Trump’s Enablers Should Be Shamed Out of Public Life

(Photo: White House/ Flickr)

In the middle of September, Harvard University announced that it was inviting two controversial new fellows to the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School: former Trump administration spokesman Sean Spicer and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. At the august institution, they would be joining Corey Lewandowski, one of Trump’s campaign managers, along with several Democratic Party operatives.

But it was not to be. Within a day of the announcement, Harvard rescinded Chelsea Manning’s invitation because of “controversy” attending the offer. Dean of the Kennedy School Douglas Elmendorf had this to say: “I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations.”

Strangely, the invitation to the thoroughly dishonorable Lewandowski did not seem affected by this rationale.

Harvard snubbed Manning in part because people like Mike Pompeo, current head of the CIA, cancelled an appearance at a Harvard forum, saying that “I believe it is shameful for Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon her treasonous actions.”

I’m not a big fan of WikiLeaks — even before its conduct in the 2016 elections — but I’d still be interested in hearing Chelsea Manning interact with other folks at the Kennedy School on questions of public service and morality. So, I’m upset at Harvard’s retraction of the invitation.

But what really bugs me is Harvard’s pandering to the Trump crowd as if they were legitimate political actors. They’re not. They’re collaborationists. They may or may not have collaborated with a foreign power against the United States (let the various investigating committees determine that). But I’m expanding the term here to mean that they are collaborating with a political figure — Donald Trump — whose behavior is inimical to American democracy.

Even if they aren’t ultimately thrown into jail for a variety of improprieties, the Trump collaborationists should be frozen out of the mainstream. Obviously I’m thinking about the future, since places like Harvard are always kowtowing to those in power in the present. But I’m looking forward to a day after, say, 2020, when America goes through its own de-Baathification process, and the leading lights of the Trump administration are purged from public life.

Okay, maybe you don’t want to go that far. De-Baathfication, after all, had lousy consequences for Iraq. Then let’s just use Harvard’s language but apply it more appropriately. “Many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations,” Elmendorf said. Those who collaborated with the Trump administration — those who served in high positions and profited materially and professionally from those positions — should simply not be honored. Even if a departing Trump pardons all his cronies, they should feel the sting of public exclusion.

Call it an anti-Trump blacklist, a political boycott comparable to the economic boycott of Trump products. Perhaps, you’re wondering, why I’m focusing on Trump. Many of his policies resemble those of previous administrations like those of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. Why not expand the boycott to include all the neoconservatives responsible for the Iraq War, among other catastrophes? It’s equally galling to see a war criminal like Elliott Abrams still accepted in polite company (and the Council on Foreign Relations).

I certainly disagreed with those figures and their policies. But this administration is different. Donald Trump has crossed the line on so many fronts. To ensure that his “innovations” in the realms of racism, misogyny, militarism, deception, secrecy, and the “deconstruction of the administrative state” do not become institutionalized in U.S. society requires not only broad-based condemnation but, eventually, public exclusion as well.

Adults in the Room

Shortly after the 2016 election, I was on an NPR program making my case for non-engagement with the Trump administration. The host was aghast: Didn’t I acknowledge the important of “adult supervision” in the White House? Wouldn’t it be better to have some sensible people near Trump to prevent him from flying off the nuclear handle?

And who would these adults be exactly, I retorted? Steve Bannon? Michael Flynn? I doubted that anyone who made it through the vetting process would necessarily qualify as an adult — at least in the sense that the NPR host meant — and even if such a grey eminence managed to get into the administration, he or she would likely be brought down to Trump’s level, not the other way around.

In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, James Mann traces the origins of the phrase “adults in the room” and its associated phrase of “adult supervision.” “Before Trump, this Washington lingo was usually a cover for policy differences,” Mann writes.

The “adults” were usually those who didn’t stray too far from the political center, however that was defined at the moment. Bernie Sanders has never qualified as an “adult” in the Washington usage of the word, although he is old enough to collect Social Security; nor did Ralph Nader; nor did Rand Paul, though he is old enough to perform eye surgery. What made them deficient was not their character or their immaturity, but their views.

Now, however, the phrase refers less to ideology and more to behavior. “For the first time, America has a president who does not act like an adult,” Mann continues. “He is emotionally immature: he lies, taunts, insults, bullies, rages, seeks vengeance, exalts violence, boasts, refuses to accept criticism, all in ways that most parents would seek to prevent in their own children.”

And thus, America is supposed to breathe easier because a trio of military men (John Kelly, James Mattis, H.R. McMaster) and an oil company executive (Rex Tillerson) are in place to rein in Trump’s more infantile impulses.

Moreover, a rogue’s gallery of non-adults have already departed the administration as a result of scandal or sheer incompetence: the aforementioned Sean Spicer, his almost replacement Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Mike Flynn. Some, like Trump’s pick to head the Drug Enforcement Agency, withdrew from consideration even before he had to face withering questions about his support for the pharmaceutical industry. Surely the process works if it ejects such ridiculous figures as if they were tainted food in the political digestive tract.

Poking fun at this list of not-so-dearly-departed administration officials is too easy. More important is to demonstrate that the so-called adults are doing as much if not more damage to this country than the people who didn’t spend enough time in their jobs to screw things up royally.

