Who Does Trump’s Tax Plan Benefit?

 

Who does the Republican tax proposal aim to benefit ?  Let’s examine its intentions, then look at an approach that extends some of its features and is progressive.

Clear intent:  Give more to the heirs of the very wealthy, e.g., President Trump.  The estate tax is eliminated entirely in six years, which greatly benefits the wealthiest 0.2% of the population.

Clear intent:  Continue to take less from wealthy hedge fund managers and private equity executives who will continue to be taxed at capital gains rates that are about half the ordinary income tax rate on profits they pay themselves via the carried interest loophole.

Clear intent:  Give more to the owners of partnerships, S corporations, and sole proprietorships, which are overwhelmingly owned by rich individuals like President Trump.  Income from them that is returned to the companies’ owners is now taxed at the same rates as wages and salaries but it would be taxed at a new 25% rate.   The Tax Policy Center (TPC) finds that the top 1% would receive 88% of the benefit with the 400 households with the highest incomes getting an average annual tax cut of $3.7 million.

Clear intent:  Give all those with high incomes more by eliminating the alternative minimum tax and raising the threshold for the 39.6% top rate on income (which was 70% in 1980) to $1 million for couples, up from $470,700 today.

Clear expectation with unclear intent:  Add at least $1.5 trillion to the federal debt over a decade (many economists think it will be more) by cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% without raising other taxes.  The cost of this debt will grow as interest rates rise so the intent could be to “starve the federal government of revenues, setting the stage for a frontal attack on core social programs such as Social Security and Medicare.”

Unclear intent:  The corporate tax rate is cut from 35% to 20%, which will save US corporations $2 trillion over the next ten years.  The great majority of economists believe shareholders would be the primary beneficiaries but Republicans say employee salaries would rise.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin claims: “many, many economic studies show that more than 70% of the burden of corporate taxes are passed on to the workers.”  Congress’s non-partisan scorekeepers — the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation — as well as Treasury’s Office of Tax Analysis have all assessed the empirical research as showing that only about a quarter or less of corporate taxes fall on workers, meaning that they would receive a quarter or less of the benefit of corporate tax cuts.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that over a third of the benefit would go to the top 1% and 70% to the top fifth.  By 2027, low- and moderate-income families with children would receive little or no tax cuts, and many would see tax increases while 80% of benefits would go to the top 1% of households and after-tax incomes of the bottom 80% would rise by less than half of one percent.

Unclear expectation:  The effect on middle and lower income families.  The plan roughly doubles the standard tax deduction but it repeals or reduces current tax deductions that chiefly benefit workers and middle-class people, including mortgage interest, state and local taxes, student loans, medical expenses, moving costs, and tax credits for retired and disabled people.

  • The standard deduction will be raised to $24,000 for couples and $12,000 for individuals but the $4,050 personal exemption  is eliminated
  • The mortgage interest deduction is unchanged for current homeowners, but is capped at $500,000, down from $1 million, for all future mortgages.
  • The deduction for state and local income/sales taxes would be eliminated.
  • The deduction for state and local property taxes would be capped at $10,000.

The Tax Policy Center (TPC) analyzed the change in after-tax income for the poor, middle class and rich and found the middle class would get a 1.2% boost to their after-tax income and the bottom 40% would get almost no benefit.  Their taxes would actually increase $10 to $20, on average, by 2027.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities assessed the intent of the plan in its original form when the top tax rate would have been 35%.  They estimated the overall results of that plan would be:

  • The top 1 percent, who make above $733,000 annually, would see average tax cuts of $90,000 in 2018, increasing their after-tax incomes by 5.9%.  They would receive about 45 percent of the total net tax cut.
  • The top one-tenth of 1 percent, who make over $3.4 million, would receive average tax cuts of $507,000 in 2018, raising their after-tax incomes by 7.2%.
  • This average increase in after-tax income for those in the middle fifth of the income spectrum would be 1.2%.
  • The bottom fifth would gain less than 0.5%.
  • People with annual incomes over $1 million would receive average tax cuts of $138,000 in 2018, compared to average tax cuts of $270 for households making below $75,000. Millionaires’ after-tax incomes would rise 6.4 percent in 2018, compared to a 0.9 percent increase for those making less than $75,000.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the results of every detail of the plan but we do not need more detail to confirm that its purpose is to benefit the wealthy.

