Sunday, December 31, 2017

When Ayn Rand Collected Social Security & Medicare, After Years of Opposing Benefit Programs

When Ayn Rand Collected Social Security & Medicare, After Years of Opposing Benefit Programs

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

in Economics, Politics | December 27th, 2016 67 Comments


Image via YouTube, 1959 interview with Mike Wallace

A robust social safety net can benefit both the individuals in a society and the society itself. Free of the fear of total impoverishment and able to meet their basic needs, people have a better opportunity to pursue long-term goals, to invent, create, and innovate. Of course, there are many who believe otherwise. And there are some, including the acolytes of Ayn Rand, who believe as Rand did: that those who rely on social systems are---to use her ugly term---“parasites,” and those who amass large amounts of private wealth are heroic supermen.

Rand disciple Alan Greenspan, for example, initiated the era of “Reaganomics” in the early 1980s by engineering “an increase in the most regressive tax on the poor and middle class,” writes Gary Weiss, “the Social Security payroll tax—combined with a cut in benefits.” For Greenspan, “this was no contradiction. Social Security was a system of altruism at its worst. Its beneficiaries were looters. Raising their taxes and cutting their benefits was no loss to society.”

One problem with Rand’s reasoning is this: whether “parasite” or titan of industry, none of us is anything more than human, subject to the same kinds of cruel twists of fate, the same existential uncertainty, the same illness and disease. Suffering may be unequally distributed to a great degree by human agen you, but nature and circumstance often have a way of evening the odds. Rand herself experienced such a leveling effect in her retirement. After undergoing surgery in 1974 for lung cancer caused by her heavy smoking, she found herself in straitened circumstances.

Two years later, she was paired with social worker Evva Pryor, who gave an interview in 1998 about their relationship. “Rarely have I respected someone as much as I did Ayn Rand,” said Pryor. When asked about their philosophical disagreements, she replied, “My background was social work. That should tell you all you need to know about our differences.” Pryor was tasked with persuading Rand to accept Social Security and Medicare to help with mounting medical expenses.

I had read enough to know that she despised government interference, and that she felt that people should and could live independently. She was coming to a point in her life where she was going to receive the very thing she didn’t like.... For me to do my job, she had to recognize that there were exceptions to her theory.... She had to see that there was such a thing as greed in this world.... She could be totally wiped out by medical bills if she didn’t watch it. Since she had worked her entire life and had paid into Social Security, she had a right to it. She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.

Finally, Rand relented. “Whether she agreed or not is not the issue,” said Pryor, “She saw the necessity for both her and [her husband] Frank.” Or as Weiss puts it, “Reality had intruded upon her ideological pipedreams.” That's one way of interpreting the contradiction: that Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, “has no practical purpose except to promote the economic interests of the people bankrolling it"---the sole function of her thought is to justify wealth, explain away poverty, and normalize the sort of Hobbesian war of all against all Rand saw as a societal ideal.

Rand taught “there is no such thing as the public interest,” that programs like Social Security and Medicare steal from “creators” and illegitimately redistribute their wealth. This was a "sublimely enticing argument for wealthy businessmen who had no interest whatever in the public interest.... Yet the taxpayers of America paid Rand's and Frank O'Connor's medical expenses." Randians have offered many convoluted explanations for what her critics see as sheer hypocrisy. We may or may not find them persuasive.

In the simplest terms, Rand discovered at the end of her life that she was only human and in need of help. Rather than starve or drop dead—as she would have let so many others do—she took the help on offer. Rand died in 1982, as her admirer Alan Greenspan had begun putting her ideas into practice in Reagan’s administration, making sure, writes Weiss, that the system was “more favorable to the creators and entrepreneurs who were more valuable to society," in his Randian estimation, "than people lower down the ladder of success.” After well over three decades of such policies, we can draw our own conclusions about the results.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Trump Justice Department Pushes for Citizenship Question on Census, Alarming Experts

Trump Justice Department Pushes for

Citizenship Question on Census, Alarming Experts

“This is a recipe for sabotaging the census,” said one. The administration’s stated reason for the controversial move: protecting civil rights.

by Justin Elliott

Dec. 29, 7:36 p.m. EST

The Justice Department is pushing for a question on citizenship to be added to the 2020 census, a move that observers say could depress participation by immigrants who fear that the government could use the information against them. That, in turn, could have potentially large ripple effects for everything the once-a-decade census determines — from how congressional seats are distributed around the country to where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent.

The DOJ made the request in a previously unreported letter, dated Dec. 12 and obtained by ProPublica, from DOJ official Arthur Gary to the top official at the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department. The letter argues that the DOJ needs better citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act “and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting.”

A Census Bureau spokesperson confirmed the agency received the letter and said the “request will go through the well-established process that any potential question would go through.” The DOJ declined to comment and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Observers said they feared adding a citizenship question would not only lower response rates, but also make the census more expensive and throw a wrench into the system with just two years to go before the 2020 count. Questions are usually carefully field-tested, a process that can take years.

