Disparities Plus Uncaring GOP Open Door for Socialism

The growing support for socialistic programs within the Democratic Party has many traditionalists worried. They should be.

Data shows wealth accumulating ever more rapidly among the top one percent and growing ever more slowly among the bottom ninety percent. From 1946 to 1980 middle-income Americans saw greater income growth than rich ones. Since 1980, income growth for the bottom ninety percent slowed to less than one percent a year, while for the top one percent it skyrocketed. (Piketty/Saez/Zucman 2017)

A story in Barron’s last year said that the three richest Americans (at the time) – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett – together had more wealth than the 160 million poorest Americans, or half the U.S. population.

The story went on to cite Torsten Slok, the chief international economist at Deutsche Bank, who said that unchecked, rising income and wealth inequality “could cause social and political unrest.”

Indeed, history shows time and again that when the rich and powerful become too rich and powerful, the people revolt. In America, revolts usually occur at the ballot box.

Policies enacted by the Trump administration are accelerating income and wealth disparities. As tax cuts make the rich richer, cuts in social programs make the poor poorer. Despite low unemployment and a booming stock market, wages for the middle class and working poor have not moved. They have actually declined when inflation is taken into account.

The disruption, discord, and disdain emanating from the White House only cause more unrest. Perhaps as soon as this November, the risks of political upheaval may be realized.

The likely beneficiary of such upheaval is the Democratic Party. If they score heavily in upcoming elections, the move toward socialistic practices that traditionalists fear will occur.

Ironic isn’t it. The uncaring, bombastic anti-social agenda pushed by Trump and his Republican congressional allies may be the very thing that tips the balance and puts Democrats back in power.

You can get a sense of the shifting tides even here in Mississippi. How is it in this oh so Republican state that Democratic senate candidate Mike Espey and potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood are given decent odds to win?

It’s too bad that the common sense politics of conservative Republican governors is out of favor with the base. The spectrum of gubernatorial leadership from Mike Pence in Indiana to John Kasich in Ohio shows how conservative leadership can work for all the people, not just the rich and powerful.

“It’s not just the people at the top who ought to benefit in any society, it ought to be people throughout society,” outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich said last week. “And that doesn’t mean you play Robin Hood and take from the rich and give to the poor. But it means you give everybody an opportunity to be able to do well.”

Both governors were pro-business and cut taxes. But both also paid attention to the needs of their constituents. They even expanded their Medicaid programs modifying the programs to address what they perceived to be their state’s unique needs.

Republicans not providing ways for the poor, working poor, and middle class to do better while catering to the rich and powerful, opens the door to socialistic Democrats.

 

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Nothing Uncertain about War Risks for Mississippi Troops

The stock market is in a secular bull market and has years to run, says one respected analyst. A major trading firm, on the other hand, warns the end of the bull run is near.

A recession looms says a Bloomberg.com headline. FED Chairman Jerome Powell says the economy is likely to continue booming for at least another three years.

CNBC says trade conflicts and tariffs won’t hurt the economy. The White House Council of Economic Advisors warns tariffs will hurt economic growth.

Whether it’s the trade war with China, potential peace with North Korea, détente with Russia, or peace in the Middle East, the arguments fly on both sides by respectable forecasters.

It seems the only thing certain these days is uncertainty.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle sort of explains this in physics. It says that we cannot know things precisely; the best we can do is calculate probabilities.

So, while uncertain, there is a high probability rising interest rates coupled with growing budget deficits and the surging national debt will impact the economy.

While uncertain, there is a high probability that if Democrats take over the House the President will double down on his negative tweets.

And while uncertain, there is a significant probability that the Strait of Hormuz will become the flashpoint that puts the U.S. at war with Iran and maybe Russia.

Huh?

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran are once again flaring in the Strait of Hormuz, the 21 mile wide strait between Oman and Iran through which about one-third of international oil shipments pass.

Last week a top Iranian admiral said Iran has taken over control of the Strait. Not so, responded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But Iran’s anger at the U.S. has led to conflict there in the past.

In 2012 Iran threatened to close the Strait, which led to diplomatic talks that resulted in the nuclear agreement President Trump has now trashed. There were military clashes in the Strait between the U.S. and Iran from 1980 to 1988, as Iran mined the waters to threaten shipping. This ended with a military defeat for Iran in 1988 when the U.S. decimated several Iranian warships and suffered no losses.