So, before assigning blame on specific issues, let’s take a look at exactly how “adult” U.S. foreign policy has been over the last ten months. The United States has come close to tearing up the most important arms control deal of the last 25 years and edging closer to war with Iran. It has escalated the conflict with North Korea, which has raised the risk of a nuclear exchange. It has extended the longest American war by sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan. It has continued a misguided “war on terrorism” by supporting the Saudi devastation of Yemen, expanding the CIA’s capacity for conducting drone strikes, and helping to create the next generation of anti-Western jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Beyond war and peace issues, it has pulled out of the Paris climate accord, withdrew from UNESCO, and reinstituted the “global gag rule” on abortion that will affect nearly $ 9 billion in U.S. funding of health initiatives around the world. It has continued to push for the building of the infamous wall on the border with Mexico, implemented several travel bans that disproportionately target Muslims, and gone after the Dreamers. It has proposed slashing foreign aid and State Department funding more generally. It has driven a stake through the heart of multilateralism.

What exactly is “adult” about this rash and destructive foreign policy? Yes, the world hasn’t been destroyed (yet) by nuclear war. But that’s a pretty low bar for the administration’s accomplishments.

Nor is it possible to argue that Trump himself is solely responsible for this foreign policy. Trump has only a vague grasp of foreign policy to begin with. His impulse is to oppose whatever the Obama administration put together — the Iran deal, participation in the Paris accords, various trade deals — even where there might be bipartisan support. To get any of these concrete policies implemented, Trump needs foreign policy professionals who can, at the very least, spell words correctly and use the proper names of foreign leaders. Trump relies on these “adults” not to restrain him but to implement his craziest ideas.

So, the only conclusion is that Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly have at least some, if not sole, responsibility for Trump’s foreign policy. Tillerson has presided over the destruction of the State Department — its personnel cuts, its circumscribed influence. Mattis has facilitated the significant budget increases for the Pentagon. McMaster has called the president’s tweets on North Korea “completely appropriate” and shares the president’s distaste for the Iran nuclear deal. John Kelly, in his former role as head of Homeland Security, was a big booster of the travel ban.

The evidence is in. Engagement at the very highest levels with the Trump administration has not tempered its worst qualities. If anything, these “adults” have been the chief enablers of this most reckless of presidents. They’ve given him the thinnest frosting of legitimacy. Moreover, even these so-called adults don’t rescue the Trump administration from being outside the norms of democratic discourse in this country.

The Politics of Lustration

In Eastern Europe, after the changes of 1989, the successor governments considered laws that would prevent those who collaborated with the Communist apparatus from serving in public office. These were controversial laws. It was often difficult to determine who had collaborated (as opposed to simply been accused of collaborating), and the process was quickly politicized by various political parties. Also, what constituted collaboration: membership in the Communist Party, working in the secret police, or just communicating with the secret police?

Still, lustration served as a way of distinguishing one era from another, of drawing what the Poles called a “thick line” between unacceptable collaboration and legitimate politics.

Lustration, like de-Baathification, was a deeply flawed process. But I’m attracted to the idea of eventually drawing a thick line between acceptable democratic practice and what the Trump administration has attempted to do in this country. I’m not talking about going after civil servants or low-level appointees. I’m certainly not talking about Trump voters. No, only the topmost officials in the administration, including his Cabinet of Horrors, should be subjected, post-2020, to an informal ban on further public service or the receipt of anything that might be construed an honor at a major institution.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about Republicans. Many Republicans have already taken strong stands against Trump’s excesses, and many more will do so over the next three years. No, this campaign against collaborationists must be bipartisan. And the targets should certainly include registered Democrats like chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.

It won’t be a witch hunt. These people are extraordinarily rich and powerful. Their wealth and power will survive public shaming. But such a process will be absolutely important to discredit Trumpism not just as a belief system but as an ideology of power in which all methods of achieving wealth and position are legitimate.

We can’t put Trump and his claque into the stockade like in Puritan America. We can’t ostracize them — send them into foreign exile for 10 years, as the ancient Athenians did. But we can declare the collaborationists, including the “adults in the room,” an affront to human dignity and threaten to resign from, boycott, or malign any institution that dares to hire them, honor them, or work with them.

It’s something to look forward to during the long political winter ahead.

The post Trump’s Enablers Should Be Shamed Out of Public Life appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


The NFL Should Do More Than Just Take A Knee


Colin Kaepernick (Photo:

When Colin Kaepernick began to protest during the national anthem at NFL games last year, he made his intent very clear. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media.

“To me, this is bigger than football,” he explained, “and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick made the brave decision to do this mostly alone — and of course faced the backlash and took the heat on his own. That was until President Trump decided to attack black sports players who raised awareness about racial injustice.

At a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump called out NFL players that chose to take a knee or sit during the anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now’?” Trump asked.

The following Sunday, a far greater number of NFL players stood up for those who protest inequity during the national anthem — and were joined, surprisingly, by many of the team owners Trump called out to.

While this was a good show of solidarity, it led some to wonder whether the NFL actually cares about black lives, or whether team owners were just looking to distance themselves from Trump’s problematic and divisive comments.

African-American males are only 6 percent of the United States population, but comprise nearly 70 percent of NFL players. It’s no wonder that issues around race are making their way into the NFL spotlight.

Black issues have never been a concern for NFL officials when it came to causes worthy of their monetary support. Instead, many NFL officials have donated millions to causes that were openly hostile to the Black Lives Matter movement — such as the Trump campaign.