“This is a recipe for sabotaging the census,” said Arturo Vargas, a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Census and the executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, a Latino advocacy group. “When you start adding last-minute questions that are not tested — how will the public understand the question? How much will it suppress response rates?”

The 2010 census included a handful of questions covering age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, household relationship and owner/renter status — but not citizenship.

“People are not going to come out to be counted because they’re going to be fearful the information would be used for negative purposes,” said Steve Jost, a former top bureau official during the 2010 census. “This line about enforcing voting rights is a new and scary twist.” He noted that since the first census in 1790, the goal has been to count everyone in the country, not just citizens.

There have been rumblings since the beginning of the year that the Trump administration wanted to add a citizenship question to the census. Adding to the concerns about the 2020 count, Politico reported last month that the administration may appoint to a top job at the bureau a Republican redistricting expert who wrote a book called “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.” The Census Bureau’s population count determines how the 435 U.S. House seats are distributed.

The law governing the census gives the commerce secretary, currently Wilbur Ross, the power to decide on questions. They must be submitted to Congress for review two years before the census, in this case by April 2018. A census spokesperson said the agency will also release the questions publicly at that time.

A recent Census Bureau presentation shows that the political climate is already having an effect on responsiveness to the bureau’s American Community Survey, which asks a more extensive list of questions, including on citizenship status, to about one in 38 households in the country per year. In one case, census interviewers reported, a respondent “walked out and left interviewer alone in home during citizenship questions.”

“Three years ago, [it] was so much easier to get respondents compared to now because of the government changes … and trust factors. … Three years ago I didn’t have problems with the immigration questions,” said another census interviewer.

The Justice Department letter argues that including a citizenship question on the once-a-decade census would allow the agency to better enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars the dilution of voting power of a minority group through redistricting.

“To fully enforce those requirements, the Department needs a reliable calculation of the citizen voting-age population in localities where voting rights violations are alleged or suspected,” the letter states. The letter asks that the Census Bureau “reinstate” the question.

The full census, however, hasn’t included questions about citizenship since 1950. The Census Bureau has gathered such data in other surveys. The bureau switched the method of those surveys after the 2000 census. Today, it conducts the American Community Survey every year, which includes questions about citizenship, along with many other questions. The survey covers a sample of residents of the United States.

Experts said the Justice Department’s letter was misleading. And they questioned the Justice Department’s explanation in the letter, noting that the American Community Survey produces data on citizenship that has been used in Section 2 cases.

“You could always have better data but it seems like a strange concern because no one in the communities who are most affected have been raising this concern,” said Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program.

Do you have information about the Trump administration and the census? Contact Justin at or via Signal at 774-826-6240.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

151 UN states vote to disavow Israeli ties to Jerusalem

By Tovah Lazaroff

December 1, 2017 10:03

This comes as the Trump administration considers moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

4 minute read.

151 UN states vote to disavow Israeli ties to Jerusalem

AN AERIAL view of the Temple Mount and east Jerusalem.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to disavow Israeli ties to Jerusalem as part of six anti-Israel resolutions it approved on Thursday in New York. The vote was 151 in favor and six against, with nine abstentions.

The resolution came as the Trump Administration was rumored to be actively considering relocating its embassy to Jerusalem.

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“The president has said that he has given serious consideration to the matter, and we’re looking at it with great care,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
She added that US President Donald Trump had until December 4th to make a decision on the embassy relocation or waive the matter for another six months.
In New York, only six countries out of 193 UN member states fully supported Israel’s ties Jerusalem: Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, the United States and Israel itself.
The nine countries who abstained were: Australia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Honduras, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, South Sudan and Togo.

