.

Trump estimates the 10-year impact of the tax cuts on the GDP to be over 10%. McConnell is more conservative in his estimate of 4%. The Tax Policy Center, along with most economists, predict virtually little to no change, less than 1%. Thus, the Republican’s claim that the tax cuts will pay for themselves is a giant “whopper.”

Republicans appear to be hoping that Americans would be so happy with temporary tax cuts that would kick in next year that they would look for someone other than Mr. Trump or Mr. Ryan to blame when things didn’t work out as promised. But if the vast majority of serious economists are right, these bills would bring nothing but bad news. At least three Republican senators need to vote no to stop that from happening. Surely there are three such lawmakers with the integrity and decency to stop this boondoggle. [Scriber can think of three: Corker, Flake, and McCain.]

The fate of the tax cut bill may well hinge on competing factions in the senate. As noted above, there are senators who genuinely worry about how the tax cuts will harm the middle class, slow the economy, and place a debt burden on future Americans. Then there is Orin Hatch, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, who is on a personal mission to get a tax bill passed. CNN reports that Hatch’s big moment arrives as tax fight heads to Senate floor. You might have caught the testy exchange between Hatch and Sherrod Brown. (If not, the CNN report has the link to the video clip.)

He has few votes to spare with Republicans holding a 52-seat majority in the Senate. Some GOP lawmakers are wavering and Democratic opposition is loud and insistent. There’s no clear strategy for Hatch to win over some lawmakers without alienating others. Meanwhile, polling suggests voters are opposed to the GOP tax plans and Hatch’s negotiating skills could be undercut by persistent rumors that he will soon retire, with Mitt Romney positioned to succeed him.

But perhaps the biggest challenge facing Hatch is the existential crisis emerging from Republicans anxious that they haven’t racked up any legislative accomplishments this year despite the party holding complete control of Washington. That’s creating a sense of urgency to pass something — virtually anything — that they can show voters going into next year’s midterm elections.

“He wants this passed, and you see the passion in it. He’s not going to let anything get in his way.”

That passion, as well as the pressure he faces, was evident during an unusual outburst from Hatch just before the Thanksgiving recess as the Finance committee considered the tax bill. The normally genteel chairman, long-commended for seeking out bipartisan alliances with the likes of Ted Kennedy, upbraided Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown for claiming the tax bill would only benefit the rich.

”I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich. Give me a break,” Hatch told the Ohio senator, noting he’d “come from poor people.”

“We didn’t have anything,” he went on, “so don’t spew that stuff on me. I get a little tired of that crap.”

Later on Twitter, Hatch made it clear passing the legislation is personal for him, reminding his followers that he “grew up in a shack with a Meadow Gold Dairy (billboard) sign for a wall.” Hatch has said that he and his wife lived in a chicken coop during law school, and he has joked over the years that after growing up in a house without indoor plumbing: “I never pass a bathroom by.”

So our economy, the prosperity of the middle class (or lack thereof), and the likely debt burden by future generations all depend on one Senator’s personal stake in passage of an awful tax bill. Never mind that it carries risks for the party in power.

Joe Scarborough shows how Republicans are repeating a reckless cycle which might very well cost them at the polls next year.

… the same conservatives who promised voters they would never again be as reckless as they were under Bush are repeating the same old cycle of big tax cuts, big spending increases and no fiscal restraint. As Maya Angelou said, when people show you who they are, believe them. And for four decades, the Republican Party has shown itself to be the party of reckless budgets, runaway deficits and exploding entitlement spending. Just because the GOP donor class is willing to overlook those glaring failures in exchange for a corporate tax cut doesn’t mean other voters will be so blind. This is another Republican tax plan that helps the rich, hurts the poor, increases inequality and blows a hole in the debt. It will also lead to more GOP losses at the polls next year. To the big-money donors driving this bill, all I can say is good luck with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. [Scriber: One can hope.]

GOP to the middle class on tax cuts: Sorry, you’ve been chopped.

Look at the good side of the GOPlins’ tax cuts. They expire in 2026 for the middle class, but they are permanent for corporations. So, if you are in the middle class, you have all of 8 years to become a corporation.

That and much more illustrated news this morning from the AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Major fight looms over who will lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

My theory of the Trump administration can be expressed as a simple formula: X-antiX. As I said back in January, “For a given agency X, pick as its leader someone who is fiercely antiX. Then sit back and watch the carnage.” I then used EPA as a case study, but the formula applies to almost every cabinet pick. The most recent example, as of this morning, is the brewing legal clash over who will head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The NY Times reports that Dueling Appointments Lead to Clash at Consumer Protection Bureau.

The bureaucratic standoff began Friday afternoon when Richard Cordray, the Obama-appointed leader of the bureau, abruptly announced he would leave the job at the close of business, a week earlier than anticipated. He followed up with a letter naming his chief of staff, Leandra English, as the agency’s deputy director.

The announcement came with a twist. Under the law, he said, that appointment would make the new deputy director the agency’s acting director. …

In a letter to the consumer protection agency’s staff, Mr. Cordray named Ms. English as deputy director. Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which established the regulatory agency, the deputy director is to serve as acting director in the absence of a permanent leader, Mr. Cordray said.

On Friday, [Senator Elizabeth] Warren defended Mr. Cordray’s decision on Facebook: “President Trump can’t override that. He can nominate the next CFPB Director — but until that nominee is confirmed by the Senate, Leandra English is the Acting Director under the Dodd-Frank Act.”

Predictably, the denizens in the White House felt no obligation to even talk about the legality of what they would do next.

The White House retaliated, saying that the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who once characterized the consumer protection bureau as a “sad, sick joke,” would be running the agency. He would also keep his current job as head of the Office of Management and Budget.

Mulvaney, you see, is a rabid enemy of all things, anything, that would restrain large financial institutions.

The appointment of Mr. Mulvaney, who as a Republican congressman from South Carolina was a co-sponsor of legislation to shut down the consumer bureau, had been widely anticipated. The White House said in a statement on Friday that President Trump looked forward to seeing Mr. Mulvaney take a “common sense approach” to leading the bureau’s staff.

You see? It’s an example of X-antiX.

… Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, said in a statement. “Mulvaney has said he is opposed to the very existence of the C.F.P.B., and as a member of Congress he voted in favor of Wall Street banks and predatory lenders — his largest donors — again and again.”

The Washington Post also reports on the looming legal fight in The CFPB now has two acting directors. And nobody knows which one should lead the federal agency.

Legal analysts were split over whether the White House or the CFPB had authority to name an acting director, with each side citing the fine print of dueling federal rules. Some added that the laws were open to interpretation and that the courts ultimately would have to decide the matter.

The Dodd Frank regulatory reform bill, passed in 2010, states that a deputy director will “serve as acting director in the absence or unavailability of the director.”

But legal experts said that the word “unavailability” could be open to various interpretations. For instance, that phrase could be interpreted to be about the director’s health, rather than the director’s retirement.

Politico adds more on the legal fight in Trump taps Mulvaney to head CFPB, sparking confusion over agency’s leadership.

The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, explicitly says the consumer bureau’s deputy director shall “serve as acting Director in the absence or unavailability of the Director,” giving the edge to English.

Yet the Federal Vacancies Act allows the president to install a temporary acting head of any executive agency who has already been confirmed by the Senate to another position, like Mulvaney has as leader of the Office of Management and Budget.