So let’s move on.  Is there a way to build on some of the Republican ideas to start reversing our society’s dangerously high inequality?

We use tax revenue to pay for services we want from our government.  The “we” who want those services is, to coin a phrase, “we the people” not also “we the legal entities such as corporations” so it would be more straightforward to tax the income and wealth only of people.

We could then focus just on the relative contribution each economic subset of people should contribute to the cost of government services that benefit us all.  We would still have vigorous disputes about relative contributions but we could better understand each others belief about what is fair.

Making that change might also encourage us to pay more attention to how much our government spends on each of its services.

We know what Social Security and Medicare cost us because we pay for those with dedicated taxes.  But most of us do not know that what we spend on our military activities dwarfs every other discretionary service and includes having our troops in 53 out of the 54 nations in Africa.

A better program might look like this:

  • Entirely eliminate taxes on businesses and tax only the income their owners derive from them.  Replace the lost revenue by:
  • Making income tax rates steeply more progressive, perhaps returning to the 1980 70% rate
  • Entirely eliminating preferred subcategories of income such as capital gains, pass-through and carried interest.  We would tax all income above, say, $12,000 per person, from all sources at the same rates.
  • Making the estate tax very steeply progressive on amounts above, say, $5 million (which my grandfather’s generation did to end the stranglehold of Britain’s aristocracy).

Some other things we could consider:  If we wanted to accelerate cutting the influence of our financial oligarchy we could also establish a wealth tax, similar to property tax but applied to all wealth.

We could also build on the Republican idea of cutting tax deductions that benefit some people over others. and entirely eliminate tax preferences, including mortgage interest, state and local taxes, student loans, medical expenses, moving costs, and tax credits for retired and disabled people.

We could raise the minimum wage if we believe the Republican theory that eliminating the tax on businesses would cause wages to rise.  We might raise them to the level where a head of household could support their family as they did before America needed to be made great again.

We could also explore new taxes such as this one and use those revenues to fund maintenance of the transportation and other infrastructure that we all depend on.

Summing up:  The Republican tax proposal contains some good ideas but the way they are structured would greatly benefit the very wealthy and do little or nothing for everyone else.  It would also greatly expand our debt whose cost will be born by us and future generations.

The promises made to sell the plan are spurious.  It can not be supported by anyone who understands it and is not wealthy and selfish.

But we do need a better tax system.  What do you think of the progressive approach above?  Don’t worry if it seems impossible.  If we are clear on what we want, we can figure out how to get there.

We the Easily Bamboozled – Tax Reform

 

We do need to change how we fund our government’s activities and how our economy distributes the wealth it creates.  But the tax plan now being revealed is not what we need.

Our President and Republican leaders keep telling us it is urgently necessary to lower corporate tax rates so companies can stay competitive.  It has become the party line.  As my Republican Senator Toomey’s website says:

“Our country’s current corporate tax rate of 35 percent is one of the highest in the developed world, far higher than the average 25 percent rate of our economic competitors. Without a significant reduction in business tax rates, the U.S. will never be the best place to invest and create jobs … The best economic stimulus for the middle class, who have seen their wages stagnate and tax bills rise over the last decade, is a well-paying job. Tax reform will help deliver on this goal with its focus on lower rates, investment, and growth.”

Really?  The 20 US companies that accounted for 20% of US GDP last year, meaning all our economic activity, paid taxes totaling only 0.6% of GDP and only 3.6% of all federal taxes (Source: Forbes).