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The resolution stated that “any actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem are illegal and therefore null and void and have no validity whatsoever.”
These words fall in line with similar resolutions approved in 2015 and 2016 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), including the resolution’s omission of the title “Temple Mount,” using instead only the Arabic term for the site, “Haram al-Sharif.”
The UNGA’s Jerusalem resolution called for "respect for the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif, in word and practice.”
But the UNESCO votes are taken in smaller committees or boards and do not have the same representative power as the UNGA to measure the global opinion of UN member states.
The voting patterns of many of Israel’s allies, particularly among the EU nations, also differ in New York. The same countries that oppose or abstain from anti-Israel votes at UNESCO or the UN Human Rights Council often support such texts at the UNGA.
On Thursday, all the EU member states voted against Israel and in favor of the Jerusalem resolution, including countries that abstained or opposed the same text at UNESCO.
In a statement to the UNGA after the vote, the EU warned it would change its stance on such texts in the future unless the language was more neutral.
“The EU stresses the need for language on the holy sites of Jerusalem to reflect the importance and historical significance of the holy sites for the three monotheistic religions,” the Estonian representative said on behalf of the EU.
“The future choice of language may effect the EU’s collective support for the resolution,” she added.
Mexico also voted against Israel with regard to the Jerusalem resolution, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had just lauded the country for its support of Israel at the UN.
Kenya, which recently hosted Netanyahu, also voted against the resolution with regard to Jerusalem on Thursday.
Israel’s representative at the meeting said the omission of Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, was deliberate and yet “another instance of the Palestinian refusal to recognize the proven historic connection between Judaism, Christianity and the Temple Mount.”
The US opposed the resolutions. Its representative expressed disappointment that despite supposed support for reform, UN members continued to single out Israel.
This year alone, he said, the UN’s bodies have approved 18 resolutions that were biased against Israel.
“This dynamic is unacceptable. It is inappropriate that the UN, an institution founded on the idea that all nations should be treated equally, should be so often used by member states to treat another state so unequally,” he said.
The UNSG on Thursday also approved a second resolution that condemned Israeli settlement activity and called upon it to withdraw to the pre-1967 line. This included leaving the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria during the Six-Day War.
Some 157 nations voted in favor of the text, seven opposed it and eight abstained.
All the European Union’s member states voted to support the resolution. The abstaining countries included: Australia, Cameroon, Fiji, Honduras, Paraguay, Papa, New Guinea, South Sudan and Tongo.
Those nations opposing the resolution were: Canada, Israel, Nauru, Micronesia, Marshal Islands, Solomon Islands and the United States.

Among the six resolutions was one, sponsored by Syria, which condemned Israel’s continued presence on the Golan Heights.
It was approved with 105 nations in favor, six against and 58 who abstained.
Israel noted the absurdity of such a resolution at a time when the Syrian regime was using chemical weapons against its own citizens while Israel was treating the wounded of that conflict who managed to cross its borders.
The UN General Assembly is expected to approve another ten anti-Israel resolutions by the end of the year.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Nuclear Regulatory Commission downplays safety warnings, investigation finds

Nuclear Regulatory Commission downplays safety warnings, investigation finds

Steam rises from one of the two cooling towers, Jan. 30, 2012, at the Byron nuclear generating station in Ogle County, Ill.

Max Gersh,AP Photo/Rockford Register Star

The federal agency responsible for safety at the nation's 61 nuclear power plants routinely downplays warnings from plant workers and its own experts about problems, including some with potential for disaster, a Better Government Association investigation found.

Employees from U.S. nuclear power plants filed nearly 700 complaints with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission in recent years, claiming retaliation for raising safety concerns, records show. The agency found no wrongdoing.

NRC officials also overruled recommendations from their own technical experts on how to protect plants from potential catastrophe spurred by floods, equipment failures, power outages and other problems.


This article was provided to The Associated Press by the nonprofit news outlet Better Government Association.

Interviews with more than 20 current and former NRC and nuclear plant employees reveal a pattern of top officials dismissing safety warnings rather than impose costly fixes on plant operators. Some said careers suffered as potential threats were never fully addressed.

"It's the NRC's longstanding practice to consistently declare the plants are safe and to avoid directly answering any questions that might suggest otherwise," said Lawrence Criscione, an NRC risk analyst.

NRC officials would not consent to an interview. But NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng responded in writing to BGA questions.

"All U.S. nuclear power plants have multiple appropriate procedures and resources in place to maintain key safety functions if severe events" occur, Mitlyng said. "These conclusions are based on extensive agency reviews and inspections."

In 2012, Criscione shared with Congress a letter raising doubts over adequacy of flood protections at Duke Energy's Oconee Nuclear Station in South Carolina and other plants built decades ago near dams.

Soon after, Criscione said, he was accused by the NRC inspector general of compromising confidential information, interrogated by armed agents and saw his case referred to federal prosecutors. They opted not to act, and he remains on the job.

Internal NRC surveys underscore a climate of fear among employees. A report on a 2015 questionnaire of NRC employees stated most felt "if you disagree with your manager it can, and most likely will, affect your career path and advancement."

Records and interviews also show that:

- In 2016, NRC brass overturned a proposed safety analysis for the Byron and Braidwood nuclear plants in Illinois after multiple appeals by Exelon, the Chicago-based owner of the facilities and the nation's largest nuclear operator.

The action undid an order issued after agency technical staff concluded Exelon did not prove critical pressure-relieving valve systems were safe to use in an emergency. The same problem may exist at other nuclear plants, said one of the NRC engineers who ordered the safety testing.

- Also in 2016, seven NRC electrical engineers publicly urged the agency to order an immediate fix or a complete shutdown of most U.S. nuclear plants after discovering a problem with an emergency power system at the Byron plant that was common to other nuclear facilities as well.

Exelon quickly addressed the problem at its plants, but the NRC acceded to a request from other U.S. operators to give them an additional two years to devise a fix.

