All posts by Wayne Gulden

Audit Rates

I recently came across a county-by-county map of which counties were subject to the highest audit rates by the IRS. The national average, by the way, is 7.7 audits per 1,000 returns. The highest county was 11.8 while the lowest that I found was 6.6. The map is below.

It certainly looks like the IRS is targeting certain parts of the country, namely the South, which is largely Republican territory, while New York and New England, with all those Democrats, gets off more easily.

You may recall that several years ago the always-looking-for-victimhood Republicans were complaining that the IRS was targeting conservative tax-exempts. This map suggests that maybe, even though the government is firmly under Republican control, they are doing it again. Deep State and all that.

And you’d be wrong. In fact, it is Republican paranoia that leads to this map. One of their directives to the IRS is to examine returns that include any EITC credits more closely – looking for fraud, which of course is more common in poor communities, especially of color.

The voters in these areas seem determined to hurt themselves in yet one more way.

Joe Biden

There’s been a lot of press recently about Joe Biden’s inappropriate touching of women, and a lot of predictable commentary from typical sources – like the #metoo movement going too far, or how Biden’s behavior demonstrates that democrats are no different from Trump (shoulder rubs being equivalent to pussy grabs, don’t you know?).

I’m no Joe Biden fan, but this seems to be a tempest in a teapot. There are larger lessons that we can glean from this affair. Biden himself touched on these larger lessons in the video linked to above – that we need to be aware of what others regard as their personal space and that we need to actually listen to others, specifically women. While this particular affair involves physical proximity we could expand that theme to include all of our daily actions. In short, this world could use a lot more kindness, and a large part of being kind is being aware of others and valuing them.

Just think of how too many of us carelessly mess up the environment, disturb others and are thoughtlessly cruel. And how all of us bemoan the world we live in. It’s this larger lesson that I regard as important, not how Joe smelled somebody’s hair.

Chaos at the V.A.

David Shulkin was, until recently, the secretary of the Veterans Administration.  He was a former hospital administrator and just about everyone thought he was doing a good job in difficult circumstances.  Everybody would include the veterans, the congress, the veteran organizations and so on.  Early on, even Trump praised his efforts to get bi-partisan support for changes at the VA.

In spite of these successes, Shulkin wasn’t as keen on privatizing the VA as Trump and some of his close supporters.  After all, the budget of the VA is now approaching $200 B and that’s a lot of money going to government facilities that could be going to private interests.

So on March 27 Shulkin was fired by a Trump tweet, and replaced by Ronny Jackson, the White House physician.  Never mind that Jackson has little management experience of any kind, let alone health care experience.  Apparently Trump liked Jackson’s glowing report of Trump’s health and that’s good enough.

Shulkin lost no time and wrote an editorial in the NYT about how privatizing the VA would be a really bad idea.  Since then other details have emerged about this affair.  The White House tried to say that Shulkin resigned.  He says that’s nonsense – he was fired by tweet.

Regardless of how one feels about privatizing the VA, this was a really crappy way of handling it.  Shulkin says he even talked to Trump that morning and nothing was said about the firing that occurred later that day.  And Trump didn’t even have the balls to do it in person or even by phone.

Probably Trump is calculating that if Jackson is corrupt enough to give him such a glowing physical (in spite of some problems) then he will also be corrupt enough to support Trump’s desire to privatize the VA.  Jackson has to be confirmed by the Senate and there’s little doubt he will be.

Chaos at the PPO

The PPO (Presidential Personnel Office) is responsible for finding and vetting the several thousand politically-appointed positions in the executive branch.  A recent article in the Washington Post investigated the workings of this little-known but critical office and their findings are truly depressing.  It’s a long article but well worth your time if you want to get an accurate picture of just how incompetently this administration is.

Regardless of ones political leanings or loyalties there has to be some amount of organization competence – even draining the swamp and/or destroying the deep state requires one to be able to manage things.  WaPo probably wouldn’t have even bothered assigning two reporters to see what has been going on at the PPO except for the slowness of all these jobs being filled, and often filled by less-than-stellar candidates.  The problems at the PPO almost all stem from Trump’s poor management style.  Chris Christie was working on the transition and had assembled a list of candidates for some 300 jobs.  Trump abruptly fired him, Christie says, because Christie opposed hiring Mike Flynn.  Looks like Trump made two really poor decisions at one time.

Can you imagine the outcry (and investigations) if Clinton ran things this badly?

Supreme Court Must Always Be Republican?