Still, the Vacancies Act says that an opening may also be filled if another law “expressly … designates an officer or employee to perform the functions and duties of a specified office temporarily in an acting capacity.”

It doesn’t say whether one approach supersedes the other, something the courts will likely have to sort out.

In naming the Deputy Director Cordray cited the specific statute.

“Upon my departure, [English] will become the acting Director pursuant to section 1011(b)(5) of the Dodd-Frank Act,” Cordray said in a note to staff.

And, as an ex-colleague would have said, that got the financial industry’s undies in a bunch.

Financial companies, which have long criticized Cordray as overly aggressive, decried the move.

“Today’s actions by former CFPB Director Richard Cordray in appointing his own Acting Director to lead the bureau reinforces the problematic nature of having a single and completely unaccountable leader,” said Chris Stinebert, head of the American Financial Services Association, which represents installment lenders, in a statement.

The decision to choose who should lead the country’s consumer protection agency, and confusion that’s been caused by Cordray’s own ‘succession plan,’ should not be made by one individual and for this reason AFSA has long advocated the need for a bipartisan commission,” he added.

Unless, that is, the “one individual” is Donald Trump.

You want to know why CFPB is so hated by conservatives? Here’s just one example from the Post’s report: “The CFPB has extracted billions in fines from big banks, including $100 million from Wells Fargo last year for opening millions of sham accounts that customers didn’t ask for.”

In the absence of policing by the CFPB, those abuses would continue unchecked. Stay tuned.

GOP tax bills will benefit the rich and increase the deficit say economists ... and the voters.

It seems like a rare event when ivory tower economists and regular working folks agree. Recent polls indicate that neither group thinks much of the GOP tax cut bills.

Doyle McManus at the LA Times explains how GOP tax plan aims to appease one group: voters in primaries. (The essay was reprinted in Friday’s Daily Star.)

President Trump and his Republicans are still trying to sell their tax bill as a “middle class tax cut.” The middle class isn’t buying it — but that won’t stop Congress from passing some version of their plan.

… A Quinnipiac Poll last week found that 52 percent of voters oppose the GOP plans; only 25 percent support them.

It’s easy to see why. Most voters say they don’t expect their own taxes to go down if either of the bills passes. They expect most of the benefits would go to upper-income taxpayers, not the middle class.

And they’re right.

Trump himself is the perfect example.

Trump has frequently claimed that the bills wouldn’t benefit him or his family, but it’s hard to square that with the actual provisions.

Tax experts have said that the abolition of the estate tax could save Trump’s heirs as much as $1.1 billion.

And even as the bills eliminate middle class tax breaks, they preserve one for golf course owners — including, presumably, the Trump Organization.

A recent Politico poll found that most voters don’t believe Trump’s claim that he won’t come out ahead. (If the president wanted to prove that he’s right, he could simply release … Oh, never mind.)

The Republicans in congress are determined to enact some version of the tax-breaks-for-the-already-rich bill. They do not give a damn about what the voters think. They only care about what their donors are willing to pay them.

I expect that these fat cat feeders also don’t give a sh!t about what economists think. All but one of those recently surveyed think that the tax bills will do nothing good for the economy. All of the economists think that the tax bills proposed will increase the deficit. Ezra Klein at vox.com has this story in Out of 42 top economists, only 1 believes the GOP tax bills would help the economy. “But all of them think it will increase the debt.”

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business runs an ongoing survey of top economists spanning a wide number of specialties and political outlooks. The panel includes multiple Nobel Prize winners, White House veterans, and former presidents of the American Economic Association. Recently, they were asked about the Republican tax reform bills. The results weren’t encouraging.

The first question was straightforward. Would they agree that if the US passed a tax bill “similar to those currently moving through the House and Senate,” GDP would be “substantially higher a decade from now”? Of the 42 economists polled, only one thought the Republican bill would boost the economy. The plurality said it wouldn’t, and the remainder were uncertain or didn’t answer.

The survey includes an optional space for respondents to add a comment, and a few of the comments are notable. “Of course not,” wrote the University of Chicago’s Austan Goolsbee, who served as chief economist for President Obama. “Does anyone care about actual evidence anymore?”

A number of the economists argued that tax policy simply isn’t as powerful a lever as Republicans want to believe. “Tax policy appears to have little effect at the margin on GDP growth in OECD countries,” wrote MIT’s David Autor, an eminent trade economist. “Doubt it will substantially change things either way,” wrote the University of Chicago’s Anil Kashyap. “Aside from the redistribution of wealth, hard to see this changing much,” wrote Richard Thaler, who just won the Nobel Prize in economics.

The only economist to say the bill would increase GDP was Stanford’s Darrell Duffie, and he added the concern: “Whether the overall tax plan is distributionally fair is another matter.”

The second question asked whether passage of the Republican tax bills would mean “the US debt-to-GDP ratio will be substantially higher a decade from now than under the status quo.” Here, too, the news was grim from Republicans. In this case, all but one economist agreed that the bills would blow up the deficit, and the outlier, Stanford’s Liran Einav, turned out to have misread the question — he later clarified that he also agrees the bill would add to the debt.

“How could it be otherwise?” asked MIT’s Daron Acemoglu. “Cut taxes. Lose money. Repeat,” said Goolsbee. “This is at least is clear,” said Yale’s William Nordhaus: “No way the growth effects will be strong enough to offset the revenue losses.” Even Darrell Duffie, the sole economist who agreed that the bill would boost GDP, says the plan will pile on debt.

So here, then, is the verdict of the economics profession. The growth benefits of the Republican tax plans are either nonexistent or uncertain. The increase in debt, by contrast, seems certain.

It doesn’t sound like a great trade.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Democrats lose if Sen. Al Franken resigns

Yesterday I lost track of a column in, I recalled, the Washington Post that I had meant to feature here. It was from a woman who did not want Sen. Al Franken to resign. So I took to Google and searched for “why franken should not resign.” I got back page after page of headlines saying just the opposite - that Franken should resign and that Democrats should make him quit. Appending “Washington Post” to my search string got a lot of anti-Al headlines but buried in them was the one I was after: Kate Harding, writing in the Washington Post, declares I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign. Snippets follow.

It would feel good, momentarily, to see Franken resign and the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, appoint a senator who has not (as far as we know) harmed women. If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, with or without photographic evidence, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option. But in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements. Some will, if ousted, have their successors chosen by Republicans.

In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.

Isn’t that hypocritical? I hear you asking, Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either? But if the short-term “right thing” leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing. I am in no way suggesting that we decline to hold Franken accountable for his offenses — only that we think in terms of consequences that might actually improve women’s lives going forward.

For example, if Franken genuinely wishes to be an ally to women, as he claimed in an expanded statement Thursday, here’s what I would like to see him do. First, cooperate fully with an ethics investigation, as promised. Second, declare as soon as possible that he will not run again in 2020, so other Democratic candidates for that seat have plenty of time to prepare their campaigns. Third, go on a listening tour to learn what the women of Minnesota — Native American women, Somali women, Hmong women, Karen women, disabled women, queer women, working-class women — most want him to fight for in his remaining time, and go to the mat for their needs. Accept that some women will not want to talk to him at all, or will only want to yell at him for being a pig. Go anyway.