Businesses pay taxes on profits not revenues, of course, but my point is that our theoretical corporate tax rate is not making our businesses less competitive or stifling their job creation.   That is not the motive behind this tax plan.

But before we get to that, what would this budget cost?  The fiscally conservative Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates $2.2 trillion in lost revenue over a decade.  The tax cuts would total $5.8 trillion.  New revenues totaling $3.6 trillion resulting from “base broadening” would allegedly reduce the net loss to $2.2 trillion.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told us “The plan will pay for itself with growth”.  But we have seen over and over again, most recently in a multi-year “experiment” in the state of Kansas which its governor trumpeted as a “shot of adrenaline” to the state, that a tax cut plan that will pay for itself is a fantasy.

That fantasy cannot and will not ever come to pass.

So, what motivates this plan?   Who would benefit?  The Tax Policy Center estimates that 80% of the $5.8 trillion in tax cuts would benefit the richest 1 percent.

And who would lose?  55 million Americans would lose their tax deductions on what they save in tax-deferred 401k plans and what they pay in state and local taxes.   They are our middle class.

Those who earn less would be hit harder, losing government services eliminated to pay for the tax cut, which look to include about $1.5 billion in Medicare and Medicaid.

Would anyone other than those with very high incomes benefit from this plan?  Yes — their heirs.

This is a good budget if you want your kids to live under an aristocracy of folks like President Trump whose inheritance installed him among the plutocrats who bought our political establishment.

We do not have the leaders we should want.  Their plan is very far from what we need.

Our President is Too Dangerous

 

What if our President is not only unfit to discharge his duties, but is a grave threat to our future?

I happened to disagree with several important Obama administration policies and I disagree with substantially all those of the Trump administration but, with a crucially important caveat, in a democracy the majority view should win.

The caveat is, we must not greatly harm those who come after us, or those in other parts of the world.  An example of what we must not do is making nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.

Such a war would destroy not only millions of future lives but also millions now.

So, if we consider President Trump likely to do that, we must remove him from office.

Does he in fact seem likely to do that?

President Trump recently announced to the UN that his administration will if necessary “totally destroy” North Korea, he has promised them “fire and fury like the world has never seen“, earlier this week he told reporters we are now in “the calm before the storm”, and he tweeted that his Secretary of State is wasting his time trying to talk with N. Korean leaders.

Now Reuters reports the following tweet by Trump.   

“Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid  …  Hasn’t worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, making fools of U.S. negotiators.  Sorry, but only one thing will work!”

So, yes, he does seem likely to order a military attack on North Korea.  What would be the result?

North Korea would launch missiles carrying nuclear warheads and destroy our base and everyone on Guam.  Perhaps also Japan.  They would certainly destroy Seoul where ten million South Koreans live.

North Korea aims to deter us from attacking them as we did Iraq and other nations, but if attacked, they must respond and that will result in at least 25 million immediate deaths.  How many more depends on how many nuclear weapons North Korea can deploy, and whether we also use them.

What we must face up to is, signalling his intent to attack North Korea means that resident Trump is dangerously unfit to remain in office.

This is not an matter of differing policy ideas or even of how much we value our own lives versus those of our children’s children.  This is a matter of survival.

How can Trump be removed from office??  By invoking the 25th Amendment, which was established in 1965.

Such an amendment was needed half a century earlier when the massive stroke President Wilson suffered in 1919 left him unable, and unaware of it, to continue as President.  Although his incapacity could not be hidden from those close to him, it was hidden from the public.  He remained in office until his second term ended in 1921 so we were in reality without a President for those two years.

President Roosevelt was in declining health from at least 1940 and tests in early 1944 revealed serious problems that forced him to rest for more than two hours a day.  Press reports about his heath were quashed so the public was unaware and voted him in for a third term.  Although still clear mentally, he died in March 1945, two months into his fourth term of office, after a massive stroke.

President Eisenhower served us better after suffering a heart attack in 1955 and requiring emergency surgery the following year.  He established a written agreement for Vice President Nixon to act on his behalf if and when he was unable to do so.