CNN Money reports that “at least $ 7.75 million of the $ 106 million raised for Trump’s inaugural committee came from NFL owners and the league.” Several owners, many of whom supported Trump — and seven of whom had donated at least $ 1 million to him — released statements denouncing Trump’s comments.

Yet none have used their economic power to actually address the problem that brought the protest on in the first place.

Now would be a fine time to take the next step. While there are a number of ways the league can contribute to this movement, there’s one obvious way: supporting the Colin Kaepernick Foundation.

After Kaepernick began to raise awareness on the field, he put his money where his mouth is and created a foundation aimed at fighting oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism. Through this foundation, he made a pledge to “donate one million dollars plus all the proceeds of my jersey sales from the 2016 season to organizations working in oppressed communities.”

Imagine what could really transpire if NFL officials decided to make this same commitment.

We need to hold the NFL accountable, just as we do for other powerful American organizations. Taking a knee, banding arms, and releasing statements of support is easy compared to what the league can actually do to help fight racial injustice.

It’s time for the NFL to stand up for black lives and the rights of all Americans.


Climate Change is a Bigger Threat Than Any Military — Our Budget Should Reflect That


(Photo: The National Guard / Flickr)

With the prospect of needing to find billions for recovery from Hurricane Harvey, Congress is heading back to D.C. to vote on raising the debt ceiling. Yet what ought to be a set of straightforward tasks — avoid defaulting on the national debt and shutting down the federal government; pass an annual budget — instead is looking like an epic challenge.

A Congress that can’t agree with itself or with the president on just about anything is mostly agreed on one thing, though: The military needs billions in new money. While most Democrats would only be okay with this as long as the domestic budget also gets a boost, the Republican majority wants to hike the Pentagon budget while cutting just about everything else.

The widespread conviction that the Pentagon needs more money has to face a few facts. For one thing, it now has a bigger budget to work with, adjusting for inflation, than it did during the height of the Reagan buildup. We’re spending more than the next eight countries put together, most of which are our allies. And the Defense Department’s Inspector General reported last year that the Army’s financial statements were “materially misstated” in 2015 to the tune of $ 6.5 trillion.

No wonder it’s the only federal agency that still can’t pass an audit.

Yet Pentagon budget boosters are always on the lookout for new pretexts to make their case. The latest was the collision a couple of weeks ago between a U.S. guided missile destroyer and a tanker off the coast of Singapore. The bodies of the 10 sailors killed hadn’t even been pulled from the water before the talking heads began to opine that they died because the Navy is overstretched.

And what is the remedy? You guessed it. The venerable line that “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” has a corollary. It’s that under these conditions, the only visible solution is to spend more money on hammers. In the Navy’s case, they say, this means spending billions beefing up a 277-ship fleet to the nice round number of 350.

The goal of a 350-ship Navy was dealt a powerful counter-message when Harvey hit the shores of South Texas. While Congress and the administration were focused on paying to project more U.S. military power around the world, it was shortchanging the accounts needed to protect our own shores. The president’s proposed budget would make an 11 percent cut in FEMA’s budget, along with programs across numerous agencies to help people rebuild and make our infrastructure more resilient to withstand future storms.

No quantity of Navy ships could hold back Hurricane Harvey, of course. While the National Guard has a meaningful role to play in the recovery, a 350-ship Navy does not. The real contribution the Navy could make to protect our homeland from future Harveys is in helping to prevent them.

Preventing future attacks is, theoretically, the military’s bread and butter. And it has identified climate change as a major threat to our security. Climate change unquestionably made the storm surging over Texas and Louisiana worse — with warmer water increasing rainfall, the power of storms, and the surges pushed by our sea level itself, which has risen more than a foot since 1960.

The most important work the Navy could do to prevent future Harveys, therefore, is to do its part to slow climate change, in two ways.

First, it must drastically reduce its own greenhouse gas-producing emissions. The Navy actually has the best record among the service branches for its efforts and intentions to do so, but these have become distinct non-priorities in the Trump administration. Second, it needs to support a revised security budget that would apply some military money to help fund a clean energy transition for the U.S. economy as a whole.

Without such investments, we will be failing to address what the military itself calls the “urgent and growing” security threat of climate change. Meanwhile, as one defense consultant put it, “The president needs a better reason for a 350 ship Navy than his desire to command one.”


Violence Should Be Treated As A Health Issue


(Photo: Shutterstock)

Rather than viewing violence as tragic, yet inevitable, proposed legislation aims to bolster existing efforts to understand it as a preventable health crisis. Congressman Mike Quigley, (D-Ill.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, has introduced the Public Health Violence Prevention Act (H.R. 2757). This bill would allocate $ 1 billion for the establishment of the National Center for Violence Prevention (NCVP) within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and provide funding for scaling up prevention efforts across the country.

If the bill is approved, the NCVP would build upon ongoing efforts while creating new programs. According to Quigley’s press release, this would include the Public Health Violence Prevention Program (PHVP), “aimed at deploying health-focused responses to violence and the prevention of violence across all sectors.”

Violence claims nearly 60,000 lives every year in the United States. According to the CDC’s Fatal Injury Reports, violence is the leading cause of death for African Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 and it is among the top five causes of death for everyone between the ages of 1 and 44.

Beyond the direct loss of life, injuries, and years of life lost, violence also follows patterns that mirror other major health issues; the more someone is exposed to any form of violence, the greater likelihood they have of being involved in violence. The associated trauma results in negative health outcomes and is the largest of all health inequities.