But there is where I part with Harding. I am ambivalent about an ethics investigation. What’s more to prove given the photographic evidence? Shall we have an ethics investigation of Roy Moore and Donald Trump? (I doubt that will happen so long as Republicans are in the majority.) Doing the listening tour and then working hard for women’s needs would be good penance. But declaring himself to be a lame duck would reduce his abilities to do that good work. I think Franken should stay in office, run for reelection, and let Democratic voters decide his fate.

You may reasonably feel uncomfortable about my position, so let me sketch a possible scenario. First, assume that the public decides that resignation is the appropriate punishment for sexual harassment. Then let’s consider what people of different political persuasions are likely to do about it.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports the most recent polling results in Poll points to partisan gap in attitudes on sexual harassment.

There’s no reason to see sexual misconduct as a partisan issue. Politicians from both parties have faced credible allegations, and that’s likely to continue as the societal scandal continues to unfold.

But a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday suggests there’s a gap in how partisans perceive the seriousness of the issue. The question read:

“If a political candidate has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, would you still consider voting for them if you agreed with them on the issues, or would you definitely not vote for them?”

In areas such as age and ethnicity, the differences were modest, but the partisan split was enormous. Among Republicans, a narrow plurality – 43% to 41% – would consider supporting a candidate accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.

Among independents, a 61% majority said they wouldn’t consider voting for such a candidate, and among Democrats, that number was 81%.

Another way of expressing the results is to note that Dems are 80:10 more likely to vote against their own candidate. Independents are 60:30 more likely to vote against. But Republicans split about 50:50. Put yet another way, applying the poll results to 10 offenders in each political category, 5 Republicans remain, 3 independents remain, and only 2 (at most) Democrats remain.

It’s likely results like these will influence how politicians and their allies respond to sexual-harassment controversies. Indeed, if the Democratic base has one set of expectations, and the Republican base approaches the issue in an entirely different way, it’s may be inevitable that Dems facing credible allegations of wrongdoing are more likely to resign or withdraw – because that would be in line with the demands of their party’s voters.

So, that kind of selective pressure functionally increases the number of sexual harassers in Congress. Consider that if Al Franken resigns, the polling data suggests that he may well be replaced by Roy Moore.

I suppose you could perseverate in a need for retribution against Franken, but you would be hoping for a better Senator than Franken (who is reported by his own staff to treat women well). Let me remind you that we are already facing not the best case but the worst case. Here’s the headline: Trump Defends Roy Moore, Citing Candidate’s Denial of Sexual Misconduct. If Moore denies the allegations by his accusers, Trump thinks they don’t exist. I’ll bet Al Franken would not agree.

The consequences of Brexit

The consequences of Britain’s vote to leave the EU (Brexit) are becoming clear. The UK economy is in trouble and the pinch is being felt at the level of individual households. Medical doctors and nurses are relocating to EU countries thus imperiling the national health system. Likewise, universities are likely to lose faculty and staff in the absence of guarantees of their rights. And Ireland may once again experience border troubles. There is talk of a second referendum, but the UK politics make that unlikely. In short, as John Cassidy puts it, the “Brexit Madness” continues.

An economic BRexodus

New Yorker columnist John Cassidy reports No End in Sight to the Brexit Madness.

The slow-motion self-immolation that is Brexit continues for the U.K. Speaking in Brussels on Monday, Michel Barnier, the senior European Union official in charge of negotiating the terms of Britain’s departure, confirmed that British banks were set to lose their so-called E.U. passport, which currently enables them to offer services throughout the twenty-eight nations in the bloc. “On financial services, U.K. voices suggest that Brexit does not mean Brexit,” Barnier said. “Brexit means Brexit, everywhere.”

As if to reinforce the point, a meeting of E.U. ministers on Monday confirmed that two big E.U. agencies that are currently headquartered in London, the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, would be moving to Paris and Amsterdam, respectively. “The twenty-seven will continue to deepen the work of those agencies, together,” Barnier said. “They will share the costs for running those agencies. Our businesses will benefit from their expertise. All of their work is firmly based on the E.U. treaties which the U.K. decided to leave.”

To be sure, the country’s economy hasn’t collapsed. The gross domestic product is rising, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.3 per cent, its lowest level since 1975. But the rate of G.D.P. growth has fallen this year, and consumer-price inflation has risen because a fall in the value of the pound has made imported goods more expensive. This has hit living standards. Earlier this month, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, an independent think tank, estimated that Brexit has already cost each British household about six hundred pounds, which is roughly eight hundred dollars. “It is almost certain that the relative deterioration in the UK economy and the accompanying fall in living standards over the past year are a consequence of the vote by the British people to leave the European Union,” Garry Young, a senior economist at the institute, wrote.

And that is just the start of an economic BRexodus and other consequences. Read on for more examples.

If Theresa May’s government had presented a credible path to the prosperity that it claims will accompany Britain’s departure from the E.U., the economic slowdown could perhaps be written off as an inevitable and temporary transition cost. But, of course, no such credible path has been offered. Beset by internal divisions, ministerial departures, and the hangover from a disastrous general election that saw it reduced to a minority in the House of Commons, May’s government has stumbled along, making barely any progress in negotiating the terms of Brexit, which was originally pegged for March, 2019.

In his speech on Monday, Barnier, a former foreign minister of France, appeared to broaden the E.U.’s demands, strongly hinting that, if Britain wanted a favorable trade deal, it would have to abide by European regulations in many areas, even though it would no longer be a member of the Union. “The U.K. has chosen to leave the E.U.,” Barnier said. “Does it want to stay close to the European model or does it want to gradually move away from it? The U.K.’s reply to this question will be important and even decisive, because it will shape the discussion on our future partnership and shape also the conditions for ratification of that partnership in many national parliaments and obviously in the European parliament.”

Although Barnier’s language was polite, his meaning was clear: the E.U. will not countenance Britain trying to set itself up as a haven from regulation and taxes for international companies that want to do business in Europe but don’t like being subject to oversight from Brussels. And, indeed, that is precisely the scenario that some of May’s colleagues—including Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and Michael Gove, the environment secretary—have in mind. In their vision, post-Brexit Britain would turn into a European version of Singapore or Hong Kong during the days of British colonial rule. “We may choose to remain identical to the EU or we may embrace a vision more aligned with pro-competitive regulation,” Johnson and Gove wrote, last week, in a letter to May. “Other countries must know this choice is in our hands, and they must know it on day one.”

To give them a bit of credit, May and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, seem to grasp that Johnson and Gove are pursuing a fantasy. They understand that the E.U. won’t allow Britain to both have its cake (access to the giant E.U. market) and eat it (freedom from E.U.-style regulation). They also recognize that if companies such as Honda and Nissan no longer have free access to and from Europe for the outputs and inputs of their British factories, they will have little choice but to relocate at least some of their facilities to the Continental mainland. The same goes for big international financial institutions, such as Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs.

Following are two examples of the fallout from Brexit.

Drexit: A medical exodus triggered by Brexit.

The NY Times reports on Where Brexit Hurts: The Nurses and Doctors Leaving London.

The short: “Britain’s treasured health care system was used as a rallying cry by anti-E.U. campaigners. Many of its European staff now feel betrayed. Thousands have quit.”

Seventeen months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, many Europeans are voting to leave Britain — with their feet. Some 122,000 of them packed their bags in the year through March, according to the latest figures available, while the stream of new arrivals has slowed.

