America Bears Responsibility for Libya’s Slave Auctions

libya-military-intervention-slavery

Wikimedia Commons

The story of slavery in Africa, like slavery in so many other parts of the world, is a painful chronicle whose origins go back centuries. It’s not a new phenomenon. But the issue got a rush of new attention recently, when video of an apparently open-air slave market in Libya appeared on CNN.

Human trafficking and slavery in Libya and other parts of the continent can be traced to a number of factors. Chief among them are the legacies of Western colonialism and the ravages of war, escalating poverty, and climate change, which destabilized many countries and rendered wide swathes of the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa almost uninhabitable. Anti-black racism has played a role as well.

But the emergence of slave auctions in Libya has a more immediate basis as well: a catastrophic Western military intervention.

It began back in 2011, when the initially nonviolent Arab Spring uprising against the erratic and often despotic Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was attacked by government forces. Many soldiers defected from the military and joined the rebels, forming a military opposition.

Read the full article on Fortune.

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She’s The Poster Child for Estate Tax Repeal, but Her Sad Family Saga Doesn’t Add Up

rich-estate-tax

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Republican Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota is one of the negotiators trying to reconcile the House and Senate tax bills. No doubt House Speaker Paul Ryan views her as a strong voice for estate tax repeal, because of her personal story of how her farming family struggled to pay the tax.

The House bill would abolish the estate tax, a levy on the intergenerational transfer of immense wealth. The Senate version retains the tax but doubles the wealth exempted from the tax, to $ 22 million for a family.

Congressional Republicans and their backers have painted the estate tax as a major burden on the nation’s ranchers and farmers. Yet it’s the heirs of multimillionaires and billionaires who actually pay it.

Noem perpetuates the “estate tax hurts farmers” argument using her life experience. The story she tells, however, does not line up with some very basic tenets of the tax code. Now, 23 years later, it is high time to get the facts. It’s also an important time to understand just who is subject to the estate tax and what its repeal really means.

Read the full article on USA Today.

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Alabama Upset Sparks Calls to Slow Down GOP Tax Push

Doug Jones-Alabama-Senate

(Photo: Digital Campaign Manager Doug Jones for Senate)

With Democrat Doug Jones scoring a huge upset in the Alabama senate election, Republican lawmakers are facing even more pressure to ram through a final tax bill by the end of the year.

If negotiations to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions drag out until after Jones is sworn in, a “no” vote from just one more Senate Republican would be enough to block the legislation. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is already steadfastly opposed.

Rather than rushing it through, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on the GOP to commit to not holding a vote on the final legislation until after Jones is seated. Several other Democrats demanded that Jones be allowed to immediately take his seat.

A slowdown would give the public more time to learn about the bill and all the ways it’s designed to further enrich the wealthy. In this video, I had the opportunity to identify just a few of the provisions hidden in the GOP tax plans that are designed to stick it to the poor and middle class.

One of the Senate bill provisions that struck me as particularly petty would ban employers from giving their employees gift cards as end-of-year bonuses. Apparently these Republican  lawmakers are determined to prevent ordinary American workers from pocketing a $ 25 or $ 50 gift card for Home Depot or Target without reporting it as taxable income.

Other examples of bias against the middle class include provisions to prohibit teachers from deducting the cost of school supplies and to force graduate students to pay income taxes on tuition waivers. The House version would also repeal the deduction families can take for medical costs that exceed 10 percent of their income.

Meanwhile, these same politicians are planning to dole out billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very wealthiest Americans. According to the Tax Policy Center, by 2017, 62% of the tax cuts would go to the richest 1%.

While the Alabama race was dominated by questions of sexual misconduct rather than tax fairness, Jones did raise objections on the campaign trail to the GOP tax plan, saying it was “overloaded” with tax breaks for the wealthy. And exit polls show that support for President Trump among Alabama voters has declined dramatically since the 2016 election. Trump won 62 percent of votes last year. On Tuesday, only 48 percent of Alabama voters said they now approved of his performance.

“Americans in even the reddest areas firmly reject the Trump-GOP agenda,” said Frank Clemente, Executive Director of Americans for Tax Fairness, in a statement after the election upset. Like Senator Shumer, Clemente also called on the GOP to slow down the process to “allow the nation’s newest Senator to have a vote on this legislation that will affect the next generation.”

Hidden Tax Provision: No More Gift Cards

Buried in the Republican tax plan are hidden provisions designed to stick it to the poor and working class while the rich and corporations get billions of dollars in breaks.

Posted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Friday, December 8, 2017

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The GOP’s Tax Breaks for the Private Jet Set

luxury-tax breaks-jet set

(Photo: Aleksandr Markin)

When you think about who benefits from the Republican tax bill the Senate just passed, think of the people who own and ride in private luxury jets.