A retired Navy air ops commander remembers war-gaming the closure of the Strait numerous times. “When the Blue (us) forces attacked the Orange (Iran) naval assets, it always ended up involving, in those days, the USSR. A lot has changed since I was a sailor, but it is an open secret that Iran’s major patron in the world community is Russia. So far, this has played out in a seemingly controllable theatre in Syria, although half a million casualties there would not likely agree that their war is ‘controllable.’ An escalation of tensions in the Strait that results in shooting would, in my humble opinion, be disastrous.”

He is uncertain that cooler heads like Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis could keep Trump from jumping into an unnecessary war with Iran to divert attention from issues at home.

Remember that Mississippi National Guard and Air National Guard troops deploy regularly to support our military activities in today’s “controllable” theatres. Unnecessary shooting wars of any duration will increase their risks. Nothing uncertain about that.

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Smart Tax Policy Seems Unlikely for Road and Bridge Fix

Will our reluctant legislators finally get off their duffs and do something to fix roads and bridges across Mississippi?

Gov. Phil Bryant called Friday for a special session on August 23rd to deal with the issue.  House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves still have not found common ground on the issue, formerly a prerequisite Bryant had for the session. Heaven forbid that all those other legislators would do something without Gunn’s and Reeves’ permission.

A recent report from the conservative Tax Foundation stated, “Currently, 28% of Mississippi roads are in poor condition, and 12% of bridges are deemed as structurally deficient. An estimated $400 million a year in additional revenue is needed to compensate for these inadequacies.” Bryant closed 83 unsafe bridges in April.

The Tax Foundation says “smart tax policy” includes having the “lion’s share of transportation funding” come from user fees and user taxes. Mississippi fuel taxes and user fees covered 36% of local and state spending on roads and bridges in 2014, putting the state in the bottom quartile nationally.

Gunn seems to agree with the foundation and has recommended options to increase fuel taxes. His latest offer was to swap an increase in fuel taxes for a decrease in income taxes.

Reeves, along with Bryant, wants no fuel tax increases.

“While raising a gas tax is often unpopular, aligning user fees, like a gas tax, with the associated spending projects, like road construction, is a sound financing approach for states,” says the Tax Foundation.

This has been the conservative approach to financing necessary government services for years.

So what course, if any, will our legislators’ choose?

Gunn’s proposal is a watered down version of a tax swap proposed earlier by Rep. Charles Busby of Pascagoula. Busby proposed eliminating the 4% tax bracket on personal and corporate income and phasing-in higher fuel taxes – three cents a gallon per year for four years on gas and five years on diesel. Gunn proposed two cents a gallon for four years for both. Both proposals would index fuel taxes to inflation.

The Tax Foundation thought well of Busby’s plan, which aligns with its “smart” tax policies, saying, “The swap would allow Mississippi to transition from taxes on income to taxes on consumption and final users, reducing burdens on investment and aligning the government services taxpayers benefit from to the taxes used for their expenses.”

The Speaker may have backed off Busby’s plan because it would reduce income tax collections about $165 million while increasing fuel taxes about $302 million. Given that Mississippians pay all of the income taxes but a significant percentage of fuel taxes are paid by out-of-state travelers and truckers, these amounts look about right. Gunn’s watered-down proposal makes the amounts about even.

News reports say the tax swap looks DOA. That leaves a new state lottery, Internet sales taxes, state bonds, and such as possible sources of revenue.

These options, according to the Tax Foundation’s perspective, would not be smart. Of course, doing the smart thing is seldom our Legislature’s way.

Meanwhile, as legislators have piddled and puckered on this issue, local governments have started raising property taxes to fix closed bridges.

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GOP Leaders Call Democrats Dangerous Enemy

Mississippi Democrats are a scary, dangerous enemy.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves set the stage in Neshoba County Fair speeches. Gunn focused his speech on stern warnings about Democrats, according to a Y’all Politics report. Reeves claimed he had been “under attack from Democrats and their liberal allies in the media,” reported the Meridian Star.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel delivered the punch line when he said the Democratic Party has become an “enemy” and “dangerous” to the country, as reported by the Clarion-Ledger.

Chuck, Nancy and Bernie may be a little scary, but calling our neighbors and friends who happen to be Democrats enemies? Come on. ISIS, the Taliban, Iran, North Korea, and such are enemies, not Mississippi Democrats.

McDaniel used the anti-Democrat set-up to whack Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, his Republican opponent in the special election to fill Thad Cochran’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

“She’s a Democrat,” he proclaimed proudly.

Interesting.

While McDaniel was clobbering Hyde-Smith because she was a Democrat turned Republican, he was also praising Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Uh, both were Democrats turned Republican too.

Hyde-Smith was a conservative Democratic state senator from Brookhaven. Eight years ago she switched to the Republican Party and has twice won election as Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, a position she held until Gov. Phil Bryant chose her to fill Cochran’s seat until the special election.