In London, a city long sustained by European bankers, builders and baristas — “a place that makes you dream,” Ms. Pardela said — the departures are beginning to hurt. Construction companies and coffee shops are struggling to recruit. Top universities worry about retaining talent. And nowhere are the concerns more elemental than in Britain’s treasured and already overstretched National Health Service.

Long before Brexit, the N.H.S. suffered from chronic staffing shortages, and today the country has 40,000 nursing vacancies. But recruiting nurses from the European Union had helped plug the gap — especially in London, where the share of nurses from the Continent is about 14 percent, or twice the national average. King’s College Hospital, the massive institution where Ms. Pardela works, is short of 528 nurses and midwives, and 318 doctors.

Brexit seems certain to make it harder and costlier to recruit from the Continent, assuming that people will still want to come from there. Even the legal status of European Union citizens already living in Britain remains unclear, entangled in the stalled Brexit talks between Brussels and London. Many fear they could lose rights, job security, pensions and access to free health care.

This uncertainty is one reason that some European health care professionals are either leaving, or thinking about leaving. In the year following the referendum, almost 10,000 quit the N.H.S. The number of nurses from other European Union countries registering to practice in Britain has dropped by almost 90 percent.

As yet, there is no mass exodus back to the Continent — the number of European Union staff in the health service even grew slightly in the year after the referendum. But the trends are unmistakable: The number of Europeans leaving the system is rising, and the number joining it is falling.

Ireland after Brexit: A new Berlin wall?

The Guardian reports on How Brexit looms over the Irish border: ‘It’s the Berlin Wall approaching us’. In the communities that straddle the divide between Northern Ireland and the Republic, anxieties about a hard border are becoming very real. Many business owners fear for their livelihoods, while local people warn of a return to the days when IRA smugglers ruled ‘bandit country’.

Brexit has jolted memories and generated new anxieties along the 310-mile border from Donegal to Louth and what locals fear most is that old divisions and enmities will be stoked. It is estimated that one million people live in the border communities, and they are already feeling the impact.

“What you don’t see here is the silent hurt – everyone here was affected,” says Natasha McGrath, community development officer at the Termon Complex, a cross-border sports and community hall across the river. The EU spent €8.3m (£7.4m) on the centre, the second-biggest single beneficiary of peace programme funds after the Peace bridge in Derry.

McGrath fears that the EU funds released after the Good Friday agreement, which have underpinned peace, are now at risk. “We have spent the last two decades building bonds, socially, culturally, economically. The two states are bound together and now they are going to be cut apart,” she says.

Might as well call this one IRexit. Next up is a looming educational exodus (Edexit?).

UK universities “face disaster within weeks”

Educational institutions, like Warwick University, that employ EU staff will suffer from the uncertainty. The Guardian reports that UK universities ‘face disaster within weeks’ without clear Brexit plan.

British universities face “a moment of great trauma” in the next few weeks unless the government makes clear its post-Brexit plans for EU residents in the UK, a leading vice-chancellor has warned.

Prof Stuart Croft of Warwick University said in an interview with the Guardian that the possibility of no deal being struck to exit the EU was “utterly bizarre”, and that institutions needed certainty over residency rights by the end of the year to avoid seeing staff at all levels deciding to leave.

Warwick currently employs around 800 staff from the rest of the EU, out of 6,500 staff in total, and Croft said it was not just professors and senior researchers whose departure would harm the university.

“We have lots of people – we want them all to stay – people who work in all parts of the organisation. We have illustrious professors doing important things, and we have people who work in catering, and they are all really important.

And all this, among many other consequences, was endorsed implicitly by US President Donald Trump when he called Brexit a ‘great thing’ for UK.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Please join me in signing this petition to Sen. Jeff Flake

Here’s an easy way to express your concerns about the Republican tax plans (see the accompanying post in this blog this morning).

Bob Lord ( Blog for Arizona) has a change.org petition to Sen. Flake at BfAZ Readers: Please Sign on to My Petition to Senator Flake.

I signed it. I hope you, my readers, will sign also.

In their tax bills GOPlins are running a con and lying about it

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) explains that The Trump tax plan is much worse than you thought. A new analysis confirms it.. Snippets follow.

The fate of the Senate GOP tax plan now rests in the hands of a few undecided Republican senators, and next week, they will make up their minds. But a new nonpartisan analysis of the plan will make it much, much harder for them to embrace it — or at least it should, if their stated principles mean anything at all.

Here is the key takeaway from the new analysis, which is the work of the Tax Policy Center: By 2027, around 50 percent of taxpayers will see a tax hike. The whole purpose of this tax increase is to make it possible for Senate Republicans to pass a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the very wealthiest taxpayers — on party lines, without any Democrats.

Sargent runs the numbers:

… the plan actually gets more regressive over time. The tax cuts for the four lower-income quintiles basically shrivel up and disappear by 2027, with the two lowest quintiles ultimately seeing either a tax hike or no change, while the middle and fourth see the tax cut dwindle away to almost nothing. By contrast, in 2027, the top one percent sees an average tax cut of more than $30,000, and the top 0.1 percent sees an average tax cut of more than $200,000 — more than double what it was in 2019, and a good deal more than it was in 2025.

Why does this happen? Because the Senate plan front-loads the benefits for lower- and middle-income groups. It cuts individual income taxes for all groups and gives lower-income groups various tax preferences, but those things are temporary, and expire after 2025. But three things remain permanent: The individual mandate repeal; a new inflation metric that continues pushing people into higher tax brackets; and the corporate tax rate remains at 20 percent, down from 35 percent.

Because of all these complexities, some people in every income group see a tax hike at each juncture, and some people in every one of them see a tax cut. That’s all reflected in the averages in the chart above, which in the short term tilt toward a cut for all groups. But come 2027, most of the benefits for lower- and middle-income taxpayers vanish, even as the corporate tax cuts continue delivering a massive reduction to the top …

[Sargent’s analysis shows] that the plan gets more regressive over time. Large majorities of the middle three quintiles see tax hikes in 2027. Meanwhile, virtually all the people in the top 1 percent and top 0.1 percent see a tax cut. Taken all together, 50 percent of overall taxpaying units see a tax hike; the vast majority of those people are concentrated in the lower quintiles.

The whole point of zeroing out the tax cuts for lower-income groups, resulting in a tax hike for so many people, is to fund the continued corporate tax cuts, so they don’t add to the deficit in the long run, allowing Republicans to pass the bill via a simple majority vote. Republicans insist that the lower-end tax cuts will be extended later. But this should drive away deficit hawk Republicans such as Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and John McCain, since it amounts to an admission that either taxes will go up on the middle class or the deficit will be blown up later. By the way, another TPC analysis of the House plan finds that the tax cuts won’t produce the necessary explosion of growth to pay for them, so that rationale is also out the window.

Meanwhile, Susan Collins (R-Maine) has come out against the bill’s mandate repeal on the grounds that spiking premiums would cancel out the tax cuts for many lower-income people. But the bill actually hikes taxes for enormous numbers of those same people. How can any of these senators support this bill, given what we know about it now, without rendering their previously stated principles totally hollow?

Jennifer Rubin (also at the Washington Post) warns that It’s time for moderates to moderate the tax bill. She observes that there are tax policies and practices, other than our own, that work fine.