Several days ago retired Supreme Court justice Stevens (a Republican, by the way) wrote a NYT editorial about repealing the 2nd amendment.  It didn’t take long for Trump to respond with a tweet, the last part of which was: “We need more Republicans in 2018 and must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!”  Republicans presently account for something like 40% of the population.  Should that 40% have the ability to interpret the Constitution to suit themselves, ignoring the wishes of the other 60%?  Assuming that Trump means what he tweets (always questionable) it seems apparent that he would be willing to use the courts and the law to enforce his view of what the U.S. should look like.

Most of us probably think that the law and the courts that enforce that law ought to be politically neutral.  Of course there are different legal and constitutional philosophies guiding different judges, but becoming partisan is almost certainly more dangerous.  One mark of any authoritarian government is its efforts to control the judiciary, as any number of historical recountings will confirm.

This attitude shows no respect for the Constitution.  None.

 

The Curious Case of Mr. Broidy

Trump just seems to attract supporters who have had legal or ethical issues.  An example would be Elliott Broidy, a businessman who supported Trump in the election and then used that connection to further his own business pursuits.

The New York Times has a long and illuminating article on his activities and is well worth the read.  As an example here’s one paragraph:

“The documents reveal that Mr. Broidy, a vice chairman of the finance committee for Mr. Trump’s inauguration, arranged invitations to parties celebrating the event for foreign leaders with whom Circinus [Broidy’s company] worked to sign contracts that could have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Mr. Broidy in some cases presented the invitations in a manner that suggested they were linked to their countries’ willingness to do business with Circinus.”

Given how blatant these activities  it seems that Broidy thought that this was going to be acceptable procedure under the Trump administration.  Why would he think that?

The Trans Ban

Recently Trump has issued a ban on transgenders serving in the military, with some leeway granted to the Pentagon.  When a new regulation is created normally it is intended to fix some problem.  So what is the problem this is fixing?

There are somewhere about 2,000 to 10,000 transgender troops now serving, out of a total active duty population of about 1.5 million.  There have been no reports of problems caused by these several thousand troops, and several studies (including the Rand study in 2016, which has been criticized by Mattis) have found no problems.

On the downside it creates significant problems for those who are transgender but still are patriotic enough to want to serve in the military.  More importantly it creates a significant management headache for those who must enforce it.  On the upside – ????

So why is Trump doing it? The most charitable answer is that he is creating a distraction along with sending a signal to his base that he will fight for the right-wing Christian sense of morality.  Pretty much a repeat of the fictional transgender bathroom issue. A darker answer is that Trump enjoys causing distress for others.

Chaos About the Spending Bill

In a mad dash to prevent another government shutdown, or yet another continuing resolution, the congress passed a spending bill – emphasis on the word “spending” – some $1.3 T.  Yes, that’s a “T” as in Trillion.

You would have thought that a competent president would have been working with congress on such a bill, but apparently he didn’t.  The Republicans there knew they needed to pass something, so it looks like they just gathered up everyone’s ideas, except Trump’s wall, and quickly put together a 2,000+ page bill that likely no one had read by the time it was passed.  Of course he tried to blame the Democrats, ignoring the fact that Republicans control all the branches of government.

So the bill gets to Trump’s desk and all of a sudden he’s thinking of vetoing it.  After a day of chaos he finally signs.

This is incompetence on a massive scale.

Dreamers – the Republicans Are With You?

Recently Trump tweeted  “I can tell you this, and I say this to DACA recipients that the Republicans are with you. They want to get your situation taken care of. The Democrats fought us. They just fought every single inch of the way. They did not want DACA in this bill.”

This one indication that Trump is either stunningly dishonest or has memory issues.  He seems to have forgotten that he, and he alone, created the problem in the first place by undoing Obama’s program.  Democrats have always been willing to have a separate discussion and standalone bill on DACA, but Republicans (namely Trump himself), want to tie it to The Wall and other immigration measures.

As Ms. Sanders said the next day: “He [Trump] embraced — only if you look at what the President’s definition of a clean DACA bill is.”  And his definition of “clean” is quite a bit different from, well, anybody’s.  It would include DACA, the wall, chain migration and the lottery.

And the Republican congress repeats this terribly dishonest account.

Ben Carson’s $31,000 Table

It seems the sense of entitlement in this government extends beyond Trump himself.  Ben Carson, HUD secretary, spent $31,000 on a dinner table for his office.  In what surely is a coincidence the supplier is from Carson’s hometown of Baltimore.  He’s claiming his wife chose it, but his various explanations seem to indicate his involvement was substantial.

All of this against the backdrop of an agency that provides housing for poor people that is having its budget cut.