The Public Health Violence Prevention Act is driven by the urgent and straightforward understanding that violence is preventable and that violence begets violence. Broadly described, direct health-based prevention strategies, such as Cure Violence and programs associated with the National Network of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs, work with victims of violence, their families, and those at highest risk to reduce the risk of injury, re-injury, and/or the potential for retaliation.

For example, Cure Violence employs trained “violence interrupters,” who are credible individuals in the communities where they work, to stop the spread of violence by detecting and interrupting potential and ongoing conflicts, identifying and working with the highest risk individuals to address their needs and change behaviors, and changing social norms through community mobilization.

These programs have been independently evaluated and garnered support from local and state leaders across the United States. In addition to supporting these programs, the Public Health Violence Prevention Act proposes a significant investment in evidence-informed practices for healing the physical, emotional, and social wounds of violence.

The bill builds on the Framework for Action developed by the Movement towards Violence as a Health Issue, co-chaired by Dr. David Satcher, former Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Al Sommer, former Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder and CEO of Cure Violence. This collaborative movement is comprised of more than 400 practitioners and community leaders representing more than 40 cities and 40 national organizations.

The Movement towards Violence as a Health Issue seeks to “fundamentally change the discourse on and approach to violence from the prevailing paradigm that understands violence as moral corruption or human failing that only applies punitive strategies to address the issue, to one that includes an understanding and addressing of violence as a health problem – an epidemic.”

While a source for the funding for the initiatives detailed in the proposal has not yet been announced, $ 1 billion is a fraction of the cost that violence incurs in the United States. Initial hospitalizations for gunshot wounds alone cost the U.S. more than $ 700 million every year. The Institute for Peace and Economics estimates that costs associated with violence in the U.S. total nearly $ 460 billion. This should be a clear bipartisan priority.

The funding, disseminated through the NCVP, would be predominantly directed to health departments, universities and community-based organizations seeking to develop or expand proven practices that address the underlying issues contributing to the perpetuation of violence, and provide individuals and communities with resources to heal from traumatic experiences. These efforts are more crucial than ever as we continue to see an increase in violence in many cities across the country.

With 152 homicides so far this year, Baltimore, where I live, is facing its deadliest year on record, up 32 percent from the same time a year ago. The Baltimore Sun reports, “In absolute numbers, Baltimore trailed only Chicago in homicides through May. Chicago had 240 — but it’s five times larger than Baltimore.” Baltimore, as with other major U.S. cities, has prevention efforts underway, but these programs face budget cuts and limited funding needed to have a city-wide impact.

The Trump administration, with leadership from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has called for a focus to be placed on law and order responses to violence and crime, but city and state leaders (including law enforcement leaders) across the country have come to recognize that this is an issue we cannot arrest our way out of.

Progressive and bipartisan changes are happening at the state level across the country. One of the most recent examples was the decision by the Republican Attorney General of Ohio to invest $ 2.6 million in Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants to establish a statewide trauma recovery network modeled after California’s network of Trauma Recovery Centers. This comprehensive effort provides much needed support and advocacy services to survivors of violence and their relatives.

Oppressive and discriminatory sentencing and policing practices have only further increased the conditions that contribute to susceptibility to violence and persistent inequities. We need to be treating violence as the health crisis that it is.

Echoing leaders in the health field, including former surgeon general’s, city health commissioners, and organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, Quigley wrote in an op-ed in April, “We have seen the success [the public health approach] has had on various other potentially unsafe conditions from water sanitation and birth outcomes to disease prevention; just Imagine if we unleashed the power of health care and public health on violence as well.”

Instead of criminalizing people, we need our systems across all sectors to be helping individuals and communities heal from all forms of historical and ongoing violence. If city, state, and national leaders want to end the spread of violence and help communities reach healthier and more equitable outcomes, they must prioritize violence as a health issue that can be prevented.


Should We Assign the Super-Rich Their Own Tax Collectors?

(Photo: Pollar SD/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Pollar SD/Shutterstock)

We don’t know exactly how much Donald Trump paid in taxes last year. He hasn’t released his 2015 federal income tax return yet. He most likely never will.

But let’s keep in mind that we don’t actually know how much any individual American billionaire paid in taxes last year, with just one exception. Investor Warren Buffett last month released his own basic tax info as a protest of sorts against candidate Trump.

No other billionaires followed Buffett’s lead, and, under U.S. law, none of these ultra rich have an obligation to share any personal tax data at all. So we have no clue how much tax avoiding our individual billionaires are doing.

We do, on the other hand, have a sense of just how much our billionaires as a group are shelling out at tax time. Give credit for that to statisticians at the IRS. Over recent years, they’ve been publishing annual reports on America’s 400 highest-income tax returns.

In 2013, the most recent of these reports reveals, our top 400 averaged an amazing $ 265 million in income — and paid, on average, just under 23 percent of that in federal income tax.

Some of the top 400 billionaires fared far better than that average. Forty-three of them paid less than 15 percent of their reported incomes in federal tax. On paper, remember, rich couples in 2015 faced a 39.6 percent tax rate on ordinary income over $ 464,850.

What explains the gap between that 39.6 percent and the much lower actual tax rate on rich people’s incomes? In a word, loopholes. The rich play all sorts of games — some just a little shady, some a lot — to get their effective tax rate down as low as possible.

If the next President of the United States really wanted to undo this “rigged” tax status quo and narrow the gap between what the law says rich elites should pay in taxes and what they do pay, what steps could that President take?