We know that the benefits of tax bill are skewed to the very wealthy and a handful of global corporations. Republicans have been rushing this bill fully aware that the more people learn, the less they will like it.

As Edward Kleinbard, the esteemed tax economist and former head of the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation, observed: “We are squandering a giant sum of money” in this tax bill. “It’s not aimed at growth. It is not aimed at the middle class. It is at every turn carefully engineered to deliver a kiss to the donor class.”

Kleinbard’s donor class aren’t people that write $ 100 checks to candidates. He’s talking about billionaires who donate to a wide range of campaign organizations, some with their identity obscured, to move a larger agenda.

These people don’t even fly in first class. They’re the high flyers that fly in private jets.

Our new report, High Flyers 2017, examines the outsized influence private jet owners play in ensuring their massive tax subsidies. The private jet lobby, our report shows, spent more than $ 56 million over the last decade to secure more than $ 1 billion in tax breaks. Not a bad return on their investment.

The tax scam that just passed the Senate and will now be merged with the House version in a conference committee expands these carve outs and special provisions for private jets. Meanwhile, the Republican budget plan, moving right behind the tax bill, nearly doubles the passenger facility fees that commercial passengers will pay on their tickets.

A family of four, taking a trip with a layover, will pay an additional $ 32 per trip. Meanwhile, the already heavily subsidized private jet passengers will pay an extra zero dollars.

Private jet passengers and owners don’t come close to contributing to the upkeep of our air traffic control system or our airports.

Per flight, private jets generate about 2 percent of the taxes and fees of commercial flights on an identical flight. Consider just one example: A privately owned jet flying from Nashville to Philadelphia would pay nearly 98 percent less than an identical commercial flight.

Put differently, commercial airlines pay 40 times more in taxes than private jets to take the exact same flight.

Meanwhile, they’ve fended off almost all of the post-9/11 security rules that commercial passengers must face.

While commercial passengers stand in their socks and watch their grandmother get frisked by a stranger, the private jet flyers have a voluntary security regime. They drive right up to their private aircraft and unload their rifles and golf clubs directly into the passenger compartment. No body screen. No three-ounce bottles. No security door separating passengers from pilots. This is just one more example of the ways our deeply unequal modern society prevents the super-wealthy from experiencing — and thus perhaps being concerned about — the everyday indignities faced by those without means.

In 2008, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was advocating for new regulations on private jets. At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had voiced concerns about “terrorists” using private jets and proposed expanded background checks on passengers and tightening security for small airports.

But the private jet lobby mobilized its powerful network of wealthy and powerful customers, pilots and companies. They pressed regulators, and by 2010 the TSA had backed off plans to increase security of private jets.

Commercial airline passengers should not have to subsidize private jets. Period.

We should end the private jet tax carve-out and require private jets to pay the same taxes and fees that commercial air travelers cover.

The Trump tax plan will make this problem worse, not better.

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Tax Plans Pave the Way for Massive Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security

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Gerry Boughan / Shutterstock

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has a plan: To get rid of nasty deficits, he says, all we need to do is “grow the economy, cut spending.” Under this tax plan, only one of those is likely to become a reality.

Republicans say that the tax plan currently working its way through the House and Senate is supposed to accomplish that first goal: growing the economy. It won’t succeed. Evidence suggests that the tax plan is highly unlikely to create more than a trickle of growth, and that that growth will stay snugly right where the tax plan is putting it: with corporations and billionaires.

The next step, according to Ryan, is cutting spending. And while Congress hasn’t gotten that far yet, the agenda is clear. If a version of the tax plan passes, the next major item of business in Congress will likely include major cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Read My Lips: No New Jobs

The entire tax plan is built around one premise: that cutting taxes causes the economy to grow and creates jobs. The problem is, this doesn’t appear to be true.

study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business found that additional economic growth due to the tax plan would be miniscule — less than a tenth of a percent per year in the near term. That’s not the kind of growth the economy needs to produce more, or better-paying jobs.

Meanwhile, a study from the Institute for Policy Studies found that corporations that paid lower tax rates actually cut jobs — while passing the gains on in the form of higher CEO pay.

Stuck with more or less regular economic growth, the massive tax cuts will just add to the nation’s debt. The nonpartisan Joint Committee for Taxation found last week that under the original Senate tax plan, the United States will be left with an additional $ 1 trillion in debt. By some estimates, that debt would be even higher.

This is not a particularly partisan assessment for those who aren’t currently in Congress. As the bipartisan duo Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles recently wrote in the Washington Post, “Economic growth isn’t going to wash away this debt.”

