Germany Replaces U.S. as the Country With the Best International Image

Another sign that the U.S. federal government is generally moving in the wrong direction. Make America “great again” is turning out to be better described as make America “break again.”

Germany has been named the country with the best “brand image” according to a new study of 50 countries.

It has leapfrogged the USA, which previously held the title.

The Nation Brands Index, conducted in association with independent policy advisor Simon Anholt, conducts what it says is the world’s most comprehensive global nation branding survey, combining six dimensions: governance, exports, people, culture & heritage, tourism, investment and immigration.

It considers factors such as how people perceive a country’s quality of life, business environment, tolerance and the public image of a country’s products and services.

The U.S. could learn from Germany and make its public colleges and universities tuition free. The $50 billion to $70 billion per year that would require could easily be covered by a financial transactions tax, or by what’s sometimes referred to in the U.S. as a Wall Street speculation tax. The public bailed out Wall Street around the crash of 2008, and now it’s time for Wall Street to bail out the U.S. public. If Wall Street doesn’t volunteer for that, they should be forced to, just as the U.S. population that opposed the bank bailouts by an 80 percent supermajority was.

The Economic Inequality the Trump Regime is Seeking to Worsen

Today’s congressional Republican tax schemes are obviously designed to benefit the richest people in the United States at the expense of most of the population. Honest analysis after analysis reveals the absurd benefits the proposals would grant to rich people, who are generally doing more than well enough financially.

It should be noted that there’s already an extreme level of inequality in the United States — a country where the top 1 percent already controls about 40 percent of the wealth. The top 0.1 percent of people there already have the same or more wealth than the bottom 90 percent do. Another way of putting that is to explain that — with the U.S. having a population around 330 million — 330,000 people have equivalent wealth to 300 million. The number of people who could reside in a city of moderate size therefore have more wealth than the vast majority of the country’s occupants.

There’s perhaps a comparatively worse statistic, and that’s to note that the 400 richest people in the U.S. have more wealth than the poorest 190 million there do. The number of people who could fit together in a medium-sized church are richer than over half the country’s occupants combined. This comprises part of an inequality so extreme that it’s possibly the highest in history.

There are plenty of problems that either have began with or have been made worse by this severe economic inequality, and they’re becoming all the more apparent with corrupt billionaires directly running parts of the government now. The problems include: an unjust concentration of power at the top that has a pervasively negative effect on democracy, a significant poverty level that includes a 20 percent child poverty rate in world history’s richest country, and a life expectancy gap of 15 years between rich and poor counties.

Oh, and there’s how almost three quarters of U.S. workers are living paycheck to paycheck, how there’s a majority lacking $500 in savings for an emergency, and how there are tens of millions crippled by corporate capitalism’s stunning consumer debt levels. In the background, there is also an opioid crisis that ravages communities by killing tens of thousands (more than the number who died in the Vietnam war) every year, natural disasters worsened by climate change that disproportionately affect poorer people, millions who have dropped out of the labor force in despair due to concentrated greed’s refusal to invest in sufficient public works programs, and monied interests corrupting affairs from the local level to the national level.

There’s reason to conclude that the general public of the country has too many problems it doesn’t deserve and too many good solutions that it hasn’t applied.

As concentration of political power is what follows concentration of economic power, there must be solutions to this for real progress to occur. Mere redistribution from the rich to everyone else shouldn’t be the end goal either, as that alone ultimately has a high chance of failure. Instead, the goal should be making sure that the wealth isn’t distributed so unequally to begin with.

It should be noted that there has been enormous redistribution from the working class and middle class to the richest people in the country over the last four decades. This should be obvious enough to anyone who honestly looks at the data from the late 1970’s to today. To note one statistic, the richest 1 percent appropriated almost 60 percent of the total gains in U.S. national income from 1977 to 2007, which is a far cry from a fair society.

But even if there were much higher taxes to alleviate the overabundance of poverty and suffering in the U.S., it would be unwise to expect that they’d be guaranteed to remain with the same concentration of economic power and rigged corporate structure. The majority of people must gain much stronger control over the means of production — particularly the resources of money, land, and technology. With that would probably occur improvements in the political sphere, as elected officials could be less beholden to private concentrated power, and people generally would also be stronger, allowing them to fight back against corrupt elites more effectively.