A Constitutional Amendment that would have given Congress the ability to declare a President unable to perform his duties was proposed in 1960.  After concerns about possible abuse of that authority were resolved, the 25th Amendment was passed by both Houses in 1965.

Presidents Reagan in 1985 and G.W. Bush in 2002 and 2007 invoked the Amendment when they underwent colonoscopies.

But this situation is different.  It would be Congress not President Trump invoking the Amendment.  How would that work?  The Amendment reads:

“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

Presumably President Trump would declare that he suffers no such disability.   He could then resume office unless a  two-thirds vote of both Houses declared him unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

We are in new territory.  The 25th Amendment was established in case the President becomes incapacitated as Wilson did or others have temporarily.  We have never before had to judge the state of a President’s mental capacity.

Because President Trump seems certain to behave in increasingly bizarre ways, it seems inevitable that enough members of Congress will at some point agree he must be replaced.

But what if he orders nuclear war before then?

It’s possible to imagine Secretary of Defense Mattis saying: “Sorry, sir, that would be wrong.  I must respectfully refuse to carry out that order”.  In that case, Trump would promptly replace him with a sycophant who would go ahead.  So…

I am very far from eager for President Pence but the risk and its consequences are too great  We must replace President Trump now.

An Angry Reply to Tom Perez

 

Here’s the reply I just sent to Tom Perez,  Chairman of the Democratic National Committee at  democraticparty@democrats.org:

Tom –

You just made me very angry.  What you wrote is deceptive.

Senate Republicans did not just vote to repeal our health care.  They voted to debate repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Yes, Congressional and Senate Republicans are trying everything they can to repeal the ACA and yes, they may yet succeed.

But hysteria makes it LESS likely that we can continue to block their cruel program.

Stop using every excuse just to seek donations.

Commit yourself and the Party to a health care system enough of us will vote for.

We will keep losing elections if you keep up this nonsense and I will continue NOT donating to our Party.

Sincerely

— Martin

And here is his email that got me riled up:

Senate Republicans just voted to repeal our health care — so we’re going to vote them out of office. Help us raise $100,000 to elect Democrats today, and get your donation matched.

Martin, the nightmare just became real: Senate Republicans voted to move forward with health care repeal. It’s only a matter of time before a repeal bill lands on Donald Trump’s desk and he eagerly signs it into law.

I’m devastated. Millions of Americans will lose their coverage, millions more will face skyrocketing premiums that put the care they need out of reach, babies born with chronic illnesses could hit lifetime caps on coverage before their first birthday — this is not who we are.

So here’s what we have to do now, Martin: pick ourselves up and get back to work so we can kick every single Republican who votes to take our health care away out of office.

We want to raise $100,000 before the end of the day to start laying the groundwork to win back the House and Senate, and a group of generous Democrats has offered to match it dollar-for-dollar. Chip in $3 or more right now to help us get there and get your donation matched.

Tom

Tom Perez
Chair
Democratic National Committee

The Democratic Party will almost certainly remain ineffective while Tom Perez and others who just want donations are in office.   We must do all we can to motivate them to change while simultaneously working to replace them when they ignore us.

To Senator Schumer

 

Here’s my reply to the email I got this morning from info@chuckschumer.com:

Dear Senator Schumer –

I do hope this will be helpful.

In the middle of your email, you write:  “But resistance alone is not a recipe for progress. We also need a plan to improve the lives of the American people.”

That was exciting to see.  I couldn’t agree more.  So I clicked on the link to learn about your plan.

What did I find there?  No plan.  Nothing about what you will do.  Just another appeal for money.

I’ve said it before and I fervently hope I don’t keep having to say it.  I will only donate again when the Democratic Party commits to real changes and begins to market them well.

We aspire to be a society that prioritizes human flourishing over profit for a tiny minority.