Welfare Reform Redux: Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security at Risk

As President Trump told supporters at a rally in Missouri, “We’re going to go into welfare reform.” What he didn’t say was that this time, “welfare reform” won’t just target low-income mothers; it will mean drastic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The president has support among his party in the Senate and House: former presidential candidate and Sen. Marco RubioRep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patrick Toomey have all spoken about — or refused to deny — the intention to bring about massive spending cuts as Act II of their agenda.

The tax plan is an important key to this momentum toward bringing back “welfare reform,” which, of course, wasn’t a good idea the first time, either (and which still seems to bring out many of the ugliest stereotypes about poverty). The House and Senate versions of the tax bill have one big thing in common: adding significantly to the national debt.

It may seem counterintuitive at first, but to “small-government” types, this is a dream come true. The increased national debt gives the perfect political cover for cutting social programs. And this reform won’t be limited to traditional welfare programs for struggling parents, which in 2016 amounted to less than half a percent of the total federal budget. Instead, lawmakers will take direct aim at the social programs where the most money is spent, and upon which the most Americans rely: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

For starters, there are cuts that will take place to these programs even if Congress takes the rest of the year off after they pass this tax plan. These are the result of deficit-reducing mechanisms enacted under a 2010 law that would kick in to the tune of a $ 25 billion cut to Medicare this fiscal year, even without congressional action. Sen. Mitch McConnell has said that Congress won’t let that happen, but it’s not clear that he can deliver on that promise.

Even if Congress doesn’t permit automatic cuts to Medicare as a result of its tax plan, members have openly said that they’ll be back to cut programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Cuts to these programs are highly unpopular among both Republican and Democratic voters, and as a candidate, Trump campaigned on promises to keep them intact. However, current signals from congressional leaders, and Trump himself, are that he will break those promises.

The House and Senate bills amount to a tax cut for the rich that will be paid for by the poor.

The Non-Repeal Repeal of the Affordable Care Act

The Senate version of the tax plan has a provision that repeals a foundation of the Affordable Care Act: the individual insurance mandate.

Insurance markets only work if some healthy people pay into the system to cover the costs for those who get sick. By getting rid of the individual mandate, the Senate tax plan will encourage some currently healthy people to skip health insurance — making the costs go up for everyone who chooses to stay insured.

According to a nonpartisan estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, this one change would result in 13 million Americans losing health insurance over the next decade — and those who have insurance can expect their premiums to go up by 10 percent.

The House version of the bill doesn’t include the individual mandate repeal. Thus, one of the biggest questions about any final legislation is whether it will include this attack on the Affordable Care Act.

Don’t Look Behind the Curtain: It’s Not About the Money

While congressional leaders bemoan the expense of Social Security and Medicare — which do cost a lot, at $ 982 billion and $ 604 billion respectively in 2016 — don’t expect them to mention in the same breath that they have voted to increase the military budget to $ 700 billion.

Apparently, some things are worth paying for. Those things would include the F-35 jet fighter, an ill-fated and never-used jet that pro-military Sen. John McCain has called “a tragedy and a scandal,” and slated to cost nearly $ 11 billion this year. They’d also include a $ 20 billion annual bill for nuclear weapons, as well as total payments to for-profit corporations likely to be in the neighborhood of $ 300 billion.

This should clear up any confusion about what supporters of the tax plan and spending cuts are after. It’s not about the money; it’s about priorities.

House vs. Senate: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

The House and Senate still need to bridge their differences. Here are a few high-stakes differences:

• The Senate version includes the repeal of the individual health insurance mandate under the Affordable Care Act, which would result in 13 million Americans losing health insurance. The House version does not currently include this provision.

• The House version treats graduate student tuition as regular income — even though graduate students never actually receive this money, and can’t use it to buy housing, food or anything except an education. The Senate version does not include this provision.

• The House version gets rid of the estate tax — which is paid by , with values over $ 10 million for couples. The Senate version raises the limit on which estate taxes must be paid, but keeps the tax.

Each of these differences — among others — represents an opportunity to limit the damage this tax plan can do, or possibly to derail it entirely.

The tax plan is astoundingly unpopular: just 25 percent of voters approve of it. Activists are working around the clock to defeat this legislation, with feet on the ground and nonstop calls to House and Senate offices. These efforts will continue until the last vote is cast.

Even if one of these tax plans does pass both the House and Senate, this activist work will continue. Efforts to reverse the damage will, and must, grow. A bill this unpopular, that benefits only corporations and billionaires, is not built to last.