- Separately, the NRC took only two months to reject a staff petition in March 2017 urging the agency to reverse a decision allowing Arizona Public Service Co.'s Palo Verde nuclear plant near Phoenix to operate even though an agency expert said it lacked sufficient emergency backup power to run safely.

Complaints from plant whistleblowers raised issues ranging from security problems to inadequate radiation monitoring.

- The U.S. Department of Labor ordered the Palisades nuclear plant near South Haven, Michigan, to rehire veteran security guard Chris Mikusko who claimed he was laid off in retaliation for pointing out security problems. Mikusko filed a similar whistleblower complaint with the NRC, which rejected his allegations as unsubstantiated.

- NRC investigators concluded supervisors at Exelon's shuttered Zion plant in Illinois had "greatly exaggerated" claims of disruptive behavior they had used to discipline Marilyn Lingle, hired to help dismantle the facility. Yet the agency rejected these findings and declined to discipline Lingle's managers.

The nuclear industry, through its trade group and individual companies, often downplays the seriousness of problems highlighted by NRC experts. Exelon and others in the industry bat down potential rules and regulations by pleading to NRC's top managers.

"Safety is the highest priority for both Exelon Generation and the NRC," spokesman David Tillman said in a statement. "We are equally committed to protecting our people and our communities and to suggest otherwise is a disservice to the authority of the NRC and our shared commitment to public health and safety."

The problem, say people who conduct government reviews, is that the NRC's final rulings often don't reflect warnings from its experts.

"Management tells you where they want the answer to go. If you push, you're not going to get promoted again - there are other people who are willing to say it's not a serious issue," said Richard Perkins, one of Criscione's NRC colleagues involved in exposing flooding concerns.

One case in point is the emergency safety valve issue at Exelon's Byron and Braidwood plants.

After Exelon moved in 2013 to increase power, NRC experts concluded the plants' pressure valves to relieve water in an emergency would stick open and allow cooling water to escape and not do its function to cool the reactor. They ordered Exelon to prove the valves would work, but the company blocked that with a successful appeal to the NRC's executive director.

Exelon says the valves work fine. But Samuel Miranda, an NRC expert who disagreed, said the company and NRC were rolling the dice on valves because it risks melting the reactor.

He said dozens of other U.S. nuclear plants are equipped with similarly problematic equipment.

"They either won't close or they will leak," Miranda said. "That will relieve about a million pounds per hour. It's a hole in the system. Now you're losing water that you need to cool the core."

Underscoring that frustration is the NRC's record of handling whistleblower complaints lodged by plant employees. From 2010 through 2016, workers filed 687 complaints. The NRC investigated just 235 and upheld none.

The largest number of complaints, 84, were filed by employees at the two nuclear plants operated in Georgia by Southern Nuclear, records show. Next were the 70 complaints lodged by nuclear workers in South Carolina, 58 by workers in Tennessee and 50 in California. Illinois ranked 12th, with 21 whistleblower cases filed.

© 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Wood County's proposed horse-buggy rules will drive out Amish, expert says


Karen Madden, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Published 12:59 p.m. CT Dec. 15, 2017 | Updated 9:28 a.m. CT Dec. 18, 2017

Amish populations follow most laws, but their religious convictions can sometimes make legal compliance a challenge. Daniel Walmer

Horse-drawn buggyBuy Photo

(Photo: Jamie Rokus/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)


WISCONSIN RAPIDS - Horse-drawn vehicles would need windshields, seat belts, child car seats and rear-view mirrors if the Wood County Board passes an ordinance it will consider Tuesday.

Amish and other religious groups that rely on animal-pulled buggies also would need to get driver's licenses and vehicle insurance under the measure.

It's an ordinance that an expert in Amish culure says is "completely impractical" and will drive those families out of the county.

The proposed ordinance is intended to save lives, said County Board member Bill Winch of Vesper, who helped to draft the new rules. Nine people have died in crashes involving horse-drawn buggies and wagons in and around Wood County since 2009, and Winch said it's an ongoing concern.

"The Amish have been getting killed and obviously nobody liked that," he said.

The ordinance requires drivers of animal-drawn vehicles to obey the same regulations the rest of the people on the roads are expected to follow, Winch said. If the board approves the measure, operators of horse buggies would have to get a driver's license from the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles.

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The license requirement would ensure that drivers of the buggies are at least 16 years old and have passed a written test showing basic knowledge of laws involving public roads, Winch said.

If the ordinance is passed, the Amish will leave Wood County, said Mark Louden, a professor of German who specializes in Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch language and culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"There is no middle ground with this at all," Louden said after reading the proposed ordinance. "It's completely impractical."

The Amish will consider buying liability insurance or getting driver's licenses a violation of their beliefs and values, he said. Some — but not all — would be willing to attach manure catchers on their animals, another proposed rule.