… Republicans can do something positive and pass tax reform with a substantial majority. They could, for example, go bold and look to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). He’s described a tax bill of the type many conservative economists favor:

The Progressive Consumption Tax Act creates a Progressive Consumption Tax, or “PCT,” that changes the way the federal government raises revenue. Rather than taxing income, the PCT generates reasonable revenue by taxing the purchase of goods and services. This revenue is used to exempt most households from any federal individual income tax liability and significantly lowers the corporate income tax rate. Low- and middle-income families would be protected from unfair consumption taxation through a PCT rebate, and important benefits would be retained in a much simpler income tax code.

Every other developed country in the world, including all other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, have a consumption tax. A progressive consumption tax would improve America’s international competitiveness by putting American-based businesses on a level playing field with foreign businesses and by lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate below the OECD average. Although consumption taxes are already imposed by many countries around the world, the Act’s reforms would be new to the U.S. tax code.

In sum, the way to do smart, bipartisan tax reform is to stop a dumb, partisan tax bill. Then Collins, McCain, Flake, Corker and others can reach across the aisle and find an accord with red state and reform-minded Democrats. They can proceed with careful, deliberate legislation to build consensus. If they are true to their word, they will be regarded as true political and policy heroes. If not, they unfortunately will join the ranks of disingenuous pols who talk a good game but perpetuate rabid partisanship and vote for fiscal irresponsibility and tax cuts for the rich.

In the meantime, the Republicans continue to brazenly lie about the tax bill and who it helps and who it hurts. AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona documents the lies in GOP resorts to lying about its tax bill (part one) and GOP resorts to lying about its tax bill (part two). He cites Paul Krugman’s scathing essay, Lies, Incoherence and Rage on Tax Cuts.

How can Republicans like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, pretend to be helping the middle class? It depends crucially on a new kind of budget gimmick: Both the House and Senate tax-cut bills do contain some middle-class tax breaks — but only for the first few years. Then they expire.

Take one of Ryan’s favorite examples, a family with two children and earning $59,000 a year. That family would indeed get a tax break next year. But the break would rapidly dwindle and turn into a tax increase by 2024.

… we’re really looking at an unprecedented level of dishonesty here. But what happens when you try to explain what’s going on? When Senator Sherrod Brown tried to point out, correctly, that the Senate G.O.P.’s tax bill heavily favors the rich, Senator Orrin Hatch exploded, calling it “bull crap” and asserting that he grew up poor (which is relevant why, exactly?)

Sorry, but this isn’t the righteous anger of a man falsely accused of wrongdoing. It’s the rage con men always exhibit when caught out in their con.

But what’s the con about? The very incoherence of the arguments Republicans are making for their plans shows that it’s not about helping the economy, let alone ordinary families. It really is about making the rich richer, at everyone else’s expense.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Should Franken, Moore, and Trump resign? But is that the right question?

“Should Al Franken Resign?” Is the Wrong Question opines Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

Should Senator Al Franken resign following revelations of sexual harassment? Michelle Goldberg, writing in the Times, says yes, in order to preserve the momentum of “the current movement toward unprecedented accountability for sexual harassers.” Writing in the Washington Post, Kate Harding says no: as a legislator, Franken has done good things for women, and, as a repentant sexual harasser in politics, he could do even more. Both arguments clearly have merit, and both of the writers acknowledge that the opposing view is compelling. But maybe “Should Al Franken resign?” is the wrong question.

Former Franken female staffers speak out: ‘He treated us with the utmost respect’ reminds (or informs) us of those “good things for women” Franken has done and might yet still do.

The statement is co-signed by eight former Franken staffers who have worked for him since he was elected to the Senate in 2008. It reads, “Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.”

Gessen again:

The question frames the conversation in terms of retribution, but it is not possible to hold to account every man who has ever behaved disrespectfully and disgustingly toward a woman. Nor even every senator, or every comedian. And, even if it were possible to punish every single one of them, what would be accomplished? Punishment, especially when it is delayed, is not a very effective deterrent.

As for Franken, there is something particularly disquieting about the similarity of his alleged actions, as described by Leeann Tweeden and acknowledged by him, to the behavior Donald Trump described in the “Access Hollywood” recording. But the more disturbing charges against Trump concerned women whose careers he controlled, such as the former Miss Utah Temple Taggart and the “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos.

Those cases illustrate the real issue here: the power imbalance that allows some men to take women hostage using sex. Franken, from what we know, was not such a man. When he kissed Tweeden without her consent, during a rehearsal on a U.S.O. tour, she was able to, according to her description, push her assailant away, tell him, “Don’t ever do that to me again,” and walk away—hurt and disgusted, to be sure, but not in fear for her future. She wrote that she didn’t go public at the time because she “didn’t want to cause trouble,” and didn’t feel that she needed protection from Franken. On the way back from the tour, Franken posed for a picture in which he pretended to grope Tweeden’s breasts when she fell asleep on a plane. More than a decade later, when Tweeden decided to go public, he apologized. “The apology, sure, I accept it,” Tweeden said in a press conference. “People make mistakes.” She sounded less magnanimous than annoyed. She explained that she had decided to go public in order to encourage other women to speak up without fear. That matters. Whether Franken resigns does not.

It is instructional to consider how the “disquieting similarity” between Franken’s admitted and Trump’s alleged actions is treated by liberals and conservatives alike. The Post reporter observes that “The senator faced swift condemnation and bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation Thursday after he was accused of forcibly kissing and groping Tweeden, a KABC radio host and former Fox Sports correspondent and host.”

So what about Roy Moore who is accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. He quite possibly could be the newest US senator if enough Alabamans choose to ignore that. And what about Trump? The nation elected president a guy who admits on tape to doing arguably quantitatively and qualitatively worse things. The Difference Between Franken and Trump is That Franken ‘Admitted Wrongdoing’. That’s according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who’s not wrong reports Esquire magazine. (That’s also, by the way, a difference between Moore and Franken.)

Every now and then, members of the Trump administration catch the world (and probably themselves) by surprise by saying something that’s actually true. Case in point: The unflappable White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. When pressed by reporters Friday, Huckabee Sanders admitted that the difference between Senator Al Franken and President Trump, who both stand accused of sexual assault, is that “Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t.”

This is the same person who confirmed last month that the White House’s official position on the 16 women who’ve accused Trump of sexual harassment is that they’re all liars. So it looks like she’s making some real progress!

I’ll let Tweeden have the next-to-last word (from the Post article):

“I’m not calling for his resignation, nor am I calling for his career to end. I just want to shine a light and stand on the shoulders of these other women to say, ‘This is not right, and this is not what should be happening in our society.’”

That Franken is granted culpability equal to that of Moore and Trump also should not be happening in our society.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sen. Jeff Flake on “the party of Trump and Moore”

Kathryn Watson at CBS News reports that Flake, on hot mic, says GOP will be “toast” if it’s the party of Trump and Moore. h/t a tweet from Laurie Roberts. Snippets follow.

Outspoken Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona was heard on a hot mic Saturday saying the Republican Party will be “toast” if it is defined by figures like President Trump and Alabama Republican Roy Moore.

Flake, whose comments were caught on a microphone of ABC local affiliate KNXV-TV, was speaking with a friend at the time after finishing a town hall on tax reform.

“[If we] become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast,” Flake is overheard saying to Mesa, Arizona, Mayor John Giles.