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The GOP Tax Bill Assaults the Planet as Well as the Poor

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(Photo: Erick Gustafson / Flickr)

If you are an average American, your government has just declared war against you. Unless you happen to be an oligarch. I’m talking, of course, about the monstrosity of a tax bill that Congress looks set to pass.

With good reason, only about one-third of Americans support the bill, since its primary purpose is to cut taxes for corporations and fabulously wealthy people at all costs.

The costs are high indeed, since the bill systematically raises taxes on struggling lower to middle income people. It gets rid of taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes paid from their taxable income, which is a form of double taxation. While this increases everyone’s taxes, struggling working people will feel the pain of this double taxation more than oligarchs. Make the Poor (and the Middle Class) Pay Again. And Again.

It also ends the deductibility of large medical expenses, effectively a large tax increase for the seriously ill, especially the uninsured or underinsured among them. Make the Sick Bankrupt Again.

In an all-out assault on higher education, it turns tuition reductions or waivers for graduate student teaching and research assistants into taxable income, a move that would make graduate school unaffordable for most people. Make America Uneducated Again.

The bill also gets rid of tax-exempt bonds for affordable housing construction, which are used to finance more than half of affordable rental units built each year. Make Housing Unaffordable Again.

In fact, it raises taxes on most people in so many ways that it is disingenuous to even call it a tax cut. This bill is a massive tax increase on most of us.

Lost in the debate around the tax bill, however, are provisions that will make more wind-reliant Iowans and Texans jobless, leave more hurricane-struck Puerto Ricans without access to basic necessities, poison more African-Americans with toxic fumes, and submerge more Native Alaskan villages, just to enrich a particular subset of oligarchs.

The tax bill kills the modest tax credits for solar and wind power, effectively raising taxes retroactively on renewable energy developers. It also kills the tax credit for electric cars, but does not touch the much larger subsidies for fossil fuels. Make Fossil Fuel Barons Rich Again, by subsidizing them while raising their competitor’s taxes.

These changes in energy tax credits will hurt many more people than just the owners of solar and wind companies. Solar and wind energy create many, many more jobs — hundreds of thousands more — than coal, even though they account for much smaller share of our overall energy mix than fossil fuels. If the intent of the tax bill truly were to create jobs, it would reinstate the solar and wind tax credits and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, not the other way round. Make Americans Jobless Again.

Not content with changing the tax code to benefit oligarchs, Senate leadership sneaked in a provision to open up the pristine, ecologically sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, purportedly to get some revenue (about $ 1 billion over 10 years) to offset a wee bit of the $ 1.5 trillion shortfall created by the massive tax giveaways to the fabulously rich. Evidently, Republicans are fine with digging up and burning more fossil fuels, producing more greenhouse gases for our atmosphere, despoiling sacred sites of the Gwich’in people who live in the refuge, and threatening caribou, just to Make Oil Barons Rich Again.

The tax bill will counteract the very real progress the U.S. has made to date in expanding renewable energy and reducing our reliance on planet-warming fossil fuels. Both wind and solar energy have been expanding at record-breaking rates, even as overall energy use has stagnated.

Intentionally undoing this progress by subsidizing fossil fuels and taking away tax credits for renewables will inevitably increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, already among the highest in the world in per capita terms. By way of comparison, inhabitants of the Pacific island of Kiribati, which may be erased from the map by rising oceans attributable to carbon emissions, emit on average about 3.4 percent as much as average Americans. Similarly, Bangladeshis losing their homes to disastrous floods exacerbated by climate change emit on average 2.8 percent as much.

The Trump administration has defunded environmental protection and renewable energy research, censored government scientists, recklessly expanded fossil fuel production regardless of the consequences, and quit multilateral efforts to address the gravest existential threat that humanity has ever faced, making the U.S. a rogue nation intent on enriching a tiny oligarchy at the expense of the future of humanity. The tax bill continues down the same sociopathic path. Make America Rogue Again.

None of this, of course, matters to congress people determined to Make Oligarchs Rich Again, even at the price of Making (Most) Americans Poor Again, Making the Gulf Coast Drown Again, and any number of other adverse consequences for people and planet — up to and including Making Earth Uninhabitable.

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The Far-Reaching Risks of Trump’s Jerusalem Decision

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(Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock)

Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and potentially to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not going to undermine peace efforts—because there are no peace efforts underway. Protests have already begun, and anger is rising not only among Palestinians but across the Arab and Muslim worlds, among numerous governments including key U.S. allies, and among people across the globe.  Understanding what this move represents means viewing it from two different perspectives.