That next President, suggests a new report out of the UK, could start by assigning America’s super rich their own personal tax collectors. That’s just what they’re doing in Britain right now, in a special tax compliance project that UK tax officials launched in 2009.

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, the British counterpart to America’s IRS, has identified 6,500 UK taxpayers worth over £20 million — the equivalent of about $ 25 million in the United States — and matched each of these “high net worth individuals” with an HMRC “customer relationship manager.”

These personal tax collectors operate as half tax cop and half concierge. Wearing the concierge cap, the customer relationship managers try to be helpful as possible to wealthy taxpayers. They’ll readily answer, for instance, any question a wealthy taxpayer may have about a legally questionable tax-related move the taxpayer might be thinking of making.

As tax cops, customer relationship managers are constantly looking the shoulder of the individual wealthy taxpayers they’re monitoring, watching out for fraud and any attempt to fudge income and tax-due figures.

HMRC has wisely built into this intense monitoring effort a series of safeguards to prevent what good-government analysts in the United States call “regulatory capture,” the situations that develop when regulators get too close to the regulated and start ignoring the public interest.

Among these safeguards: HMRC regularly rotates the customer relationship managers assigned to each super wealthy taxpayer. And individual relationship managers don’t get to make the final call on whether to pursue tax fraud investigations or not.

What sort of impact is this new British crackdown on wealthy taxpayers having? In 2015, the UK’s 6,500 richest taxpayers voluntarily declared tax liabilities of £4.3 billion, about $ 5.3 billion. The compliance work of the HMRC special tax monitors assigned to the wealthy has already recovered another £416 million from these same super rich.

British tax officials have also identified — and are going after — another £1.9 billion that the super rich should have paid in taxes over recent years but haven’t.

In other words, the dust could settle with the British super rich paying 35 percent more of their income in taxes than they initially expected to pay.

In the United States, collecting 35 percent more in taxes from the nation’s richest would in 2013 have brought in an impressive $ 8.5 billion in new revenue from just 400 taxpayers.

Only one other nation — the Netherlands — now has a system in place that mirrors what British tax officials are doing, and this Dutch effort has only just begun.

America’s IRS does, to be sure, have a unit that concentrates on taxpayers of high net worth. But the United States hasn’t yet given these high-end taxpayers anything near the level of across-the-board scrutiny that Britain’s HMRC has.

Could that situation change? Our top tax officials should take a look at the new report on the UK approach released earlier this month by Britain’s National Audit Office. The report offers powerful evidence that placing the tax affairs of all a nation’s ultra-rich taxpayers under the microscope can yield significant benefits.

How significant? UK auditors have calculated the British tax authorities gain £29 for every £1 they spend on staffers who do their agency’s microscoping.

That sounds like a great deal, for both the national treasury and average taxpayers. Just by coincidence, we do have an expert deal maker about to take up occupancy in the White House. Will he try cutting a tax deal like Britain’s? He would if he asked his voters.

The post Should We Assign the Super-Rich Their Own Tax Collectors? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sam Pizzigati an associate fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies.


Wells Fargo CEO Should Pay Back All Scam-Inflated Pay


(Photo: raymondclarkeimages / Flickr)

After being raked over the coals for one of the biggest scams in Wall Street history, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf has agreed to forfeit $ 41 million in compensation.

Astoundingly, this is the first time a Wall Street banker has had to disgorge any of his ill-gotten pay.

But don’t get out the Kleenex box quite yet. In the past three years, Stumpf pocketed nearly $ 200 million in compensation. And of this, $ 165 million was in stock-based pay that was artificially inflated by illegal conduct.

Since at least 2011, Wells Fargo employees who were under extreme pressure to meet sales quotas created accounts without customers’ consent, making these customers vulnerable to overdraft and other fees. A new Public Citizen report suggests this behavior might’ve started even earlier, since Wells Fargo’s push to boost the number of accounts per customer, called “cross-selling,” began as early as the late 1990s.

After a federal agency exposed the scam this past August, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 lower-level employees while leaving Stumpf and other top brass unscathed.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pointed out in a blistering attack during a September 20 hearing that Stumpf regularly touted the bank’s aggressive sales practices in earnings calls with shareholders. His rosy, but completely false reports of increased accounts per customer boosted the Wells Fargo stock price, which increased by about $ 30 per share over the past four years.

This, in turn, inflated the value of Stumpf’s stock-based pay. Just over the past three years, he pocketed $ 165 million in stock options and stock grants — all of it artificially bloated by the scam.

What’s even more outrageous is that most of this scam-inflated stock-based pay was subsidized by taxpayers. Under a loophole in the tax code, companies can deduct unlimited amounts of executive pay from their federal income taxes, as long as it is so-called “performance-based” pay. As we documented in our annual Institute for Policy Studies “Executive Excess“ report, $ 154 million of Stumpf’s pay qualified for this write-off between 2012 and 2015.

Read the full article on Huffington  Post’s website.

The post Wells Fargo CEO Should Pay Back All Scam-Inflated Pay appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


China’s famously strict gun control laws obfuscate on children’s toy guns, which this expat parent argues should … – Global Times

Global Times
China's famously strict gun control laws obfuscate on children's toy guns, which this expat parent argues should
Global Times
China's low crime stats can probably be attributed to the country's strict gun control laws. The sale and private ownership of guns is unlawful here, and the manufacturing of conventional small arms for export is restricted to just 11 authorized State


How Should We Name the Attack in Orlando?