Achieving that requires a theme with a long term program – the equivalent of tax cuts for Republicans.
It requires coordinated marketing to build unstoppable demand and mitigate cultural concerns that now divide us.

Any elected Democratic Party politician who is not committed to that program must be replaced.

Sincerely

And here’s the email from Senator Schumer:

Dear Martin,

It has been six whole months since President Trump took office. Six whole months of hearing the Trump administration claim they would “drain the swamp,” but instead continued the same old Republican agenda where government works for billionaires instead of the rest of us.

Yet, thanks to the activism and acts of resistance of this movement, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress do not have one major victory on the books. Not a single one. But resistance alone is not a recipe for progress. We also need a plan to improve the lives of the American people.

The truth is Americans deserve higher wages and better jobs, lower costs of living, and a better future to look forward to. President Trump and his corporate cronies promised voters all this and more — but instead he gave Americans a raw deal. Everyday Americans deserve a better deal.

Today, I’m joined by leaders from the House and the Senate in announcing the Democrats’ bold economic plan that works for the middle class. Government should have your back, working for you and the millions of hard-working Americans who make this country what it is. If you believe that Americans deserve a better deal like I do, check out our new site to learn about our plan and add your support.

We have given President Trump and Republicans a chance to lead. We have given them every opportunity to come to the table and work with us to get things done for the American people. They have not done their jobs, and they must be held accountable. It’s time for Americans to demand a better deal.

Thanks for joining me,

Chuck Schumer

Senator Schumer sounds as if he has at last realized a plan is necessary, he even says he has one, but then all he offers is an appeal for money.   Please join me in demanding change.

To the Chairman of the DNC

 

Here’s my reply to Tom Perez, Chairman of the Democratic Party, at democraticparty@democrats to help me remember what I wrote, and in the hope that you’ll join me:

I hope this helps, Tom.

What do you mean when you write: “all of us who believe that health care is a right for all Americans”?  The ACA does not provide that.

You write: “Republicans are determined to take away health care from millions” and ask me to give you money to: “throw them out of office.”  The Republican proposals are appalling, but…

What health care system is the DNC committed to instead?

Democrats keep losing elections because many voters want to throw US out of office and others don’t care enough to vote to keep us IN office.  Why?  They don’t know what we stand for.

Every other advanced economy provides universal health care and spends far less than we do.  Decent people can disagree about whether or not health care is a human right but there is no denying that every way other nations provide universal health care costs less than ours.

Is that what you want me to donate for?

Sincerely

— Martin

Here’s what I replied to:

Martin —

Tonight, because of millions of grassroots Democrats like you who banded together and fought against it, Republicans’ attempt to take health care away from millions of Americans failed again.

While this is a victory for basic human decency, for the families who rely on the Affordable Care Act, and for all of us who believe that health care is a right for all Americans, the fight is far from over.

Republicans are determined to take away health care from millions. We saw it when Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Senate Republicans worked in secret, behind closed doors, to write a bill that would have given massive tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, paid for by cutting working families off from the care they need.

They ignored the overwhelming opposition of their constituents — and now we’re going to make sure their constituents throw them out of office.

Help build the foundation to take on these Republicans in every state, elect Democrats who will protect every American’s access to health care, and take back our majorities in Congress. Chip in $3 or more tonight.

Thank you, sincerely, for everything you’ve done to stop health care repeal. Onward as we continue to fight for the values we believe in.

Tom

Tom Perez
Chair
Democratic National Committee

To the CEO of the DNC

 

To remember what I replied to Jess O’Connell at democraticparty@democrats.org, and hoping you’ll join me, here’s my reply:

What would you do with the money if I gave it, Jess?

I have stopped donating until the DNC commits itself to and campaigns compellingly FOR legislation that benefits not mega-donors but we the people.

Sincerely

— Martin

To the following appeal:

Martin —

You marched, you called, you protested, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you made sure Republicans knew that if they voted for the GOP’s health care bill, we’d vote them out of office. And it worked. Mitch McConnell couldn’t get the votes for his truly dangerous bill.