Taken at face value, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reflects Trump’s need to placate his key Israel-backing donors, particularly the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and the Christian Zionist component of his right-wing evangelical base. Pro-Israel partisans in Congress orchestrated a law in 1995 mandating the embassy move, but giving the president a way out—the president could waive the requirement if national security might be at stake. Every president since has taken advantage of that waiver—including Donald Trump six months ago. Congressional Israel-backers could blame the president, the White House could lament that security threats prevented the move… everyone was happy.  But Trump’s campaign commitment to move the embassy is more important to more influential supporters than was true of earlier presidents.  Plus Trump’s failure to win legislative victories (until the recent potential disaster known as the “GOP Tax Scam”) meant he had more incentive to make good on his Jerusalem promise.

Trump called this move “the recognition of reality.” It should be noted that it has been U.S. policy itself—support for Israel, billions of U.S. tax dollars sent to the Israeli military every year, acceptance of Jewish settlements in occupied Arab Jerusalem, protection of Israel in the United Nations—that is largely responsible for that reality.  The UN resolution partitioning Palestine into what were supposed to be [thoroughly unfairly apportioned] Jewish and Palestinian Arab states, also recognized a special status for Jerusalem—it was to belong to neither “state,” but rather be a corpus separatum, a separate body to remain under international control. Israel claimed West Jerusalem as its capital, and in 1967 when it illegally occupied the eastern half of the city after the Six-Day War, it announced the annexation of Arab Jerusalem and forcibly unified the city as its capital. No country in the world recognized the annexation, and since that time legally-binding UN Security Council resolutions continue to reaffirm that East Jerusalem remains occupied Palestinian territory. Trump’s decision stands in direct violation of international law.

But U.S. violations of international law regarding Israel is an old story.  Decades of U.S. actions accepting, acknowledging, allowing (even if sometimes rhetorically criticizing) the expansion of illegal Jews-only colonial settlements in occupied Arab Jerusalem and across the West Bank set the stage. Decades of rewarding Israeli violations of UN resolutions and international law concerning Jerusalem with billions of dollars in economic and military support set the stage. Vetoing Security Council resolutions condemning illegal Israeli settlement building in Jerusalem set the stage.  What’s new this time around is the deliberately provocative, reckless nature of the decision to placate donors whatever the risk — the risk of violent responses across the world, let alone the risk of further violation of Palestinian rights.

What is not at risk is the role of the United States as an honest broker in sponsoring peace talks. Why?  Because the U.S. never was an honest broker in Israel-Palestinian talks, it was always, as at least one longtime U.S. negotiator admitted, playing the role of Israel’s lawyer.  That hasn’t changed either. There are no negotiations underway to be threatened with cancellation.

Sowing Chaos and Threatening More War Across the Region

The second perspective has far more to do with the regional situation, and the war-driven anti-diplomacy foreign policy of the Trump administration.  Aside from donor pressure, U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the threat to move the embassy, have to be seen in the context of the effort led by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to consolidate a powerful anti-Iran coalition across the Middle East with ostensible enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia at its core.

Trump has anointed Kushner his point man on reaching the “ultimate deal” on Israel-Palestine.  It’s less about any claimed interest in peace than about the collaborative regional plans being hatched by Kushner and his new BFF, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, known as MBS. Together the two crown princes, as it were, are trying to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together in a newly overt alliance against Tehran. To pull off that kind of normalization of relations between these ostensible enemies and not risk losing power or worse, requires changing the rhetoric, if not the actual circumstances. Enter the so-called “new Israeli-Palestinian talks.” If the ambitious young Saudi prince can convince the majority of the royal family and at least a majority of Saudi citizens that somehow new talks mean the end of the conflict and we can all stop worrying about the Palestinians, then normalization of relations with Israel suddenly looks more acceptable.  Such a partnership portends a serious rise in the threat of war—with not only the United States but Israel and Saudi Arabia, plus Jordan, the UAE, Egypt and more, openly unified against Iran.

Just a week or so before the announcement about Jerusalem, the Trump administration threatened to close the PLO office in Washington unless the Palestinians accepted Washington’s terms for new negotiations. Those U.S.-brokered talks would be based on pro-settlement, human rights-violating conditions that no Palestinian leader could ordinarily accept. If some Palestinian leader—the current head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, or some other leader if the Saudis force Abbas to quit as they reportedly threatened—accepts a deal legitimizing permanent Israeli control of Palestinian land, Saudi Arabia can easily slip into a cozy partnership with their erstwhile enemy.