Considering the significant upwards distribution to the rich in the neoliberal period combined with the inherent exploitation of corporate capitalism, a decent wealth tax levied on the upper 1 percent is a fair proposal. The most popular politician in the U.S., Senator Bernie Sanders, already has a proposal — a tax of 1 percent on estate values over $21 million. An estate worth $121 million would therefore pay $1 million, which frankly isn’t much compared to the amount of money that remains in the estate and the amount of public costs that was used to attain it.

There’s a lot of important work that can and should be done, from securing free public university tuition to organizing major projects in a democratic way and creating public interest organizations to improve the Congress. The structure of the system that delivers such extreme inequality and suffering must be altered though, or real progress will continue to remain out of reach.

The Corruption at the Trump Swamp: Over Half of Trump Nominees Have Industry Ties

Some examination of the corporate state engaged in regulatory capture of historic proportions.

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The Daily Beast examined 341 nominations the president has made to Senate-confirmed administration positions. Of those, more than half (179) have some notable conflict of interest, according to a comprehensive review of public records. One hundred and five nominees worked in the industries that they were being tasked with regulating; 63 lobbied for, were lawyers for, or otherwise represented industry members that they were being tasked with regulating; and 11 received payments or campaign donations from members of the industry that they were being tasked with regulating.

How the Trump Regime’s Policies Hurt Trump Voters

It’s becoming more obvious every day, especially as the Trump disapproval rating climbs over 60 percent. There’s also a social media account that documents regrets of Trump voters called Trump_regrets.

The real question though is perhaps how those millions of people will react to the realization that they’ve been conned by the Trump government.

Though Mr. Trump is brazen in his opposition to consumer protections, many of his most damaging attacks are occurring in corners of the bureaucracy that receive minimal news coverage. His administration, for instance, wants to strip the elderly of their right to challenge nursing home abuses in court by allowing arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced that it is canceling a proposed rule intended to reduce the risk of sleep apnea-related accidents among truck drivers and railway workers.

And the Environmental Protection Agency is busy weakening, repealing and under-enforcing protections, including for children, from toxic exposure. Scott Pruitt, the director, went against his agency’s scientists to jettison an imminent ban on the use of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide widely used on vegetables and fruits. Long-accumulated evidence shows that the chemical is poisoning the drinking water of farm workers and their families.

This assault began with Mr. Trump choosing agency chiefs who are tested corporate loyalists driven to undermine the lifesaving, income-protecting institutions whose laws they have sworn to uphold.

At the Food and Drug Administration, Mr. Trump has installed Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former pharmaceutical industry consultant, who supports weakening drug and medical device safety standards and has shown no real commitment to reducing sky-high drug prices. At the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, a billionaire investor in for-profit colleges, has weakened enforcement policy on that predatory industry, hiring industry insiders and abandoning protections for students and taxpayers.

[…]

The administration is even threatening to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and fire its director, Richard Cordray, who was installed after Wall Street’s 2008 crash. Their sins: They returned over $12 billion to defrauded consumers and plan to issue regulations dealing with payday debt traps and compulsory arbitration clauses that deny aggrieved consumers their day in court.

Draconian budget cuts, new restrictions on health insurance, diminished privacy protections and denying climate change while putting off fuel-efficiency deadlines and auto safety standards will hurt all Americans, including Mr. Trump’s most die-hard supporters.

Mr. Trump’s deregulation crowd argues that they are freeing markets to grow. But preventing casualties and protecting consumers are, in fact, good for the economy. Nicholas Ashford, a professor of technology at M.I.T., has shown how safety regulation has fostered innovation. Markets grow in humane and efficient ways when workers make airbags, products to detect contaminants in food and water, and recycling equipment. Fraud prosecutions leave consumers with more money, generating sales, jobs and a higher standard of living.