(Photo: YouTube)

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the recent tragedy that left 49 dead at a gay bar in Orlando. The shooter, Omar Mateen, declared his allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call he made during the massacre. President Obama and much of the news media have declared the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history an act of terrorism.

Perhaps the incident was a terrorist act. The killer was targeting civilians seemingly in the service of a larger ideological goal. Still, the last-minute marriage of convenience between Mateen and ISIS had an opportunistic feel to it. The shooter seemed to want to elevate his homophobic rampage to a higher level, and the Islamic State was eager to demonstrate its capability to target the American homeland.

The president confirmed that Mateen was “self-radicalized” through materials he’d found on the Internet. But the FBI, in its two prior investigations of Mateen, had not been able to link him to terrorist organizations. And in its statement, ISIS did not claim to have directed Mateen as it had orchestrated the attacks in Paris last year.

In this sense, the Orlando shooting followed the same pattern as the San Bernardino attack: The shooters and ISIS had no prior contact, but enthusiastically embraced each another through the act itself.

Terrorism, of course, is a tactic, not an ideology. But according to the common definition, it’s a tactic in service of political aims. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), for instance, is interested in establishing a Kurdish state, so the bombings it has conducted throughout Turkey qualify as terrorism. Various already-existing states — the United States, Israel, China, Russia — have killed civilians in their efforts to achieve certain political aims, so that qualifies as “state terrorism.”

But the Islamic State is something different. It has aims, of course, but they’re not strictly speaking political. If the Islamic State is not a political organization, and if the recent acts of violence in Orlando and San Bernardino are only opportunistically connected to ISIS, do they really count as terrorism?

It’s become customary these days to expand the definition of terrorism to include the acts of racists like Dylann Roof in South Carolina and the shooting of three Muslim Americans in North Carolina. The use of the term “terrorist” here serves an important function by underscoring the seriousness of the acts, connecting them to a larger network of people who share the same belief system, and demonstrating that right-wing, racist, and Islamophobic actors are just as likely to kill civilians as Muslim extremists.

However useful in some respects, the application of the term “terrorism” in this way — to include both the Dylann Roofs and the Omar Mateens of the world — may ultimately be counterproductive.

ISIS and Anti-Politics

Despite its name, the Islamic State is not particularly interested in matters of statecraft.

It hasn’t approached the United Nations to petition for recognition — it doesn’t acknowledge the United Nations as a legitimate body. It hasn’t asked other countries for recognition — and it wouldn’t likely get any recognition if it did. The Montevideo Convention lists four conditionsfor statehood — a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and a capacity to enter into agreements with other states.

The only condition ISIS meets is its possession of a government, but even this is a stretch. In its effort to administer cities and other territory that it has overrun, ISIS has indeed established a certain level of bureaucracy. It has Islamic courts, a police force, and even a consumer protection agency. It runs some of the basic services of government, such as fixing potholes and providing social services. And it collects taxes from its inhabitants and issues its own currency.

In Syria, ISIS rules as many conquerors have in the past: by imposing an ideological overlay while keeping local structures in place, as Time reported last year in Raqqa:

Most of the civil servants who make the city function remained in their old jobs, still paid by the government in Damascus even though they are now effectively entrenching ISIS in power. School teachers, state telecoms company employees and municipal workers all remain at work, under ISIS control but paid by Damascus. According to several businessmen, activists and ISIS supporters in Raqqa, ISIS has placed its own members at the top of existing institutions, like schools or the municipal headquarters, to make sure employees follow ISIS’s new rules.

But ISIS lacks a foreign minister, a minister of trade, or any of the other personnel required to engage with other states. It has a caliph who has nothing but contempt for the interstate system. ISIS considers even Saudi Arabia, which shares a commitment to the Wahhabi version of Islam, to be an enemy. It has encouraged a number of attacks against Saudi institutions, believing that the kingdom is a corrupt version of Islam.

Non-state actors that use terrorism have generally aspired to create something political, such as a separate state (Palestine, Israel, Kurdistan) or a particular kind of state (Marxist, fascist, anarchist). ISIS uses violence against civilians much as a criminal syndicate or a cult would: to promote in-group loyalty, strike fear into opponents, and gain adherents.

ISIS styles itself a caliphate, a form of governance that historically precedes the inter-state system. ISIS doesn’t imagine a future in which the caliphate negotiates with the non-caliphate, even though that’s precisely how caliphates behaved in the past. Rather, ISIS considers all states, even conservative Islamist ones, to be illegitimate. In fact, ISIS is rather like Dick Cheney, who famously said that the United States “doesn’t negotiate with evil, we defeat evil.” ISIS is both unable and unwilling to negotiate with the evil non-caliphate.

As such, ISIS is fundamentally anti-political. It will not circumscribe its will to power as Hezbollah has done to participate in government as in Lebanon. It won’t subordinate its religious goals for worldly gain, as Hamas as done in Gaza. It is, essentially, a millenarian death cult, as Graeme Wood has written in The Atlantic. From its propaganda, it’s clear that ISIS

rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

ISIS kills. It commits war crimes. It engages in widespread atrocities. But since it doesn’t havepolitical aims, it does not in fact commit terrorism. And those who commit atrocities in its name should be considered criminals and nothing more. Their desire to elevate their crimes should not be honored.

