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

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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.

The post Tax Plans Pave the Way for Massive Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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Trump Plans to Make It Easier to Kill Civilians with Drones. Sadly, We Can Thank Obama for That.

 

(Photo: Debra Sweet / Flickr)

Barely a month after President Donald Trump announced plans to deepen and extend the now 16-year-old U.S. war in Afghanistan, reports surfaced of plans to expand another signature Obama-era policy: the drone war.

Specifically, The New York Times reported in late September that the administration is relaxing Obama-era restrictions on who can be targeted and removing a requirement that strikes receive high-level vetting before they’re carried out. According to the paper, the new rules would also “ease the way to expanding such gray-zone acts of sporadic warfare” into new countries, expanding the program’s already global footprint.

Across administrations, the use of drones has increased exponentially throughout the course of the war on terror. Even before the rule change, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that the pace of drone strikes and special forces raids had increased from one every 5.4 days under President Obama to one every 1.25 days under President Trump.

In addition to increasing the pace of these operations, the Trump administration has also loosened guidelines designed to protect civilians in areas like Yemen and Somalia, and overseen a notable increase in civilian casualties in war zones like Iraq and Syria.

In this environment, rescinding the Obama administration’s already lax restrictions on drone attacks — coupled with Trump’s overt and express disregard for human rights and the rule of law — is clearly cause for concern. But that also shouldn’t be a pathway toward normalizing the Obama administration’s own use of drones.

Instead, we need to understand the excesses of the war on terror as a trajectory: The abuse of power under one administration leads to the abuse of power under another. Trump may be driving it more recklessly, but he’s still operating a machine the Obama administration built.

Licensed to Kill

The controversy over drones during the Obama administration reached an early flashpoint in 2011, when a drone pilot assassinated a U.S. citizen in Yemen by the name of Anwar Al-Awlaki — followed, two weeks later, by the U.S. killing of his 16-year-old son.

It was another two years before Obama’s Department of Justice released a white paper that detailed its legal argument sanctioning Al-Awlaki’s murder. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer explained, the paper said the government would only target “imminent” threats, and only when “capture was infeasible.” But in practice, Jaffer noted, the administration used an extremely expansive definition of “imminent” that “deprives the word of its ordinary meaning.”

“Without saying so explicitly,” Jaffer worried, the government was effectively claiming “the authority to kill American terrorism suspects in secret,” virtually anywhere in the world.

That same year, responding to increasing criticism, Obama himself gave a speech attempting to clarify the boundaries of this particular tactic. “America’s actions are legal,” the president asserted of the drone war, which he claimed was being “waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.”

So it was perfectly legal, in the Obama administration’s view, to launch 10 times more strikes than the Bush administration, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in a vast arc extending from Libya to the Philippines.

Meaningless Standards

But if the war on terror has taught us anything, it’s that legality is malleable — and never transparent. It’s taught us that accountability is impossible when the laws obscure the crime.

In his 2013 speech, for instance, Obama referenced a set of presidential policy guidelines on drone strikes. Yet these weren’t released until August 2016, more than three years after Obama’s attempt at “transparency.” Two of those guidelines stated that there must be “near certainty” that a lawful target is present before a strike is approved, as well as a “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed.”

Yet it was never clear what this meant. “The [United States] has never described what post-strike standards, protocols, and mechanisms exist to systematically verify compliance with this policy standard,” Amnesty International noted in a critical 2013 report.

Indeed, the Obama administration seemed to take an expansive view of who counts as a “lawful target.” It embraced a practice of launching “signature strikes” where the targets were unknown altogether to the people who approved them. Such targeting was based on behaviors deemed to be indicative of terrorist activity, though what exactly that means was never clear either.

In fact, the White House apparently didn’t designate many victims as “lawful targets” until after they’d been killed. “It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” the Times reported in 2012, “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

That’s why government estimates of civilian causalities have been routinely lower than counts by NGOs. For example, the U.S. government estimated civilian deaths at between 64 and 116 in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya combined between January 2009 and December 2015. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s estimate was substantially higher — between 380 and 801, using relatively conservative criteria.

Worse still, there’s been no accountability for the government officials responsible for civilian deaths. “[N]o such amends exist for civilians harmed by US drones in Pakistan,” the Center for Civilians in Conflict reported in 2012. And no one in Pakistan or Yemen had received “apologies, explanations or monetary payments as amends from the U.S. government.”

In other words, not only was the White House’s commitment to avoiding civilian deaths a largely symbolic gesture, there was in fact no apparatus for justice at all. If legality is an assertion, and if breaches of the law have no consequences, what could ever make the drone war illegal?

Underlying Violence

These are a mere handful of the serious moral, ethical, and legal problems surrounding Obama’s use of drones. They point to inconsistencies, performative justice, and a wholesale lack of accountability — all of which characterized the modest restrictions Trump is now rolling back on the global killing program.

Across all administrations, the logic that maintains a seemingly insignificant line between legal and illegal tactics in the war on terror has a great deal to do with Islamophobia. The victims are all Muslims, or those racialized as Muslims, and are mostly out of sight and out of mind.