Amish people want to be good neighbors and want to get along with the community they live in, Louden said. But the proposal simply doesn't leave room for compromise, he said.

If the ordinance passes, and Amish residents of Wood County start receiving tickets or getting arrested, they will move to another county or state, Louden said. They have been a nomadic people for 300 years, so they are willing to find new homes, he said.

"All I can think of is if they pass this, they don't want the Amish in Wood County," Louden said. 

Wood County Board Chairman Lance Pliml said the original idea behind the ordinance was to require proper lighting on horse-drawn vehicles and some level of education for all those who drive them.

Children younger than 10 have been driving horse-drawn vehicles and they don't understand what a "stop" sign means, Pliml said.

In addition to proposing the new rules, county officials have been trying to get Amish schools to add lessons about safely and legally traveling on public roads, he said.

Pliml said he hadn't seen the final proposed ordinance, which was advanced to the County Board by three of its committees. When a reporter shared details of the proposal with him, he said he had concerns about parts of the ordinance, including the driver's license, windshield and seat belt portions.

The ordinance requires not only windshields, but also side and back windows, all made from safety glass or plastic. It requires seat belts for all drivers and passengers, as well as child safety seats for children younger than 8 years old. It also requires drivers of animal-drawn vehicles to have the same type of insurance that is required for motorized vehicles.

Pliml said he could understand requiring some type of operator's license similar to the ones required for snowmobiles.

"The rest of that is a tough sell," he said.

Wood County Sheriff's Department, Emergency Management and County Board members have been working with elders in the Amish communities to get compliance with state laws regarding lighting and reflective signs. The county handed out new lights to those who would use them, Pliml said.

Michael Feirer of Marshfield, who is chairman of the County Board's Public Safety Committee, said the proposal is all about making highways safer.

"We want to get these people who are driving buggies down the road, or carts, to obey the traffic laws," Feirer said.

The County Board also will consider sending a resolution to Wisconsin legislators explaining Wood County's ordinance and asking that the state also take action to help solve the problem.

About the meeting

The Wood County Board meets at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the County Board Room in the Wood County Courthouse, 400 Market St., Wisconsin Rapids.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

The Republican tax bill got worse: now the top 1% gets 83% of the gains

The Republican tax bill got worse: now the top 1% gets 83% of the gains

In its last year, the bill raises taxes on more than 53 percent of Americans.

By Dylan Dec 18, 2017, 4:01pm EST

By 2027, more than half of all Americans — 53 percent — would pay more in taxes under the tax bill agreed to by House and Senate Republicans, a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center finds. That year, 82.8 percent of the bill’s benefit would go to the top 1 percent, up from 62.1 under the Senate bill.

And even in the first years of the bill's implementation, when it’s an across-the-board tax cut, the benefits of the law would be heavily concentrated among the upper-middle and upper-class Americans, with nearly two-thirds of the benefit going to the richest fifth of Americans in 2018.

Chart showing distribution of tax bill in 2018, 2025, and 2027 Tax Policy Center

The paper is the first rigorous analysis of who wins and loses under the bill as agreed to in conference committee. House and Senate negotiators agreed to a number of changes in the bill, most notably lowering the top income tax rate for individuals to 37 percent from its current level of 39.6 percent. The analysis does not include an additional cost of the legislation: its repeal of the individual mandate, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates could cause as many as 13 million fewer people to have health insurance, reducing federal spending for poor and middle-class Americans’ health insurance by $338 billion over 10 years. That worsens the bill’s distribution for the poor and middle class.

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Almost all provisions of the bill, with the exception of the reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, are temporary, expiring at the end of 2025. One exception is the adoption of a new slower-growing inflation measure to adjust tax brackets, a change that effectively raises taxes over time and helps pay for the permanent corporate rate cut. Since corporate rate cuts mostly help Americans rich enough to own stock, that means that in 2027, poor and middle-class Americans would see a very mild tax increase on average:

2027 distribution of the tax bill Tax Policy Center

The rich and ultrarich, by contrast, would continue to see massive tax breaks due to the corporate provisions. The top 1 percent would claim 82.8 percent of the benefit of the bill, and receive an average cut of $20,660. The top 0.1 percent, the richest of the rich earning $5.1 million or more a year, would get $148,260 back on average.

These averages, however, can cloak variation within income groups:

Who wins and loses under the tax bill in 2027 Tax Policy Center

Overall, 53.4 percent of American households would see a tax increase and 25.2 percent would see a tax cut in 2027. But the shares depend substantially on what income group you're in. Most Americans in the bottom fifth of the distribution — those in poverty, or near poverty — wouldn't see their taxes change either way, as they typically don't earn enough money to pay income taxes. The different inflation measure can reduce the tax refund they receive from the earned income tax credit and child tax credit, but the effect is fairly small.

