Saturday, January 13, 2018

From Roger Fitch and our friends down under at Justinian

Trump's kleptocracy

Michael Wolff's book has deflected attention from Republicans' perverted tax law ... Roger Fitch in Washington takes us back to the main game - the destruction of the social safety net by diverting squillions to large corporations and real estate investors ... US remains in violation of the Convention Against Torture ... Gitmo - still looking for a war to fit the war crimes ... Trump: how will it all end? 
AMERICA'S large middle class - said to be the first - could be doomed by an oligarchic takeover of the Republican Party.
Oligarchy - and Social Darwinism - could be behind the Republicans' misleadingly-named Tax Cuts and Jobs Actpossibly the biggest tax increase in US history, directed almost exclusively at the poor and middle classes, whose temporary tax cuts are like teaser introductory rates offered on new credit cards.
As the Atlantic predicted, the legislation ...
"shower[s] enormous benefits on households at the top of the economic ladder ... Then it hands the bill for those benefits largely to younger generations, who will pay through more federal debt; less spending on programs that could benefit them; and, eventually, higher taxes."
The Times has the figures.
Republicans want to relieve the rich of burdensome civic responsibilities - taxes - while abolishing social support for the poor, such as it is.  At the same time, their legislation will bring long-term damage to the Democrat Party, with "tax reform" targeting "blue" states like California and NY. 
More here on legislation that does provide benefits for people without work - if they're already well-off.
As befits legislation passed under America's first property-developer president, the Act offers special treatment for real estate income - a late addition reportedly worth as much as $1.1 million to a wavering Republican senator, more here. Other members of congress also profit, and surprising "real estate investment trust" beneficiaries are emerging.  
"Corruption" and "kleptocracy" barely describe the legislation: Trump himself could gain as much as $15 million a year (or even more). 
An official, negative report on the supposed economic benefits of the tax plan was ignored by the Republicans who commissioned it. Most economists, including Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, opposed it, and Thomas Piketty warned of turbocharged inequality in the US. More here.
The ultimate goal seems to be cutting benefits on contrived grounds of financial exigency; it's Republican Party policy. Neal Gabler has more on the Republicans' long game to destroy the social safety net in America through plundering money needed to provide it. 
Trump and Republicans celebrate their windfall
The NY Times posed the question du jour: why do Republicans always support the measures most disliked by voters - and still get elected. 
The final proposal fixed some problems but included hundreds of billions given away in foregone tax collections on at least $2.6 trillion in profits squirreled away overseas in tax havens.  
The Act rewards America's largest corporations for gaming the tax system for years until a Congress could be arranged that would give them bargain repatriation rates of eight percent, and 15.5 percent, respectively, on foreign profits invested in hard and liquid assets; the corporate rate during the years of hoarding was 35 percent. 
It's a windfall for US companies hiding money overseas. They get to repatriate profits at fire sale rates, but historically, tax amnesties have gone towards share buy-backs, executive pay and boosted dividends, not employment or investment.  
A new report prepared for Senator Bernie Sanders shows that $236 billion of the taxes foregone in the repatriation of overseas funds would go to just 15 American corporations, who accepted $3.9 trillion of corporate welfare over the last 30 years in the form of government subsidies, tax credits, and bailouts.  
The actual total cost to the Treasury in lost revenue over ten years could amount to $2.2 trillion.  
*   *   *
A UN special rapporteur on torture recently found that, even now, Guantánamo is a nonconforming site, while the US remains in violation of the Convention Against Torturebecause of its policy of impunity for historic violations, e.g. the CIA's ghastly Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program.
Extrajudicial "renditions" are still with us, and Mr Trump is reportedly considering outsourcing overseas snatches to mercenaries, not unlike the corporate kidnappers who assisted George Bush's "national security" abductions.
The Bush bail-ups have recently been the subject of a Commission of Inquiry in North Carolina, and law profs from the University of North Carolina and Duke Universityparticipated in hearings on the role of a local CIA front company in the agency's torture program.  
Testimony was duly taken, but nothing seems likely to embarrass or shame Aero Contractors Ltd, an NC-based aviation firm that still harbours one of its "torture taxis" in a North Carolina hangar subsidised with public funds. 
A report will be forthcoming.
*   *   *
Flying high at Gitmo's Camp Justice
National Public Radio has gone to Gitmo to cover the "9/11" trial, while it still can: Republicans hope to abolish the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
In the 9/11 case, the military commission is still trying to decide when the war purporting to provide  jurisdiction for the "war crimes" prosecutions actually began. The Pentagon claims its so-called war with al-Qaeda began in the 1990s, based on a unilateral bin Laden fatwa; in fact, only states can declare wars.
In a new military commission, the Pentagon has brought "war crimes" charges against the "Bali bomber" Riduan Isamuddin, with "overt acts" of conspiracy alleged to have begun even earlier, "in the mid-1980s".  
Such arguments previously proved efficacious with chief judge James Pohl in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the severely-tortured man charged with "war crimes" that are unconnected to any war.  
Backdated wars are logically consistent with "retroactive re-characterization" , one of the feints the US tried in its failed attempt to convert civilian "material support for terrorism" into a war crime. It also fits in with the Pentagon's opportunistic re-designation of Guantánamo artworks as government property.
Other new 9/11 commission developments include the production of the document the CIA gave to FBI agents who conducted so-called "clean team" interrogations, more here. The memo was produced after motions by Mustafa al Hawsawi, whose (shudder) "rectal rehydration" by CIA medicos resulted in permanent injuries requiring surgery.
Meanwhile, Just Security has reviewed the case that broke the commissions: Nashiri's.  
*   *   *
Like Caligula, Trump may become a god
Donald Trump: it's hard to disagree with North Korea, where he's regarded as an "old lunatic, mean trickster and human reject".  
In the opinion of America's largest-selling newspaper, USA Today, he's "not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library".  
As the Times' Roger Cohen writes
"you feel the need to wash the ambient crassness and vulgarity from your skin, for they seep into you whatever protection you may wear, and you are aghast at how the GOP has morphed into palace courtiers outdoing each other in praise of their plutocratic reality-show prince."
How will it all end? Cornell law prof and legal writer Michael Dorf found rich pickings in Trumpian hypotheses for his first year Con Law exam; it's highly amusing. 

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