Predictably, Twump responded:

Sen. Jeff Flake(y), who is unelectable in the Great State of Arizona (quit race, anemic polls) was caught (purposely) on “mike” saying bad things about your favorite President. He’ll be a NO on tax cuts because his political career anyway is “toast.”

It isn’t the first time Flake has criticized Moore, Mr. Trump or the Republican Party as a whole. Flake had criticized the president for weeks before announcing he will not run for re-election in 2018, saying he “will not be complicit or silent” about the direction of the GOP. He has called the president’s behavior “dangerous” for democracy.

After multiple women came forward accusing Moore of inappropriately pursuing or sexually touching them when they were teens, Flake said he would “run to the polling place to vote for the Democrat” if he was an Alabama voter.

The accusations against Moore have also put the White House in a difficult situation politically, as at least 16 women have accused Mr. Trump of behaving inappropriately toward them. Mr. Trump has yet to personally address the accusations against Moore, although White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has said he believes Moore will do the “right thing” and step aside “if” the allegations are true. Sanders has refused to answer further questions about the president’s own accusers.

Flake talks a good line, but his votes line up with Twump 90% of the time. (Flake Ranks 11th among the 52 senate Republicans.). Now would be a good time for Flake to walk the talk and vote against the Senate tax break bill that rewards the rich and mauls the middle class.

Make America Grope Again - and other slogans in this Mournday Mourning Illustrated News

Below are other notable quotables from this week’s illustrated news in the form of a quiz. Can you figure out a likely characterization?

“Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife … but it doesn’t say anything about his daughter.”

“We need to protect our kids from dangerous predators … like Democrats and the mainstream media.”

“I could stand in the middle of Dexter Avenue and grope a 14 year-old girl and not lose any voters.” [You think you know this one but are you absolutely sure?]

“I know I’m supposed to keep track of who’s naughty and nice … but my memory seems to have recused itself!”

“Our mission is to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.”

For the answers to these and other illustrated news check out this week’s toons from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why the GOP tax plan should be sh!tcanned.

Billmoyers.com has an excellent post by Robert Reich on Patriotism, Taxes and Trump Reich asserts that The wealthy have a duty to this country to take on a fair share of the burden to keep it going. It’s Trump and congressional Republicans’ duty to make them.

Reich includes some perhaps familiar but nevertheless stunning statistics on the upwards move of more wealth to the already obscenely wealthy. Following are snippets slightly rearranged.

Selling the Trump-Republican tax plan should be awkward for an administration that has made patriotism its central theme.

That’s because patriotism isn’t mostly about saluting the flag and standing during the national anthem.

It’s about taking a fair share of the burden of keeping America going.

Trickle-up for the rich

… the tax plan gives American corporations a $2 trillion tax break, at a time when they’re enjoying record profits and stashing unprecedented amounts of cash in offshore tax shelters.

And it gives America’s wealthiest citizens trillions more, when the richest 1 percent now hold a record 38.6 percent of the nation’s total wealth, up from 33.7 percent a decade ago.

Forty years ago, the estate tax was paid by 139,000 estates, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. By 2000, it was paid by 52,000. This year it will be paid by just 5,500 estates. Under the House tax plan, it will be eliminated altogether.

Amazing. That is an almost perfect linear relationship showing the decline in number of estates paying the estate tax. That straight line function predicts that congress will eliminate the estate tax sometime this year. Stay tuned.

Republicans obey the hypocritical oath

First of all, do some harm … to the middle class.

Why do Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than the citizens of every other advanced economy? Because Big Pharma has altered the laws in its favor. Why do we pay more for internet service than most other nations? Big cable’s political clout. Why can payday lenders get away with payday robbery? The political heft of big banks.

Multiply these examples across the economy and you get a huge hidden upward redistribution from the paychecks of average working people and the poor to top executives and investors.

A slew of analyses, including Congress’ own Joint Committee on Taxation, show that the GOP plan will raise taxes on many middle-class families.

It will also require cuts in government programs that middle- and lower-income Americans depend on, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

And the plan will almost certainly explode the national debt, eventually causing many middle-class and poor families to pay higher interest on their auto loans, mortgages and credit cards.

Dancin’ with them that brung ya

The reason Republicans give for enacting the plan is “supply-side” trickle-down nonsense. The real reason is payback to the GOP’s megadonors.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham warned that if Republicans failed to pass tax reform, “the financial contributions will stop.”

Elephant trophies - we must kill them to save them.

Yep. Just like destroying the town to save it.

Unless otherwise noted, snippets below are from the NY Times report on Trump’s policy reversal.

The issue: Importing elephant parts

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service had signaled its intention to end the 2014 ban, citing Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts. On Thursday, the service announced on its website that it would begin issuing permits to allow the import of elephants hunted from 2016 to 2018, with two trophies allowed per import.

Nearly two weeks ago, the department also waived the ban in a similar manner for Zambia.

Zambia and Zimbabwe have had mixed success in recent years maintaining or increasing their elephant population, according to the Great Elephant Census, a project financed by Paul G. Allen, a founder of Microsoft. The project also found that the African elephant population shrunk nearly 30 percent from 2007 to 2014.

Originally the USFWS was going to allow elephant parts into the US: Trump Administration to Lift Ban on ‘Trophy’ Elephant Imports. Then, under public pressure, Trump and his administration reversed course: For Now, Trump to Keep Ban on Importing Elephant Trophies.

The positions: Conservation vs. trophy hunters

Safari Club International, a trophy-hunting organization that sued the Obama administration in 2014 in an effort to challenge the ban and was the first to report the policy change on Tuesday, lashed out against the news media and “anti-hunters” for swaying the Trump administration to lift the trophy ban.

FYI: that organization is headquartered in Tucson.

“The fight for the freedom to hunt is far from over,” Paul Babaz, the organization’s president, said in a statement. “We will be more proactive and not back down.”

But environmental groups applauded the reversal on Friday and called for more restrictions on trophy hunting, which has faced increased scrutiny, especially after an American dentist killed Cecil, a lion beloved in Zimbabwe, in 2015.

Update: Earlier this year the head hunters got Cecil’s son also - as I posted in Cecil’s son, Xanda, shot by head hunters. I wrote: “I am not neutral in this one. The Scribers were on safari in Zimbabwe’s Hwange park in 2016 and had the good fortune to observe Xanda mating. We’ve lost a truly magnificent animal so that a head hunter has bragging rights.”

“It’s great that public outrage has forced Trump to reconsider this despicable decision,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, “but it takes more than a tweet to stop trophy hunters from slaughtering elephants and lions.”

Trumps’ trophies: A tale of Don Jr.’s tail.

The NY Times editorial board was unforgiving in its scathing reporting of Don Jr.’s trophy hunting in Zimbabwe: Trump Bags Another Anti-Obama Trophy: Dead Elephants.

Elephants are remarkably empathic and intelligent, even capable of self-awareness.

And then there’s the Trump administration, which announced this week that it would lift a ban imposed by the Obama administration on importing elephant heads, feet and other body parts severed as trophies after the animals are shot for sport in Zimbabwe. A few weeks ago the administration said it would end a similar ban on imports from Zambia.

The policy reversal is a gift to the big game trade from Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, who’s apparently not satisfied with scrapping environmental and species protections on just one continent.

Lifting this ban could endanger gains made by governments and environmental groups to protect elephants from illegal trade in ivory and other body parts. At the very least it sends yet another message that this is an administration in service of itself and its cronies.