So pat yourself on the back — and then get ready to get right back in the fight, because Republicans are making their next move.

McConnell just set a date for the next health care vote on Tuesday. And the repeal bill they’ll be voting on is no different from the last version! It would still cause 22 million Americans to lose the health coverage they rely on.

Clearly, Republicans are grasping at straws. But they want to score political points with their far-right base by saying they voted to repeal Obamacare, even if it comes at the expense of millions of American lives.

I need you to pitch in $10 or whatever you can now to help Democrats fight back against the GOP’s health care repeal. They won’t give up, so neither can we.

We’re the last line of defense. Thanks for stepping up.

Jess

Jess O’Connell
Chief Executive Officer
Democratic National Committee

Reversing our Government’s Direction

I just sent this to Democratic Party leaders.  Please join me in telling our leading politicians if you also recognize that our government is heading fast in the wrong direction.

I hope this will be helpful.

I have stopped responding to appeals for uncoordinated advertising and campaigns like Jon Ossoff’s whose only rationale was anti-Trump.

We must not just thwart today’s cruel proposals by President Trump and Republicans.  We must recognize and respond to why we keep being defeated at every level of government.

We say Trump’s victory came from poor, white working-class voters.  That’s false.  Three-quarters of Trump voters were from households earning more than the national median income.

What was most important for the relatively small number of Trump voters was not economic dissatisfaction but social issues  Exit poll data show it was his words about race, gender and immigration that were the main factor with his mostly middle-class supporters.

What is much more important is Trump won mostly because so many in the working class did not to vote at all.  The Clinton campaign wrote them off as racist, nativist, misogynistic “deplorables”.

We must change that mindset.  We must focus on what motivates those who did not vote.

We’ve been ignoring the situation of the majority of Americans where the top one tenth of the top 1% now has as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and half our population is poor or near poor.

That’s what we must commit ourselves to change.

It may be helpful to understand why we are ignoring the need to change and this article explains it well but the only thing that really matters is to make the change.

We must regain electoral majorities to make a society that is no longer organized to profit a tiny few but one where all can flourish.

We must commit ourselves not just to hope but to a program for what the majority seeks.

Do you agree or disagree?  Please let me know.

— Martin

Human Flourishing or Vast Profit for a Tiny Few

 

Our society has for decades been changing for the sole benefit of a tiny minority.  I want it to change for all of us to flourish and I am now committing myself to help make it so.

We have been pouring money into a political wasteland where the Republican Party is no longer a thoughtful counterbalance to progressive impulses and the Democratic Party is simply anti-Trump.

Both major parties must be transformed because a society dominated by either one will be unfair.

I will focus chiefly on the Democrats, making modest and conditional contributions to half a dozen or so influential individuals and emailing them often.  I began this way:

Dear Congress(wo)man/Senator/Governor xxx,

I hope this is helpful.

As a life-long Democrat I am appalled that Democratic Party leaders have not learned from our defeats at every level of government.  I believe they must be forced.

I’m writing to you because party leaders will not notice I have stopped responding to their barrage of appeals to pay for uncoordinated advertising.

What I will do, however, is support you to establish a well marketed Democratic Party program of change for a better world.

Opposing what Republican leaders are now proposing is of course necessary but it simply is not enough.  We must be FOR changes that most voters want, and we must market them well.

We aspire to be a society that prioritizes human flourishing over private profit for a tiny minority.  Achieving that requires a long-term program — the equivalent of tax cuts for Republicans —  of coordinated marketing to build unstoppable demand and to mitigate the cultural concerns that now divide us.