One person’s terrorist, as the saying goes, is another person’s freedom fighter. But one person’s mass murderer is another person’s…. mass murderer. Charlie Manson was not a hero to anyone except a tiny knot of crazed followers. The Columbine shooters were not freedom fighters.

Mass murderer: That should also be the category to which we consign Omar Mateen, the San Bernardino shooters, Dylann Roof, and the other “lone wolf” killers who grandly declare that they are fighting for a higher cause.

The Future of Terrorism

This is not just a definitional issue, a splitting of hairs. Terrorism, after all, is not just a tactic. It is a frame that the international community uses to define the most urgent threat to existing states. It has generated a world war that shows no sign of ending any time soon.

The United States may have inaugurated the “war on terrorism” — and Obama may have retired the phrase — but much of the world continues to wage a struggle against what are considered terrorist organizations: the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, al-Qaeda in various places. Specific countries have also targeted their own terrorist formations. Turkey is battling the PKK, China has cracked down on the East Turkestan Independence Movement, Israel continues to fight against Hamas, Nigeria is trying to defeat Boko Haram, the Philippines is struggling against Abu Sayyaf, and so on.

Given the horrific attacks that have taken place recently in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, it would seem that terrorism is on the upswing. Indeed, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, more than 32,000 people died worldwide in 2014 as a result of terrorism, an 80 percent increase over 2013. It also took the largest economic toll ever: $ 52.9 billion.

But if you separate out the non-political entities like the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram, traditional terrorism is on the wane.

True, Turkey and the PKK have resumed their decades-old struggle. But otherwise, the traditional terrorist organizations of the past, like the Irish Republican Army and the Kosovo Liberation Army, have jettisoned the terrorist baggage because they’ve achieved their political aims. Or, like the Shining Path in Peru, they have basically disappeared without achieving their objectives. Or, like ETA in the Basque area of Spain and FARC in Colombia, they are negotiating some kind of political solution.

This isn’t to say that terrorism is no longer deployed as a tactic. But most groups have witnessed the declining utility of violence, particularly against civilians. Where there is still no consensus on sovereignty questions — between Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, and Russia and Ukraine — some groups continue to resort to violence against civilians for political reasons. But these now seem to be more the exceptions than the rule.

The terrorism of groups fighting for their own states can be handled politically through negotiations. Those negotiations might fail repeatedly, extend over long periods of time, and frustrate a succession of mediators. But ultimately, the demands of a persistent group are met through regime change (South Africa), state creation (Israel, Kosovo), or some measure of decentralized power (ETA). Israel and Palestine are still several steps away from that solution, but a plan for political accommodation is at least feasible. The Sri Lankan generals believe that they obliterated the Tamil Tigers through military force, but the current government of Maithripala Sirisena has promised to secure greater autonomy for the Tamils in the north of the country.

It’s the very political nature of terrorism that dictates its own solution: not endless violence, but endless politics.

ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram: These groups can’t be pressured to give up their acts of terrorism in exchange for a place at the table because they have no intention of ever sitting at the table. Violence, woven into the very fabric of their operations, is effectively their politics.

It might seem logical, then, to adopt the hardliners’ approach of bombing these groups into oblivion. But the evidence of the last 25 years demonstrates that violence only begets violence. “We keep on killing bad guys, and the bad guys just keep on keeping on,” writes former Pentagon official Rosa Brooks about the situation in Afghanistan. “In the three years since the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the group appears to have gotten stronger, not weaker.”

So, if neither the offer of political carrots nor the wielding of military sticks seems to solve the problem, what’s left? We, the non-caliphate, must reimagine our carrots and sticks.

On the stick side, we should approach these anti-political organizations and their followers as we would a criminal syndicate. We should go after them with RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), with the sharing of information internationally, and with the coordinated shutdown of their propaganda arms. We should go after their financing, strong-arming our Saudi allies to do the same, and disrupt their networks.

On the carrot side, we should support the expression of political Islam, the peaceful engagement of Muslims in the political process. This has not always gone well, considering the failures of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the deviation toward autocracy in Turkey. But it is essential that experiments in the combination of Islam and democracy continue and thrive, as they are in such places as Indonesia (where Islam-based parties poll around 20 percent) and Tunisia (where the former ruling party Ennahda is moving away from its Islamist roots).

Pouring money into “countering violent extremism” is all well and good. But ultimately only states that accommodate Islam politically will offer an alternative to the putative Islamic State. States potentially offer the protection to Muslims — to worship, raise families, and avoid indiscriminate attacks — that satisfy at least some of the demands of the people drawn into the orbit of the extremists.

The Islamist State and its ilk will not, of course, find such carrots attractive. Rather, such tactics are designed to woo away potential followers. The anti-politics of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and others put them beyond the reach of negotiations. Their “terrorism” can’t be tamed by politics.

Nor can the “lone wolves” who associate with ISIS and are determined to wreak havoc be somehow lured back to civilian life through political means — as operatives who engaged in terrorism in paramilitary outfits, like Menachem Begin of Irgun, would eventually be attracted to public office. Omar Mateen and Dylann Roof, like other mass murderers, can be deterred if at all through strict gun control and the flagging of early-warning behavior.

It’s tempting to use a harsh epithet like “terrorism” to describe the actions in Orlando and Charleston. But it miscategorizes them and suggests the wrong kind of response. Perhaps “mass hate crime” would be more accurate.