Worst President in History Starts to Dismantle Healthcare for the Vulnerable

The cruelty continues, with insurance corporations being further empowered at the expense of the poor. Even though roughly half of Americans polled want the pathetic and disgusting human being known as Donald Trump impeached, that isn’t going to solve the core problems that are causing so much unnecessary suffering. The systems of power must be fundamentally altered for there to be an actual difference made.

President Trump has moved to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, after Republican lawmakers repeatedly failed to repeal and replace President Obama’s signature healthcare law. In a late-night announcement, the White House announced it will stop paying billions of dollars in federal subsidies to insurance companies to help cover low-income people’s healthcare plans. Experts say ending the subsidies will dramatically increase insurance premiums and could unravel the healthcare market. This came hours after Trump signed an executive order that would allow insurance companies to sell cheaper policies with few protections and benefits, a move that could also destabilize the current healthcare market.

Dean Baker on Tax Cuts

This segment on The Real News Network covers the Trump regime’s absurd tax proposals that would benefit the richest people in the country at the expense of most of the population.

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What is your response to these two things, two reductions, the corporate tax rate and the pass through business tax?

Dean Baker: These are likely to be big tax breaks for high-end individuals. The corporate tax rate, they have justified lowering the tax rate by saying that we have among the highest in the world, which is true, the statutory rate. In terms of what we actually collected, it was somewhere around 22% of corporate profits, which put us right around the middle of the pack.

Now, if we make the statutory rate 20%, presumably they’ll get rid of some deductions but surely the statutory rate will fall two, three, four percentage points below that, which means we’ll be collecting substantially less money in corporate income tax.

Now, one of the important deductions is for interest. Here is one of the bizarre things. They say, “Oh, we’re going to limit the corporate interest deduction,” but it doesn’t say how. That, in principle, would be a very good thing if they sharply limited it, but they didn’t care enough to put in a rate.

Now, the pass through corporation, this is potentially a huge bonanza for very wealthy people, I should point out, including Donald Trump who has most of his businesses as pass-through corporations. What a pass-through corporation means, it pays zero tax. The corporation itself pays zero tax. It goes back to the individual and where that individual is a very wealthy person, like Donald trump, they’d be paying tax at the high individual income tax rate or higher, which in his case, say this goes through, that’s 35%. Instead, he’ll just pay 25%, and what that means is you give people a very big incentive to become corporations to have their doctors, lawyers, other professionals will have most, or all their income as corporate pass through and they’ll just pay a 25% tax rate.

Here, too, we get a magic asterisk. They say they’re going to have the IRS police this to make sure it’s not abused. Well, the republicans have spent two decades weakening the IRS’s enforcement power. This would be extremely difficult thing to enforce, even if you had a very effective IRS, which they’ve done a lot to make sure we do not have.

Gregory Wilpert: Then, another related aspect is the whole thing about the repatriation of corporate taxes. It’s estimated that something around $700 to $800 billion are being held offshore by U.S. companies because their corporate tax is made abroad. They’re keeping them there, so they don’t have to pay the corporate taxes. Trump wants to provide a tax incentive, basically a lower tax rate for temporarily, so they repatriate their profits. What do you think of that plan?

Dean Baker: Let me clarify that. He’s talking about actually making that permanent. We would switch to a territorial tax system, so that they would never have to pay taxes on foreign profits. This is a big bonanza. You have a lot of companies, maybe the most successful companies in the country that declare a lot of profits overseas precisely so that they don’t have to pay taxes here, and at least as an accounting convention they keep the profits over there in many cases, The Wall Street Journal did a piece on this a few years back. The money is literally here in the United States. It’s kept in banks in the Unites States, but at least as an accounting matter, it’s still with their Irish subsidiary, or Cayman Island, or wherever they’re booking it, so they don’t have to pay taxes on it.

[…]

Dean Baker: The alternative minimum tax was a catch-all. Basically it says no matter how many games you played that at the end of the day, you still had to pay, I think it was set at 20%. It only applied to a relatively small number of people. Donald Trump, actually ended up the one tax return that was released, or leaked out 2005, he paid the alternative minimum tax because he had enough deductions of different sorts, he would have paid less, so he still had to pay the 20% alternative minimum tax.