The timing remains a question. Why would Kushner and his father-in-law make the goal of an Israeli-Saudi alliance against Iran more difficult by such a provocative move regarding Jerusalem?  Part of the answer has to do with the primacy of Israel over Saudi Arabia in Kushner’s world—regardless of his recent bromance with MSB.  Kushner has been a supporter of illegal Israeli settlements for years; in his role in one of his family’s foundations he helped orchestrate tens of thousands of dollars donated to Israeli settlements. According to Newsweek, “The foundation donated at least $ 38,000 between 2011 and 2013 to a fundraising group building a Jewish seminary in a West Bank settlement known as Beit El. During that period, Kushner’s foundation also donated an additional $ 20,000 to Jewish and educational institutions in settlements throughout the region, the Associated Press reported.”

Somehow the Trump son-in-law forgot to mention those transactions when he filed financial reports required for his top-level security clearance. But it fits a pattern. In late 2016 Kushner ordered Michael Flynn, then the Trump campaign’s top foreign policy adviser, to persuade Russia to delay the imminent UN Security Council vote criticizing Israeli settlements. President Obama had decided to abstain and allow the resolution to pass; Trump wanted the Russians to delay the vote so the new administration could veto it. But Moscow refused to play along.

If you just listened to the official rhetoric from both governments, something like a Saudi-Israeli alliance appears unthinkable.  But it turns out that many “unthinkable” developments in the volatile Middle East are actually quite thinkable—although it usually means there’s a price to be paid. Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital has been bandied about as a threat for years despite international law. The fundamentalist Saudi government has all but publicly pined for open relations with Israel despite Tel Aviv’s continuing violations of Palestinian rights. National leaders may pay a political price for those moves. But the real price—potentially in destroyed lives, devastated cities and more—will be paid by the people of Iran, who will likely face even more crippling sanctions and a growing threat of war; by the people of Yemen, where the U.S.-backed Saudi war continues to escalate with horrific humanitarian consequences; potentially by Lebanon, where Saudi interference is again on the rise; and as always by the Palestinians, who have paid the price for U.S. support of Israeli occupation and apartheid for more than 70 years, and have just been sold out again.

There are no Israeli-Palestinian peace talks underway that might be threatened by U.S. recognition of Jerusalem. But the move certainly makes peace—or justice—anywhere in the war-torn region far less likely.

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Everyone Hates This Tax Bill

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(Photo: JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO)

As the Trump tax cuts fly through Congress at breakneck speed, one has to wonder: What’s the big rush?

Surely a body known for gridlock and deliberation would want to hold hearings, interview stakeholders, and gather public input before restructuring the world’s largest economy. Instead, the tax cut plan was rushed through both the House and Senate, without a single public hearing or Democratic vote.

All the same, the public input so far is incredibly clear: People hate the Republican tax bill.

Five recent polls all confirm this.

Quinnipiac national survey released December 5th showed voters disapprove of the bill by nearly two-to-one (29 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove). ABC and CNNeach conducted polls that showed an anemic 33 percent and 31 percent support for the bill. A comparable poll from Reuters put support at just 28 percent.

Perhaps most telling is a poll from Politico that initially pegged support at 48 percent in early October — which dropped 12 points to 36 percent in just two months.

In short, the more people learn about the bill, the less they like it. Hence the speed game on display in Congress right now.

It’s not that people don’t understand what’s in the tax bill. They do. They’re becoming increasingly aware that this legislation is a heist — and they’re the victims, not the beneficiaries.

According to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office, people making $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 would pay a combined $ 5.3 billion more in taxes by 2027. By contrast, households with income above $ 1 million would get a $ 5.8 billion cut.

Put simply, this is a direct transfer of wealth from $ 40,000-aires to millionaires. People get that, too.

The Quinnipiac survey showed 61 percent of the American public think the wealthy will benefit most from the plan. An ABC poll found nearly the same results. Less than a quarter of respondents to either poll believed the middle class was coming out on top.

Looking back to historical major legislation, the Washington Post found that this tax bill is the second most unpopular piece of major legislation considered by Congress in three decades. (What was number one? The failed Republican health care overhaul from earlier this year.)

Congressional Republicans aren’t acting out of deference to the will of the people. They’re responding to the will of their donors, a fact they’re increasingly brazen about sharing publicly. They’re most concerned about protecting the private jet set, the folks who are already doing phenomenally well, at the expense of middle and working-class families.

It’s not too late for Congress to change course.

Since the House and Senate passed two different versions, they’ve convened a conference committee to produce a final bill. The conference committee has the ability end this mockery and restore faith to their disheartened constituents.

If they continue to prioritize wealthy campaign donors rather than the folks who actually pull the lever for them in the voting booth, they should have no doubt they’ll be held accountable.

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The GOP Tax Plan Is Igniting a Movement for a Moral Economy

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(Photo: twbuckner)

If you’re expecting a gift card from your boss as an end-of-year bonus, enjoy it this year because you probably won’t get one in 2018.