By contrast, nearly 70 percent of Americans in the middle fifth of the income distribution — earning $54,700 to $93,200 a year in 2017 dollars — would see their taxes go up, with an average tax hike of $150. That's not a huge change, but the direction is certainly not favorable.

Republicans advocating for the bill have focused less on 2027, when much of the bill’s changes will have expired, than on 2018 through 2025, when all its cuts, including for individuals, will be in effect. In 2018, the bill is an across-the-board cut for all income groups, but the biggest cuts are reserved for the upper middle class:

2018 distribution of the tax bill Tax Policy Center

At this point, across-the-board rate cuts will be in effect, as well as a doubled child tax credit and a nearly doubled standard deduction (the latter two provisions offsetting the elimination of personal exemptions from the individual income tax). Predictably, the result is an across-the-board tax cut for most families.

Poor Americans, who mostly don’t earn enough for a positive income tax burden and who are basically left out of the child tax credit expansion in the bill, get $60 each, a 0.4 percent boost to their income, on average. But the middle class would get $930 on average, or a 1.6 percent boost. The biggest percentage boost goes to the 95th to 99th percentiles, people earning $307,900 to $732,800 a year. They get 4.1 percent of their income back, or about $13,480 each. The top 1 and top 0.1 percent get less in percentage terms but still more than the middle class. The top 0.1 percent gets a 2.7 percent income boost, or $193,380 on average.

In 2018, the benefits are also more uniform, with a rather small share of each income group seeing their taxes actually go up:

2018 winners and losers under the Republican tax bill Tax Policy Center

The group with the highest share of people paying more in 2018 is actually the ultrarich, the top 0.1 percent, about 16.2 percent of whom would see their taxes go up. Only about 7.3 percent of the middle class would see their taxes go up.

But just because you don’t receive a tax hike doesn’t mean you get a cut. About 44.9 percent of the poorest Americans wouldn’t see a hike or cut, because they don’t earn enough to benefit (or suffer).

Note, again, that these tables leave out the effect of millions of people losing health insurance, typically subsidized insurance through Medicaid or the health insurance exchanges, due to the repeal of the individual mandate. That can change the bill from a small net benefit in 2018 for poor families to an overall net cost.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Robert Reich: The Three Big Lies About Trump’s Tax Plan

Robert Reich: The Three Big Lies About Trump’s Tax Plan

By Robert Reich On 12/17/17 at 5:43 AM



This article first appeared on

Here are the three main Republican arguments in favor of the Republican tax plan, followed by the truth.

1. It will make American corporations competitive with foreign corporations, which are taxed at a lower rate


(1) American corporations now pay an effective rate (after taking deductions and tax credits) that’s just about the same as most foreign based corporations pay.

(2) Most of these other countries also impose a “Value Added Tax” on top of the corporate tax.

(3) When we cut our corporate rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, other nations will cut their corporate rates in order to be competitive with us – so we gain nothing anyway.

(4) Most big American corporations who benefit most from the Republican tax plan aren’t even “American.” Over 35 percent of their shareholders are foreign (which means that by cutting corporate taxes we’re giving a big tax cut to those foreign shareholders). 20 percent of their employees are foreign, while many Americans work for foreign-based corporations.

(5) The “competitiveness” of America depends on American workers , not on “American” corporations. But this tax plan will make it harder to finance public investments in education, health, and infrastructure, on which the future competitiveness of American workers depends.

(6) American corporations already have more money than they know what to do with. Their profits are at record levels. They’re using them to buy back their shares of stock, and raise executive pay. That’s what they’ll do with the additional $1 trillion they’ll receive in this tax cut.

2. With the tax cut, big corporations and the rich will invest and create more jobs


(1) Job creation doesn’t trickle down. After Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush cut taxes on the top, few jobs and little growth resulted.

America cut taxes on corporations in 2004 in an attempt to get them to bring their profits home from abroad, and what happened? They didn’t invest. They just bought up more shares of their own stock, and increased executive pay.

(2) Companies expand and create jobs when there’s more demand for their goods and services. That demand comes from customers who have the money to buy what companies sell.

Those customers are primarily the middle class and poor, who spend far more of their incomes than the rich. But this tax bill mostly benefits the rich.

(3) At a time when the richest 1 percent already have 40 percent of all the wealth in the country, it’s immoral to give them even more – especially when financed partly by 13 million low-income Americans who will lose their health coverage as a result of this tax plan (according to the Congressional Budget Office), and by subsequent cuts in safety-net programs necessitated by increasing the deficit by $1.5 trillion.

3. It will give small businesses an incentive to invest and create more jobs


(1) At least 85 percent of small businesses earn so little they already pay the lowest corporate tax rate, which this plan doesn’t change.

(2) In fact, because the tax plan bestows much larger rewards on big businesses, they’ll have more ability to use predatory tactics to squeeze small firms and force them out of business.