To be clear: The administration’s assessment of Zimbabwe’s elephant population rests mostly with assurances from safari outfitters and professional hunters who profit from killing the animals, and the government of a nation in the midst of a military coup. …

If there’s any question how the administration could accept such rosy assessments, it’s worth noting that one high-profile hunter with solid White House connections was photographed a few years ago in Zimbabwe clutching the severed tail of an elephant: Donald Trump Jr. [Scriber: the Times’ editorial has the photo!]

Carefully monitored culling has been called one means for ensuring the health of these animals and the terrain they inhabit. The Obama administration had permitted South African elephant trophies. A share of the revenues from elephant-hunting safaris was supposed to help fund conservation efforts, though critics question if the strategy is working.

But administration officials don’t seem to really care about whether or how Zimbabwe complies with any of this. They want their trophies.

The thing is that the neither Cecil nor his son were killed for purposes of culling. They were magnificent lions in their prime.

The Times board acknowledged the reversal that occurred after their editorial was written:

Update: On Friday evening, President Trump tweeted that he would leave the ban in place, pending further review.

“Pending further review.” Hmmm. Stay tuned.

What elephants think of this

How about we ask the elephants? New Yorker satirist Andy Borowtiz reports that Elephants Unmoved by Trump’s Backtracking on Trophy Ban: “We Don’t Forget”.

HARARE, Zimbabwe (The Borowitz Report)—Unimpressed by President Donald Trump’s sudden backtracking on his proposed elephant-trophy ban, elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia released a scathing official statement on Saturday, ominously warning Trump, “We don’t forget.”

The blistering statement from the elephants reflected the pachyderms’ contempt not just for Trump but for his two sons, Eric and Donald, Jr., who are widely despised by the elephant community.

“The decision to lift the trophy ban reeks of political expediency as it worst,” the elephants’ statement read.

The elephants also sent a strongly worded legal letter to the Republican National Committee, demanding that the G.O.P. immediately cease and desist using the elephants’ likenesses in Republican fund-raising appeals and all other materials.

Scriber’s usually unreliable sources report that the GOP has refused to comment.

Friday, November 17, 2017

McSally’s tweets and more - two answers to why more Republicans aren’t opposing the GOP tax plan

UPDATE - FLASH - BREAKING - READ NOW!!! The Arizona Daily Star’s columnist Tim Steller’s reports in his Friday Notebook how CD2 Rep., and now likely Senate candidate, Martha McSally pivots to pro-Trump position.

For some time, I’ve suspected that Rep. Martha McSally is angling for an endorsement from President Trump as she considers jumping into the U.S. Senate race — maybe even as a condition for running.

That would give her a big advantage over the top GOP candidate in the race now, Kelli Ward, who is a devoted fan of the president and was endorsed by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon.

I can’t say I’ve confirmed this is what McSally is doing, but on Thursday, she offered one more piece of evidence for the theory. McSally’s Twitter account put out a picture of her with Trump, each with an arm around the other, each giving a thumbs up.

Steller reports on McSally’s tweets:

McSally’s text said: “Great meeting with President @realDonaldTrump this a.m. to discuss our tax cuts that will bring relief to hard-working American families!”

This was the fourth tweet naming the president that McSally has posted since Nov. 8; her entire Twitter history shows only one Tweet naming Trump before that.

On Nov. 8, a day I think we may look back on as the day McSally actually began running for Senate, she posted a picture of herself with the president’s older daughter. The text of the tweet said, “Discussing our plan to cut taxes, create jobs & deliver relief to American families w/@IvankaTrump. Let’s get it to @realDonaldTrump’s desk.

“Relief to American Families”? McSally is really slinging some bullshit at her constituents. The proposed tax cuts do no such thing. Does she really believe her own BS? Or is she now a willing actor in the Koch brothers’ circus? Either way, her tweets offer an answer to the following question.

Why Isn’t There More Republican Opposition to the G.O.P. Tax Plan?. That’s the question posed by John Cassidy in The New Yorker. He observes that The Republican Party appears to be staking its future on a tax overhaul that represents the antithesis of the populist movement that helped elect Donald Trump.

Why indeed. Cassidy offers one answer.

On Wednesday night, Reuters held a panel discussion at its Times Square headquarters about the Republican tax plan. It turned out to be one-sided. None of the three economists up on the dais had anything positive to say about the bills being considered on Capitol Hill. Neither did the fourth panel member, Mark Cuban, the Texas entrepreneur who has said he is considering running for President in 2020 as a Republican.

Alan Blinder, the former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve board, put up some charts showing that there isn’t much of a correlation between economic growth and low tax rates. On the contrary, growth in the U.S. has been strong at times when taxes have been high, such as in the nineteen-fifties, when marginal tax rates reached ninety per cent, and in the nineteen-nineties, when Bill Clinton raised taxes on high earners.

The second economist on the panel, Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, was even more scathing about the Republican plan. According to his economic model, he said, the tax cuts that the G.O.P is proposing would have virtually no impact on G.D.P. growth over the next ten years, but would widen the budget deficit substantially and increase the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio by about six percentage points. Raising the question of why anybody would want to adopt such a plan, he said, “I don’t get it.”

The third economist, Dambisa Moyo, is an author and a public speaker who sits on the boards of three big companies—Chevron, Barclays, and Barrick Gold—all of which stand to benefit from the Republican proposal to cut the corporate tax rate from thirty-five per cent to twenty per cent. But, far from praising the G.O.P. plan, Moyo pointed out that the last time the corporate rate was reduced, in the nineteen-eighties, corporations used their tax savings to increase dividend payouts to shareholders rather than to invest in plant and capital equipment, or to raise wages.

Cuban was the other person on the panel. Was he any more positive on the tax plan? No. He described the effort to cut corporate taxes as a distraction from the real challenge facing businesses: the ongoing digital revolution. “Competition drives what I do in my businesses a whole lot more than tax rates,” Cuban said. “Amazon is going to affect a whole lot more companies and futures, as will Microsoft and Facebook and Google and other big companies, a lot more than a marginal tax rate.” Cuban also pointed out that if the goal of tax policy is to put more money into the pockets of ordinary Americans—which is what the Republicans and the White House claim—it would be more effective to cut payroll taxes, which everybody pays.

To provide a bit of variety, I sort of wished the organizers had invited someone from the Freedom Caucus or the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page to defend the G.O.P. plan. But the plain truth is that the panelists were all correct. The Republican tax plan is based on false premises; it won’t give the economy much of a boost; it will raise the deficit; it will primarily benefit corporate shareholders and C.E.O.s. And, as Cuban said, it is a distraction from the great policy question of the day, which is how to insure at least a modicum of shared prosperity in an economy being roiled by technological change, global competition, and demographic transformation.

[Then] On Thursday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed its version of the G.O.P. tax plan, with only thirteen Republicans voting against it. The political action now moves to the Senate, where Republican leaders are hoping to push through their version of the tax plan immediately after Thanksgiving. So far, only a single Republican, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, has come out against the current version of the Senate bill. But the bigger story is that there should be broad G.O.P. opposition to this tax plan—and there isn’t. After all, this is a political party that, at the Presidential level and in many localities, has recently undergone a hostile takeover by a populist insurgency. A year after the election, how can it be staking its future on a tax plan that represents the antithesis of populism?