The Senate tax bill would ban such rewards. Why? Because Republican lawmakers are determined to prevent ordinary workers from pocketing a $ 25 or $ 50 gift card without reporting it as taxable income.

Meanwhile, these same politicians are planning to dole out billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very wealthiest Americans.

For example, they’re planning to gut or entirely eliminate the estate tax, a curb on extreme wealth concentration that currently applies only to fortunes worth more than $ 11 million per couple.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley explained the reasoning: “Not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Republicans are using this prejudice against working people to justify a massive giveaway to wealthy political donors. While giving the rich and big corporations huge tax breaks, the Republican tax plan would raise taxes on 87 million middle-class families, throw 13 million people off health insurance, and cut Medicare by $ 400 billion.

This moral abomination is already igniting a firestorm across the country. Over the past two weeks, protests have erupted at 50 universities and in least 100 cities, while nearly 50 people have been arrested on Capitol Hill.

And whether or not President Trump achieves his goal of signing this tax deal into law by the end of the year, this fight is just beginning.

On December 4, prominent faith leaders announced plans for one of the largest waves of civil disobedience in U.S. history. Dubbed the “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival,” this effort will mark the 50th anniversary of a similar initiative in 1968 that was undercut by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

The campaign co-chairs, the Rev. Liz Theoharis and the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, are determined to pick up the baton from King and other 1960s leaders. They’ve called the Republican tax plan “an act of gross violence against America’s poor.” But this is just one of the motivations.

“We are witnessing an emboldened attack on the poor and an exacerbation of systemic racism, ecological devastation, and the war economy that demands a response,” Rev. Barber said.

new Institute for Policy Studies report I edited reveals that conditions in each of these areas have worsened since 1968 by many measures.

It documents the increased number of Americans below the poverty line, the acceleration of economic inequality, and the emergence of new forms of voter suppression and mass incarceration that further entrench systemic racism.

It also highlights the growing imbalance in government spending on the military relative to social programs, and the intensification of racial and income disparities in access to clean air and water.

Starting next spring, the Poor People’s Campaign aims to bring tens of thousands of poor and disenfranchised people, clergy, and other moral leaders to rallies at statehouses in at least 25 states, leading up to a major demonstration at the U.S. Capitol on June 21.

While Republicans may succeed in scoring a short-term win for the political donor class, their tax plan is sparking a new moral movement that will lift up the millions of Americans living in poverty and build power for transformational change.

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If the Trump Revolution Is Possible, So Is a Progressive One

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(Photo: Seth Anderson / Flickr)

Don’t kid yourself: 2016 was a revolutionary year in the United States.

Yes, I know, the United States is a deeply conservative country. Americans don’t engage in periodic attempts to overthrow the system. There is no viable political party that threatens the status quo. When protesters gather in Washington, they have no intention of storming Congress, the White House, or the Federal Reserve.

The most radical movements, like Occupy Wall Street, are leaderless and amorphous, and thus toothless.

Americans are so conservative that the revolution that created the country in the 18th century appears in history books as more a break from England than a break from tradition.

So, when a revolution does occur, Americans can’t even recognize what’s in front of their eyes.

The election of Donald Trump last year was revolutionary — even though it took place through established institutions and had all the hallmarks of a reaction (to the Obama “revolution”). Trump supporters thrilled to their candidate’s promises to tear down everything that hitherto represented the establishment: all politicians, Wall Street, the Pentagon, federal institutions, Hollywood, even the international community.

This urge to destroy even carried over to the cultural level, where Trump effectively abolished “political correctness” — a derogatory term for what other folks would just call being respectful. Such a sweeping transformation of social conventions was comparable to French revolutionaries creating their own calendar, replacing the names of the months with such peculiarities as Brumaire and Thermidor.

Don’t be fooled by Trump’s own elite cred. Many revolutionaries — George Washington, Lenin — came from the same segment of society that they aimed to overthrow. Also, don’t fall for the “restoration” rhetoric of the Trumpistas. The America of the past that they invoke is imaginary. They are out to construct a bold, new America that combines elements of the past — racism, homophobia, extreme wealth — with a new vision of shrunken government and corporations run amok. It is an overturning of the liberal order that has prevailed for much of the last century.

Of course, the Trump victory resulted from the same kind of improbabilities as most revolutions. His electoral margin was miniscule (a matter of some 80,000 votes in three key states, though he in fact lost the overall popular vote by millions more). He benefited from the huge intervention of unrestricted “dark money” made possible by the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. And he had the twin tailwinds of WikiLeaks and Russian digital skullduggery (which might have been a single tailwind, protestations of Julian Assange notwithstanding).