Reagan and Trump were not-so-conservative Democrats who became Republicans and won the presidency. Reagan was a union leader and Democrat for years until he switched to the Republican Party in 1962. From 2001 to 2009, Donald Trump was a Democrat and supported New York Democrats among others.

While Gunn and Reeves warned voters about Democrats, both have sought out numerous Democratic legislators and recruited them to switch parties. Those former Democrats give Gunn and Reeves the Republican super majorities they now use to control the Legislature.

So, let’s see. Democrats are the scary enemy except when they can be recruited to become Republicans. But even after they switch, it’s okay to castigate them for being former Democrats.

Makes a lot of sense, huh?

Voters might be better served if our political leaders focused on the policy differences between Mississippi Democrats and Mississippi Republicans rather using dangerous enemy rhetoric to stir emotions.

But it seems that reasoned debate and common sense are just not in the works.

No doubt because I occasionally make small contributions to Republican candidates, I received a fundraising package from a group called Judicial Watch. It included a special report entitled “Exposing the Deep State Threat to America.” Turns out the heart of the Deep State conspiracy beats deep within the FBI. This is right up there with other enlightening conspiracy sources like QAnon and Infowars.

“Knock it off!” said Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich last week after a Republican nearly lost a special election in a heavily Republican district. He sees deceit and discord driving voters away from the party.

But, as long as enough Republicans respond to ludicrous propaganda, weak GOP candidates will make up conspiracies and enemies ad infinitum to stir up the base and enhance their election chances.

That there are equivalent Democratic propagandists is no saving grace.

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Perhaps We Don’t Care What the Truth Is?

Do Americans want to be deceived?

In 2012 Marquette University ethics professor emeritus Dr. Daniel McGuire penned an amazingly contemporary piece entitled “The Loneliness of the Truth Teller” for the Huffington Post.

He wrote there is a “striking conviction of the Jewish and Christian biblical writers that people perversely seem to want to be deceived. The third century Christian Tertullian said that ‘the truth appears to be instinctively hated.’ The prophet Hosea lamented ‘there is no truth … in the land!’ Jeremiah offered a dare: ‘Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem and see for yourselves; search her wide squares; can you find anyone who seeks the truth?’ Our leaders speak ‘lies,’ said Jeremiah and the ‘people love to have it so.’ Isaiah moaned that people ‘prefer smooth words and seductive visions.’ As a result: ‘Truth stumbles in the market-place and honesty is kept out of court, so truth is lost to sight.’”

McGuire concluded the biblical and classical authors who said all this discerned “that people don’t mind deception and folks in power are more than happy to accommodate them.”

Has that ever been more true than today?

Whether our powerful president’s lies or our powerful news media’s fake news, the “truth is lost to sight.”

The truth is lost to sight so easily for two reasons. First, as Dr. McGuire says, because our sorry human nature loves to have it so. But also because it is buried beneath the piles of blogs, tweets, posts, pronouncements, and news casts that distort everything to fit their own agendas. Yes, we still have truth tellers, but you can’t find them beneath the piles of verbal manure.

Former CBS host Bob Schieffer, author of “Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News,” said, “We can’t knock down every lie as it comes out, there’s just too much.”

Closer to home, consider the story about the $2 million now-suspended frontage road project near Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ gated community.

MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath said the only reason the frontage road was to be built was due to political pressure from Reeves’ office. Reeves said he, personally, provided no such pressure and challenged McGrath to substantiate her claim. MDOT Commissioner Dick Hall said he made the decision to build the road for safety reasons but suspended the project after the safety reasons were questioned. McGrath, in a letter to Reeves, stood by her assertion that MDOT officials believe Reeves’ office exerted “political authority.” Likely Reeves opponent for governor next year, Attorney General Jim Hood said he has a duty to investigate.

Perhaps we don’t care who the truth tellers are here.

How about House Speaker Philip Gunn’s moral opposition to gambling vis-à-vis a state lottery. Gunn is a Baptist deacon who “has always been opposed to gambling” his spokesperson has said. But, fantasy sports gambling passed the House on his watch last year. And, guess what, it had a sneaky provision hidden within that legalized sports betting at casinos should the U.S. Supreme Court allow it. Sports betting at casinos kicked off last week.

Perhaps we don’t care about this either.

And that is Dr. McGuire’s point, we don’t care about deception, especially from those in power. Woe is us!

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Mississippi GOP Candidates Quiet on Trump Tariffs and Bailout

By Bill Crawford

Agriculture is a huge part of Mississippi’s economy and soybeans are a major export.

The tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump, particularly on China, have resulted in retaliatory tariffs impacting U.S. exports, including soybeans.

“Tariffs are the greatest,” Trump recently tweeted. But when farmers and farm state politicians started complaining, Trump suddenly came up with a scheme to provide a temporary $12 billion bailout for farmers hurt by his tariff policies.

Mississippi exported $109.7 million in soybeans in 2017 – all to China, according to information from USDA as reported by Mississippi Today. As a result of China’s retaliatory tariffs, soybean prices recently hit a nine-year low, costing farmers hundreds of dollars per acre. Now, Mississippi soybean farmers hurt by Trump’s policies can get one-time payments from Trump’s bailout to offset these losses.

The bailout is not as popular as the President hoped.

“Lawmakers of both parties called it welfare, a bailout and other derogatory terms,” read a USA Today editorial. “Eighteen months into office, Trump has turned productive farmers into supplicants, pushed government deep into the business of picking winners and losers, and shamelessly politicized the process of spending taxpayer money.”

“This is becoming more and more like a Soviet-type of economy here: Commissars deciding who’s going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they’re going to sprinkle around benefits,” Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson told Politco.com. “I’m very exasperated. This is serious.”

Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse called the scheme a bailout “with gold crutches.” Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker called it “welfare” and “incoherent.” Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican said, “ this doesn’t solve any of the problems agriculture’s got right now.”

There wasn’t a lot of positive hoopla from soybean farmers either.

“While soybean growers appreciate the Administration’s recognition that tariffs have caused reduced exports and lower prices, the announced plan provides only short-term assistance,” the American Soybean Association said in a statement. “ASA continues to call for a longer-term strategy to alleviate mounting soybean surpluses and continued low prices, including a plan to remove the harmful tariffs.”

Farmers and others fear this is just temporary relief to get past the November elections.

“On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, administration officials said they expect the infusion of money to be a one-time shot that will not extend into next year,” an NBC News analysis reported. “Read another way, that means $12 billion for farmers in an election year — and nothing once they’ve voted.”

Republican debt hawks have another problem. Much of the $12 billion bailout will be borrowed from the U.S. Treasury using emergency powers Congress granted to the Commodity Credit Corp.

The total national debt, which he promised to eliminate in eight years, topped $21 trillion in March and is soaring upward under Trump. The Congressional Budget Office now projects annual deficits will exceed WWII levels relative to GDP.

No Mississippi Republican politician running for election this November was among those criticizing Trump’s tariffs or the bailout. Instead, they are all-in for Trump. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that is not congruent with being all-in for Mississippi.

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Mississippi Morality Yielding to Anger and Hatred?

“Hatred is blind and anger deaf” wrote Alexandre Dumas in his classic “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

In February, WalletHub.com ranked Mississippi as the 5th angriest and most hateful state behind Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Alaska. And the Clarion-Ledger reported “Mississippi has the third most hate groups in the country” per capita behind Idaho and Tennessee.

This comes amidst reports of increases in hate and hate crimes across America.

“Hate in America is on the rise” headlined a Washington Post editorial last November. “A new FBI report on hate crimes tells a sobering story. For the second year in a row, police departments across the country reported a rise in the number of crimes motivated by bias.”

Former President George W. Bush slammed Russia for using cyberattacks during the 2016 elections to turn “Americans against each other” and “exploit our country’s divisions,” reported NBC News last October.

“Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” Bush said. “We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.”

Others see President Donald Trump exhorting divisions.

In February Newsweek reported, “A Republican chairman in Michigan denounced the Trump administration and resigned from his position as a local party leader – citing President Donald Trump’s contribution to ‘more racism in our streets’ and ‘more hatred between family members’ as the final straw.”

“I can no longer remain silent,” said Brandon DeFrain, former chairman of the Bay County Republican Party.

“We are playing with fire when we use hatred in our midst as a partisan strategy to score points,” former Democratic NY Congressman Steve Israel told TheHill.com. “We are not each other’s enemies. The haters are enemies of us all. When we debase bigotry into an exercise of Republicans versus Democrats, we make it just another political issue that numbs the minds of too many people.”

In his passionate announcement that he would not seek re-election last October, Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said, “I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our — all of our — complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs.”

“Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy,” Flake said. “We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake.”

Ironically, a 2017 Gallup survey ranked Mississippi as the most religious state in America, followed by Alabama, Utah, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

How is it that a state that reveres the Bible can have so many hearts infested with the bitter roots of hatred and anger?

A growing number of distinguished Mississippians say we’ve allowed the politics of hate and anger spewing forth from media, tweets, and politicians to blind us to Scripture and deafen us to moral teachings.

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