I don’t see a good reason for eliminating that. It applies to a very small number of people. Basically by definition, they’re wealthy because there’s a very big floor to it. Unless you’re earning a lot of money, you don’t have to worry about it. Again, unless you’re playing a lot of games, it’s moot. I don’t really see a downside to it. I don’t see anything whatsoever gained by eliminating the alternative minimum tax.

The estate tax, this too, applies only to very wealthy people. People are allowed to exempt 4 million per a person, so a married couple could pass on $8 million totally tax free. It applies to, I think it was two-tenths of 1% of estates. A very tiny number and I just don’t see a good argument as to why we shouldn’t be taxing these people. We’re going to get the money from lower income people instead? I really don’t see a downside to the estate tax, and it’s just unfortunate if we give up that revenue.

Gregory Wilpert: As I mentioned, one of the main Republican arguments, of course, in favor of lowering taxes more generally and it’s an argument that’s been around since President Reagan, is that lower taxes for both corporations and households would mean more money for spending and for reinvestment and therefore more economic growth and, of course, that this would pay for itself. What’s your response to that relatively old argument?

Dean Baker: This is one of the rare cases where we actually had the opportunity to test it. Economists, we can come up with all sorts of theories and we try to find a way to, what looks like that. In this case, we actually did it. They did it under Reagan, they did it under George W. Bush. There’s basically, zero evidence that led to any increase in growth. The growth was okay in the 80s, was not particularly strong, growth was very weak after the tax cuts that Bush put in place in 2001 and 2002. I wouldn’t necessarily blame the tax cuts for the weak growth but you’re pretty hard pressed to argue the opposite that somehow we had very strong growth but something happened and that prevented us from having good growth.

The one thing I will say for reducing complications in the systems, loopholes, basically, that is a way. That’s why I have, actually been sympathetic to the idea of lowering the corporate tax rate coupled with reducing the deductions, because the tax avoidance system is a major source of inequality. You have a lot of people on Wall Street who come up with clever tax avoidance schemes and they get very rich that way. I can’t see any reason we want people to get rich designing tax avoidance schemes. We could argue how much money we should make from designing a good product or whatever, but I can’t see any rationale for saying, “Oh, we want people to get real rich ’cause they’re clever at avoiding income taxes.” I think there’s something to be said for that, but it’s not clear how much we’re doing to combat tax avoidance with this reform plan.

Trump Regime to Drop Some Constraints on Drone Strikes and Raids

Unfortunately, this will mean an increase in the U.S. military’s war crimes abroad. The revealed plans of loosening drone restrictions are also noted to be around when Human Rights Watch reported that 84 civilians were killed in a U.S. air strike on a school and market in March.

The Trump administration is preparing to dismantle key Obama-era limits on drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefields, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. The changes would lay the groundwork for possible counterterrorism missions in countries where Islamic militants are active but the United States has not previously tried to kill or capture them.

President Trump’s top national security advisers have proposed relaxing two rules, the officials said. First, the targets of kill missions by the military and the C.I.A., now generally limited to high-level militants deemed to pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to Americans, would be expanded to include foot-soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles. And second, proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting.

But administration officials have also agreed that they should keep in place one important constraint for such attacks: a requirement of “near certainty” that no civilian bystanders will be killed.

The proposal to overhaul the rules has quietly taken shape over months of debate among administration officials and awaits Mr. Trump’s expected signature. Despite the preservation of the protections for civilians, the other changes seemed likely to draw criticism from human rights groups.

“Near certainty” contrasted with actual reporting:

A new report by Human Rights Watch says the U.S. military killed at least 84 civilians in Syria in March, when it bombed a school and a marketplace in two towns outside Raqqa. On March 20, U.S. airstrikes hit a school where displaced people were taking shelter in the village of Mansoura. Two days later, U.S. airstrikes hit a crowded market and bakery in the city of Tabqa. Local residents told Human Rights Watch the death toll from the two attacks is likely far higher than 84 civilians, because bodies were still buried underneath the rubble.