In other words, Trump didn’t represent an overwhelming urge by a majority of Americans to upend their own society. Ever since Russian revolutionaries called themselves Bolsheviks (the majoritarians) when they were so manifestly the political minority, insurrectionists have made misleading claims about their popular support. Trump is a man of the (ever-diminishing slice of the) people.

There’s another important revolutionary aspect to consider. All revolutions are doomed to eat their own. The insurrectionists have their knives out. The bloody feast has begun.

A Russian Meal

In the old days, when insurrectionists feared a counter-coup and had to clear out of the royal palace as soon as possible, they stole whatever they could easily transport — the silverware, a few bottles of fine wine, priceless paintings sliced from their frames and rolled up.

Trump and his cronies always planned a grand looting of the commonwealth. But the increased tempo of their snatch and grab in recent days suggests that they’re feeling a certain desperation as the Russiagate noose tightens. There’s the gerrymandering of the two national monuments in Utah that will open up vast tracts to energy and mineral companies. There’s the tax reform package that will reward America’s wealthiest. There’s the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which is a big give-away to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. backers.

Even if they believe that they can escape the Russian probe, the Trump insurrectionists are certainly worried about next year’s mid-term elections. They are checking their watches to see how much longer they can use their positions for maximum personal benefit.

Yes, of course, they all protest loudly that they’re serving their country. But you probably didn’t hear the mumbled end of their sentence. They’re serving their country…to the wolves.

Now, in a fitting turnabout, they are also worried about being served.

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty to lying about his Russia contacts. The plea also involves cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller. That means that the investigation will acquire more details not only about what took place after the election, but also before the election.

In light of the ongoing revelations, major administration figures have had to recast their earlier stories of their contact with Russia and WikiLeaks, including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We used to call such initial statements “perjury.” But revolutionary times demand a new revolutionary language: and thus Kushner and Sessions simply “misremembered.”

The president has already tried to diminish the importance of earlier indictments against former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates, as well as foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous. It won’t be so easy for Trump to diminish the importance of Kushner or Sessions. As we slouch further into this era of implausible deniability, the president himself will be backed against the wall, not by counter-revolutionaries with pitchforks but lawyers with summonses. Imagine all the delicious secrets contained in his tax returns alone.

Of course, it’s not just the Russia probe that’s causing a change of personnel in the Trump administration. Infighting, scandal, and sheer incompetence have already claimed Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci, and Sebastian Gorka.

As in any revolution, the truly ruthless are waiting in the wings for their chance. Rumors abound of a shake-up at the highest level that would expel Rex Tillerson, a relative vegetarian among the carnivores, and replace him at secretary of state with the truly repellent Mike Pompeo. The new CIA chief, according to The New York Times report that Trump later blastedas “fake news,” would be Tom Cotton. The young Arkansas Republican will soon be the standard-bearer for the new Republican Party, someone who can combine the aggression of the neo-cons with the social conservativism and “common touch” of the Trump wing.

Look upon 2020 and despair! Cotton is far more dangerous than Trump or even the telegenic evangelist Mike Pence.

Such is the logic of revolution. After Lenin: Stalin.

On the Bright Side

As with all revolutions, the Trump insurrection has opened people’s eyes to the potential instability of all that had previously seemed solid. If the Clinton dynasty could come to an end at the hands of someone so obviously ill equipped to lead the country, then perhaps the institutions of the status quo are not as firmly entrenched as conventional wisdom would make them out to be.

First off, the victory of an outsider has encouraged other outsiders, this time on the progressive side of the spectrum, to get involved in politics, from transgender candidate Danica Roehm snagging a seat in the Virginia state house to Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins becoming mayor of Helena, Montana. There are two Indivisible chapters in every congressional district, and much of the new electoral energy is coming from women. According to Emily’s List, 20,000 women have thrown their hat into the political ring (including my former IPS colleague Daphne Wysham, who is running for a seat in the Oregon statehouse).

The resistance is not confined to the electoral arena. The Black Lives Matter movement is mobilizing with renewed energy against the uptick in racism in the Trump era.

Then there’s the widespread resistance to sexual harassment.

At one level, the accusations that continue to take down powerful men in the entertainment industry, politics, commerce, and journalism represent the determination by victims to get rid of the “bad eggs.” But such a campaign promises to be much more: a thoroughgoing resistance to the combination of privilege (generally male) and power (also overwhelmingly male).

Replacing a few malefactors is hardly revolutionary. Transforming American institutions so that they no longer reproduce patriarchy — well, that’s a paradigm shift.

Revolution is in the air. Why should the far right have all the fun?

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