Here, once again, it must be noted that, for all his rhetoric, Donald Trump is a sham populist. Ignoring the pleas of his former adviser Steve Bannon, who advocated a tax plan that did more for his core supporters, Trump is championing a set of proposals that only a corporate C.E.O., a deluded conservative economist, or a self-serving plutocrat could love. If Trump wanted to help out the working stiff, why didn’t he take Cuban’s advice and call for a cut in the payroll tax? To pay for the reduction, he could also have proposed abolishing, or substantially raising, the payroll tax’s upper-income threshold, which enables someone who earns a million dollars a year to escape the tax on about seven-eighths of his income. Such a policy package could have boosted take-home pay, financed itself, and also helped to reduce income inequality.

But in going down this route, of course, Trump would have had to take on Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and other Republicans on Capitol Hill. Beholden to ultra-conservative individual donors like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, but also to large corporations, which have traditionally financed the party, the current G.O.P. leaders will fight to the last for corporate and upper-income tax cuts, which eventually will have to be paid for by cuts in programs that primarily benefit the middle class and the poor.

Well, that’s one answer. In other words, Washington is owned by plutocrats and people like Trump will reap millions or even billions of dollars from the GOPlins’ tax plan. Given the choice between doing what is right by the middle class and doing what benefits the wealthy, the GOP will always follow the orders of their fiscal masters.

Fellow New Yorker, writer and satirist Andy Borowitz has another answer in Trump Voters Celebrate Massive Tax Cut for Everyone But Them.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Jubilant Trump voters on Thursday celebrated the prospect of a gigantic tax cut that will benefit everyone but them.

Across the country, Trump supporters were overjoyed that, after months of gridlock and wrangling, the man they voted for was about to make Americans other than them wildly richer.

“President Trump has taken a lot of hits from the fake-news media, but he stood his ground,” Carol Foyler, a Trump voter in Ohio, said. “Today he honored his pledge to the American people, except for me and anybody I know.”

Harland Dorrinson, a Trump supporter from Kentucky, agreed. “When I cast my vote last November, I said to myself, ‘I sure hope this means that people with a thousand times more money than I have get even more money,’ ” he said. “Promise kept.”

Tracy Klugian, a Trump voter from Minnesota, said that tax cuts for everyone but him are an important step toward making America great again. “Look at the stock market—it’s been going through the roof,” Klugian, who has no money in the stock market, said.

But some Trump supporters, like Calvin Denoit, of Texas, were more muted. “Tax cuts that completely exclude me and my family are a good start,” he said. “But, until President Trump eliminates all environmental and safety regulations for corporations that I have zero stake in, I won’t be satisfied.”

Scriber’s usually unreliable sources amplified this reasoning. They report on additional interviews with middle-class Arizonans who voted for Trump. Arizona voters are more supportive of Trump than the general population. That sample of Arizonans celebrate the fact that they will end up with less income and fewer benefits under the GOP tax plan. “If that’s what it takes to Make America Great Again,” said Dervin Olphammer, “I stand ready to do my part. I told my wife to start saving our nickels and dimes to pay our taxes. And not get sick.”

More on Moore - there is no good outcome for senate Republicans.

Amber Phillips (Washington Post/The Fix) lists The six likeliest ways this whole Roy Moore saga could end, ranked.

Roy Moore’s list of accusers — and enemies — is growing. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that two other women say he pursued them while they were teenage mall employees and he was in his 30s. One claims he gave her a forceful, unwanted kiss.

Moore says the charges are politically motivated.

And so the Alabama Senate GOP candidate and most of the Republican Party are in a standoff about whether Moore should get out of the race.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Here are the likeliest scenarios for what happens to Moore, ranked from least likely (6) to most likely (1). [Scriber: Following is the list sans rationale for the five least likely possibilities.]

–6- Moore drops out before the Dec. 12 election
–5- A new election is held
–4- The state party forces Moore out
–3- Moore stays in and another Republican candidate launches a write-in campaign
–2- Moore stays in the race, and he wins or loses

And that leaves the remaining scenario, #1.

–1- Moore stays in the race, wins and the Senate expels him.

Yes, this is the likeliest option, which is crazy since the Senate hasn’t successfully expelled one of its own senators since the Civil War. But it can be done. Constitutional law scholar Josh Chafetz with Cornell University said the Senate has the constitutional right to kick out anyone for whatever reason.

It’s not easy, though. Undoing an election is a serious endeavor. An ethics committee must investigate the claims and find grounds to expel Moore, then two-thirds of the chamber (that means all 48 Democrats and at least 19 Republicans) must agree to kick out one of their own.

The Senate could have such an extraordinary consensus. Republican leaders in Washington have made clear that they do NOT want Moore to be part of their ranks. …

With the glaring exception of Trump, McConnell has had a zero-tolerance policy for allegations of sexual misconduct in his party. And if Moore becomes a senator, you can bet every single one of his Republican colleagues on the ballot next year will get asked about why they are serving alongside someone who has been accused of sexual misconduct. The attack ads write themselves.

But: This whole process could take six months to a year. If Moore is kicked out, Alabama will need another special election, and we could find ourselves right back where we started. “It’s the election that just won’t end,” [Alabama political reporter Leada] Gore said.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) thinks that The GOP’s Roy Moore nightmare just got worse. It could infect the battle for the Senate. He gets to the same place as Phillips.

As I’ve argued, the most feasible way for Republicans to retain this seat is for Moore to win the race in spite of GOP demands that he quit, and for the Senate to expel him so he can be replaced via another special election. But this scenario also has major downsides for the GOP. That’s because expulsion proceedings would be uncertain and would create a major media circus next year, just as the 2018 Senate races are heating up.

Indeed, a Democrat points out to me that the Moore saga is already spilling into those races and exacerbating the ongoing GOP civil war between McConnell and Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser who is championing Moore. Attention to Moore’s escapades is putting pressure on GOP candidates in some primaries to condemn him, but they are declining, apparently out of fear of alienating GOP base voters.

If Moore wins, which remains a real possibility, and circus-like expulsion proceedings begin next year, large swaths of the Trumpist GOP base may rally around Moore, intensifying the difficulties faced by GOP candidates. Democrats believe this could resonate in suburban areas, particularly among women, which will partly decide some of these contests. To be sure, this probably wouldn’t be that big a factor. But the Democrats’ smashing victories in Virginia showed that suburban and college-educated whites are energized bigly against Trumpism. And a massive Moore circus — one whose resolution isn’t even clear, since Moore might not end up getting expelled — won’t help matters for Republicans.

Which leads to a question: If Senate GOP leaders were faced with a straight-up choice between losing a Senate seat on the one side, and serving alongside accused serial teen-targeting sexual predator Moore on the other, which would they pick? I have not seen this question answered. Presumably Republicans want to preserve the seat at all costs, because losing it seriously imperils their agenda. But even as Moore is creating terrible press for the GOP, it’s unlikely he would be a reliable vote for the GOP agenda in any case. Bottom line: Right now, the real question is not whether Republicans will be stuck with Moore, but for how long they’ll be stuck with him.

I’ll close with Sargent’s locally relevant observation: “In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally, who wants to run against Bannon-backed Kelli Ward (who has described Moore as an inspiration), is under pressure from the local press to comment on Moore, but so far she has said nothing.” No surprise there.