Most Americans don’t see the violence and can’t comprehend it — a fact that’s abetted not only the escalation of drone warfare, but also the endless wars in the greater Middle East and the erosion of civil liberties at home under the war on terror more generally. And it’s why Muslim victims have few prospects for accountability.

It is this system of oppression that ultimately underlies drone warfare, whether under Bush, Obama, or Trump. It’s what allows the violence to escalate each year as the war on terror continues — and October 7 marked the start of its 17th year.

Human rights safeguards are meant to be absolute, not relative. Obama’s Democratic Party affiliation doesn’t make his drone warfare program any less illegal than Trump’s brutish brand of Republican politics. It was Obama’s skirting of these standards, in fact, that enables Trump to be all the more brutal.

We must demand standards for the war on terror that are based on international human rights and humanitarian law. As Trump’s abuses become increasingly clear, let’s re-imagine what the protection and preservation of human rights looks like and work to ensure that it’s our standard regardless of who’s in power.

The post Trump Plans to Make It Easier to Kill Civilians with Drones. Sadly, We Can Thank Obama for That. appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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VIDEO: The U.S. War in Afghanistan Is Now 16 Years Old. Trump Has No Plans to End It.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. The war is now 16 years old — and that’s not even counting the decade of U.S. intervention in the country during the Cold War.

Donald Trump once advocated the “speedy withdrawal” of U.S. troops from that country. As president, however, he’s gone in the opposite direction, demanding the U.S. must now “fight to win.” 

As Phyllis Bennis, director of the IPS New Internationalism project, explains in this short video, Trump’s plans to extend the war he once supported ending are even more worrisome for their lack of transparency. He’s not said how many new troops he’ll send or how long they’ll be deployed. Worse still, civilian casualties in multiple U.S. wars have been on the rise since he took office — by 67 percent in just six months.

It’s clear by now that the solution to terrorism won’t come from using military power, Bennis explains. That can only be achieved by diplomacy. “It’s harder, it takes longer, it’s not as sexy, it’s not sexy on CNN, it’s not any of those things,” she concludes. “But it’s the only thing that will work.” 

Video by Victoria Borneman and Peter Certo.

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China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River – National Geographic


National Geographic
China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River
National Geographic
Some of this water has spilled down from glaciers on the Tibetan plateau, filling a channel that snakes 1,700 miles (2,736 kilometers) through China, then Myanmar and Thailand, before spilling into the Andaman Sea. … A farmer harvests barley in Chala

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China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River – National Geographic


National Geographic
China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River
National Geographic
Some of this water has spilled down from glaciers on the Tibetan plateau, filling a channel that snakes 1,700 miles (2,736 kilometers) through China, then Myanmar and Thailand, before spilling into the Andaman Sea. … A farmer harvests barley in Chala

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNGYhyg9jMzyxpVG2VkjXhJWlicunQ&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=mddJV5iSIYuFwQGIz5XADQ&url=http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/160512-china-nu-river-dams-environment/

China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River – National Geographic


National Geographic
China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River
National Geographic
Some of this water has spilled down from glaciers on the Tibetan plateau, filling a channel that snakes 1,700 miles (2,736 kilometers) through China, then Myanmar and Thailand, before spilling into the Andaman Sea. Picture … A farmer harvests barley

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNGYhyg9jMzyxpVG2VkjXhJWlicunQ&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=Jp9AV6CPL6fAwAGEh7ugBw&url=http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/160512-china-nu-river-dams-environment/

China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River – National Geographic


National Geographic
China May Shelve Plans to Build Dams on Its Last Wild River
National Geographic
Some of this water has spilled down from glaciers on the Tibetan plateau, filling a channel that snakes 1,700 miles (2,736 kilometers) through China, then Myanmar and Thailand, before spilling into the Andaman Sea. Enlarge … A farmer harvests barley

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNGYhyg9jMzyxpVG2VkjXhJWlicunQ&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=zWY3V8CLEebUwAHM65K4DA&url=http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/160512-china-nu-river-dams-environment/

France Plans to Extend Emergency Powers for Euro 2016, Tour de France – Wall Street Journal


Wall Street Journal
France Plans to Extend Emergency Powers for Euro 2016, Tour de France
Wall Street Journal
PARIS—France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the government plans to extend its state-of-emergency powers until the end of July to cover this summer's Euro 2016 soccer tournament and the Tour de France cycling race. The government declared a state …
France Seeks to Extend Emergency Powers as It Prepares for Sports EventsNew York Times
France Considers Longer State of EmergencyVoice of America
France plans to extend state of emergency through Tour de FranceLos Angeles Times
The Guardian -Fox News
all 65 news articles »

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Alphabet and Facebook’s Stratospheric Internet Plans Get Tangled in High-Altitude Red Tape – MIT Technology Review


MIT Technology Review
Alphabet and Facebook's Stratospheric Internet Plans Get Tangled in High-Altitude Red Tape
MIT Technology Review
Although each country's national airspace extends to the edge of space, generally understood as 100 kilometers up, commercial regulators have mostly ignored the stratosphere, says Cassandra Steer, a researcher at the Center for Research on Air and

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