Don’t let your Uncle Bob be fooled: Republicans are voting for this because their wealthy patrons demand it.

Their tax plan will weaken our economy for years – reducing demand, widening inequality, and increasing the national debt by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

Shame on the greedy Republican backers who have engineered this.

Shame on Trump and the Republicans who have lied to the public about its consequences.

GettyImages-632212568 Trump donor Sheldon Adelson attends the Inaugural Luncheon in the US Capitol January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty

Robert Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All. HIs latest documentary, "Saving Capitalism," is available on Netflix.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

**Killing the state and local tax deduction may be unconstitutional. Here's why**


Article below is from:,amp.html

Killing the state and local tax deduction may be unconstitutional. Here's why

A rally participant holds a sign protesting a Republican-crafted tax cut plan outside the U.S. Capitol Building. (Reynold /EPA/Shutterstock)

Michael HiltzikContact Reporter

The debate over eliminating the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes — a linchpin of the Republican tax cut plans now working their way through Congress — has focused on the economic and political effects of the change. But that may be the wrong discussion. The question is whether eliminating the deduction is even constitutional. History suggests that it’s not.

The most cogent analysis of this issue comes to us from the grave — specifically, from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). Moynihan addressed the issue in a 1985 speech, later published in the political science journal Publius.

Leaders of states that rely on state and local income taxes for a large share of their revenue, including California, have threatened to bring a legal challenge to a tax bill that eliminates the deduction. They would do well to take their lead from Moynihan.

There are arenas of government that must not be invaded by other governments. — The late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, 1985

At the time of his speech, the state and local tax deduction was under attack by the Reagan administration, which like today’s GOP, was looking for ways to pay for a tax cut for the rich. Moynihan labeled the idea “a profound constitutional error.”

Moynihan drew his argument from the principle of federalism enshrined in the Constitution, the essence of which is that “there are arenas of government that must not be invaded by other governments.” He observed that the notion that this applied to taxation had been understood dating back to the origins of the federal income tax, enacted under Abraham Lincoln to finance the Civil War.

The Revenue Act of 1862, Moynihan noted, provided that federal tax liability was to be calculated only after state and local taxes were first deducted, “and this under the most pressing emergency conditions ever faced by our country.” The deduction was enshrined in the Revenue Act of 1913, which created the modern federal income tax.

A few contemporary commentators have noticed that eliminating the SALT deduction, as it’s known today, invades local prerogatives. Progressive pundit John Stoehr wrote recently that the change would be “a violation of the states' rights the Republicans say they alone represent.” At the other end of the ideological spectrum is Stan Veuger, a fellow of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who called the deduction “a linchpin of the federalist system,” which “expresses our preference for local solutions to local problems.”

But that’s definitely a minority approach. Virtually the entire debate over the current tax cut bills has treated the SALT deduction as just another loophole, akin to the mortgage interest deduction, that favors the wealthy. The political component of the discussion relies on the fact that the states with the highest percentage of residents claiming the deduction — such as California, New York, New Jersey and Maryland — tend to vote Democratic. In our denatured political discourse, the idea that Republicans in Congress would turn their gun sights on Democratic states is seen as sort of adorable.

It’s also commonly argued that, insofar as the deduction is most heavily concentrated in big, urban states, it’s tantamount to a “subsidy” of blue states by their poorer red neighbors.

Moynihan, a New York Democrat, albeit one who wasn’t averse to taking a conservative stance on issues from time to time, had little regard for these arguments. He thought it inaccurate to label the deduction a “tax expenditure” — a term used to describe giveaways to favored groups through the tax code. “I do not think we should let the Treasury Department get away with calling it a federal ‘subsidy,’ ” he added. “In diplomacy, this is known as semantic infiltration: if the other fellow can get you to use his words, he wins.”

In any event, the notion that other states “subsidize” big blue states through the SALT deduction happens to be wrong. As New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli demonstrated in a 2016 study, the “subsidy” generally goes in the other direction: The states with the largest state and local tax burdens typically paid out more to the federal coffers than they received in return. The states with the biggest outflow were those on the West Coast and Northeast, and those receiving the largest inflows tended to be Southern states with low state and local taxes.

Another principle Moynihan discussed was the issue of “double taxation.” Interestingly, an aversion to “double taxation” is frequently cited by Republicans and conservatives to justify reducing or eliminating taxes on dividends — dividends already are taxed once as corporate income, so why should they be taxed again when they’re received by shareholders.

Big states with high state and local taxes tend to be net contributors to federal coffers, shown here in red. The majority (green) get more from the federal government than their residents pay. (New York State Comptroller)

But eliminating the SALT deduction would be a more far-reaching example of double taxation, Moynihan said, citing a resolution by the National League of Cities calling the deduction “a fundamental statement of the historical right of state and local governments to raise revenues and of individuals not to be double taxed.” As it happens, the Supreme Court has spoken on the issue of double-taxation: It’s wrong. In a 2015 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled that a Maryland provision denying its taxpayers credit for taxes paid to other states was unconstitutional. Expect the states’ challenges to the GOP tax bill to cite that ruling (Comptroller vs. Wynne) prominently.