The post How Should We Name the Attack in Orlando? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer directs Foreign Policy in Focus, a project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Five Reforms Every Police Department Should Make

(Photo: Mike Dunford / Flickr)

(Photo: Mike Dunford / Flickr)

It was only a little over a year ago that Baltimore went up in flames.

In April 2015, thousands of protestors took to the streets after Freddie Gray — a 25-year-old African American man who hadn’t been accused of any crime — died in police custody. Six officers were implicated in his death, which was caused by severe injuries to his neck and spine.

Just this May, Edward Nero — the second officer to face trial over Gray’s death — was cleared of all charges.

The episode marks another chapter in a long story of mistrust between police officers and black people in the United States. Polling data has consistently shown that black Americans have significantly less confidence in the police than their white counterparts. The disparity is even more pronounced in urban communities.

In many places, the mistrust is well deserved.

For instance, in the few short years before the Baltimore uprising, the Baltimore Sun reported, over 100 people in the majority-black city had “won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is now probing the Baltimore Police Department for systemic abuse and racial discrimination. Similar probes have discovered abuses from Ferguson to Cleveland and Albuquerque to Chicago. More recently, protests against police shootings led to the ouster of San Francisco’s police chief as well.

It’s going to take a long time to repair the damage, but smart reforms that minimize police violence and racial bias — and improve accountability and transparency — can help put us on a path to better policing and safer communities. Here are a few of them.

  1. Institute Community Policing

Community policing is built on finding ways to optimize positive contact between police officers and community members. It was a key plank of the president’s task force on policing.

In part, it means taking police officers out of their offices and patrol cars and placing them on foot patrols throughout the community. That enables them to build a presence and personable connections with local community members before a crime or shooting happens.

Camden, New Jersey is a great example of a police culture shifting from one of intimidation to one that intentionally builds community ties.

In 2012, Camden reached its peak murder rate. That year, the city dissolved its police department and created a new one governed by the county. And, most importantly, it took a new approach to policing neighborhoods haunted by crime. “We’re not going to do this by militarizing streets,” said police chief J. Scott Thomas.

After two years of instituting community policing reforms — including hiring more officers, eliminating squad car patrols, knocking on doors to ask residents their concerns, and hosting neighborhood events like push-up contests with youth — violent crime had decreased by over 20 percent, and shootings by over 40 percent.

  1. Demilitarize

In uprisings from Baltimore to Ferguson, a major point of contention was the highly militarized response by the police, who greeted nonviolent protesters with military-grade weapons and vehicles.

But shooting tear gas from the top of armored trucks doesn’t exactly suggest that the local police are there to serve and protect. Those tactics, noted President Obama, “can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them.”

Many of these weapons are surplus equipment granted to local departments by the federal government. In the wake of the Ferguson and Baltimore uprisings, President Obama announced a limited ban on transferring some types of military equipment to local police departments. That ban should be expanded to include heavy-duty MRAV trucks and armored vehicles like Humvees, as well as M-16 rifles, drones, flash bangs, and other non-lethal explosives and teargas.

  1. Appoint Independent Prosecutors

One way that police officers can begin to be held more accountable for their actions is by ending the grand jury process for officers involved in shootings.

In most jurisdictions, prosecutors ask grand juries to consider whether charges should be brought against a defendant. But the process is completely secret, and the evidence presented is completely at the discretion of the prosecutor — who may be sympathetic to police. As one Slate writer explains, this amounts to “using grand jurors as pawns for political cover” to exonerate officers who may have shot unarmed suspects.

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that bans the use of grand juries to decide whether police officers should face criminal charges when they kill people in the line of duty. The high level of secrecy involved in grand jury proceedings, the state argued, often leads to non-indictments.

Instead, these cases should be tried by independent prosecutors who don’t have any connection to the local police force. That would send a strong message to the communities most impacted by disproportionate police violence that police officers will be held accountable for any wrongful death on their hands.

  1. Set Up Civilian Complaint Review Boards

Community oversight of police is crucial to establishing greater accountability, and this is especially true in communities of color.

In Newark, New Jersey, a scathing Department of Justice report found that local police often used excessive force and violated the constitutional rights of Newark residents. In response, Mayor Ras Baraka issued an executive order to create a civilian complaint review board with the power to investigate and subpoena police officers. Civilian oversight boards are a great way to empower members of the community to seek their own evidence in cases of police violence — and ultimately create a more transparent process.

  1. Provide Racial Bias Training

The fact of the matter is that black and Latino people face discrimination at all levels of the criminal justice system. Police officers should be required to explore how their implicit biases, unconscious prejudices, and stereotypes may cause them use violence against people of color disproportionately.

There’s no way that racial bias training alone can get rid of racial discrimination in policing, but the only way to work against implicit bias is to raise awareness about it. And police chiefs should lead the way on this by offering racial bias training to their officers.

Calls to implement these reforms have reverberated from grassroots activists all the way up to the presidential race. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, for example, have made policing and criminal justice reform top priorities. But trust can only be rebuilt community by community. Local departments need take the initiative in healing the broken relations between police and the communities they serve.

The post Five Reforms Every Police Department Should Make appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Joshua Serrano is a New Economy Maryland fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and a former researcher on the institute’s Criminalization of Poverty project.


Five things you should know about Italy’s Republic Day – The

Five things you should know about Italy's Republic Day
June 2nd, 1946, was the day Italians voted to abolish the monarchy, and the Republic of Italy was born; hence Republic Day. After an 85-year monarchy, which had for the most part been very popular with the people, a referendum resulted in 12,717,923 …