Our economic message resonates, but we are creating powerful reasons to vote against it.   As Fareed Zakaria points out here: https://fareedzakaria.com/2017/06/30/the-democrats-problem-is-not-the-economy-stupid/ “More people prefer the [Democratic Party] views to those of Republicans on taxes, poverty reduction, health care, government benefits, and even climate change and energy policy … [but] Democrats need to talk about America’s national identity in a way that stresses the common elements that bind, not the particular ones that divide … stay true to their ideals, of course, but yet convey to a broad section of Americans — rural, less-educated, older, whiter — that they understand and respect their lives, their values and their worth.'”

We can hope to gain seats in 2018 and 2020 but we will not achieve a mandate unless we make a long-term effort.  Republican leaders started getting where they are half a century ago as Bruce Bartlett points out:  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/06/24/intellectual-conservatives-lost-republican-trump-215259  “In the wake of Goldwater’s defeat, many conservatives concluded that their philosophy was insufficiently well-grounded in the social sciences and lacked an empirical foundation. For example, Goldwater talked about privatizing Social Security, but had no plan whatsoever for how to do it. Hearing his rhetoric on the subject, those receiving Social Security assumed, not unreasonably, that they would just be cut off.”

Although we must build an equivalent infrastructure of think tanks and media for lasting change, we can quite soon begin to succeed because our theme, economic justice, is already popular.

Our program will only succeed, however, if it is based on the values we all share, not on those that divide us.

I am counting on you to convince our Party’s leaders to make the necessary changes.  Please let me know if I can help.  I will be watching.

Preaching to those who agree will not make our future better and ranting at those who do not agree makes it worse.  We must focus on values we share.

And because only politicians can establish government changes, we must above all convince them to make the changes we want.  

That will require persistent and emphatic effort.  I hope you will join me.

The Tyranny of Continual Warfare

Our Founding Fathers considered standing armies “instruments of tyranny.”  So, to defend us “against foreign danger” they drafted the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd is the only Amendment that states its purpose: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Two hundred and more years later, we have a standing army and there is no connection between a “well regulated militia being necessary” and “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  But, as I discussed here, the downside of a standing army is greater than ever.  As James Madison explained:

In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate.  Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency … Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Yet we are now in the midst of a “war on terror” that can by definition never end and, in our fear of terror, we are abandoning our freedom.

Comforting Lies

We have no Madison among this year’s Presidential candidates and never will get one if we don’t heed what he and more recently Eisenhower warned:

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Now, Presidential candidates and our media have, as this Gallup poll reveals, persuaded 24% of Republicans, 9% of Democrats and 15% of independents that terrorism is our most important problem.

But an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” would know car accidents kill far more of us.  Twice as many Americans die every year from texting or talking on the phone while driving as died even on 9/11.

An average of just 32 Americans per year died in terrorist attacks in the next twelve years, fewer of them killed by Islamic terrorists than by disgruntled workplace and school shooters.  Meanwhile, over 30,000 of us are killed by firearms every year, one thousand times as many as are killed by terrorists.

President Eisenhower spoke of the need for balance, for a sense of proportion.  He would be gravely disappointed in us.

We plan to spend $70B-$90B a year, over $1,100B in total, on new weapons in the next 15 years (see Defense Modernization Plans Through the 2020s) “59% of [it on] just 10 programs–all of which are … primarily intended to support high-end conventional and nuclear conflict.”

Defense Modernization Plans

Nuclear weapons are not usually considered appropriate against terrorists although one of our Presidential candidates did joke about nuking the Islamic State.

Our Unmanned Systems Roadmap FY2011-2036 to reduce American casualties will make warfare less troubling and more exciting for voters.

There will be few complaints about spending $1,100B+ on new weapons.  It is, after all, little more than our overall military spending every year.

So here we go.  We provoke hatred by killing innocents — of 2,500-4,000 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, 400-1,000 were civilians.  Some were “collateral damage,” some the result of a flawed algorithm that analyzes cellphone usage to assess likelihood of being a terrorist.

And we are provoking our only nuclear rival by building a new generation of nuclear weapons and quadrupling our forces on Russia’s border.

We’ve not just lost all sense of proportion — we’ve lost our senses altogether.