In 1862, Moynihan noted, Rep. Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, then chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, warned that eliminating the SALT deduction would “perplex and jostle, if … not actually crush, some of the most loyal States of the Union.” Moynihan called it a “huge and final irony” that eliminating the deduction would transfer more resources to the federal government, allowing it to grow larger — exactly the outcome that the advocates of “small government” in the Republican congressional caucus say they don’t want.

Moynihan and his colleagues managed to defeat the Reagan administration’s effort to eliminate the SALT deduction. Subsequent efforts also failed. At this moment, the GOP plan to take an ax to the SALT deduction looks like a juggernaut. But history and the Constitution may say otherwise.

Posted by bill pysson at 7:38 AM No comments:

Continuation: How much would Boone County have to pay its Administrator if he retired?

Well like so many questions you ask Boone County it leads just to more questions.  Here is a summary of what I have discovered.

First the reason for this inquiry.  Each year the county pays some individual  tens of thousands of dollars at retirement for unused annual leave and sick leave.  Board Member Cathy Ward has a list of some of the sums which together amount in the hundreds of thousands over the years. Mrs. Ward’s information immediately follows this posting.

In an attempt to understand the situation I ask Mr. Terrinoni, the County Administrator, for his accumulated leave and have attempted to calculate how much the county would owe him if he would leave.

Below is his response to my FOIA request.


Here is my Freedom of Information Request:

During the last several years the county has paid out tens of thousands of dollars to retirees for unused sick leave, unused annual leave and unused compensated time (comp time) for unpaid overtime etc.

Under the Freedom of Information Act please provide the following information:

1. A copy of all policies or county ordinances which limit the accumulation of the various types of leave or deadline the use of such leave.

2. You as a highly paid official maybe eligible for a very large such payment at retirement.

Please provide the following information for County Administrator, Ken Terrinoni, as of November 30, 2017 or a more convenient recent pay period.

a. Accumulated annual leave

b. Accumulated sick leave

c. Any and all leave for comp time

d. Hourly rate to be used to calculate the dollar amount based upon your current salary

e. The number of hours and fractions of hours to be considered one full day for leave purposes

f. Please indicate which county office/department (other than your Admin Office) maintain the current balance for each type of your leave.

3. Accounting wise, does the county reserve/accrue for unpaid leave? If so when and under what account heading? When the retiree is granted the leave which accounting heading/account pays the unpaid leave?

4. What determines which of these leaves payments require personal withholding to Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund?

5. Thank you for your cooperation.

If Mr. Terrinoni would retire/resign today the following would be owed:  $48,269

Hourly rate:  $126,092/2080 hours per year= $60.62 per hour.

Annual Leave owed:  402.5 hours** X $60.62 =  $24,400.

Sick Leave payment due;  720 HOURS   AS A RETIREE WITH 20 YEARS:   first 427. 5  HOURS x .75 x 60.62 = $19,436 plus 292.5 hours X .25 X $60.62 = $4,433  Therefore Total Sick Leave $23,869.

**Based upon the vacation policy shown immediately  below it would appear that accumulated annual leave for Mr. Terrinoni greatly exceeds the policy.  Mr. Terrinoni was questioned regarding this matter but did not respond. See:  Subsequent Questions of FOIA October 31, 2017


Boone County Vacation/sick leave Policy

Policy statements supplied by October 31, 2017  FOIA

Subsequent Questions of October 31, 2017 FOIA

To:Ken Terrinoni

Nov 22 at 4:54 PM

I had several questions regarding the FOIA and have not received a reply.   Below is a copy of my questions.  Please respond at your earliest convenience.

Thank you for the prompt response to my recent FOIA request. Unfortunately I still have a number of questions.

The personnel policy statement you supplied does not give the definition of the various classes of employees. Those definitions are necessary to properly apply the rules regarding use and limits on the various types of leave.

It appears that you as the Administrator are a “Type C” employee. Based upon that assumption your available annual leave greatly exceeds 20 days of annual accumulation. With 402.5 hours accumulated you have over 10 weeks of vacation coming. Have you been paid for unusable leave in the past? Have you forfeited leave? If leave was forfeited should the record be corrected to reflect the forfeiture? Is there some other reason why your accumulation shows so many hours?

The policy does not mention what happens when there are “budgetary restraints” that do not allow the payment of unused leave for employees unable to use the leave due to “scheduling or operational needs”. Does such leave carryover until such time as the county has the funds? Is this the case for your excess leave?

I appreciate your prompt response to these questions.

Response:  No answer since “no additional documentation”