There’s a story of how in eastern Siberia in past centuries, where the people often partook of the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, for its mind and mood altering properties, the rich often hoarded the supply and the poor had to do without until the rich threw a party such as a wedding, at which event they could be counted on to ingest some mushrooms and, when they ventured out to urinate, the poor would somehow capture the rich people’s urine, which was still loaded with the psychoactive ingredient, and the poor would drink it for their own trippy experience. The difference between that old story and modern trickle down economics is that in the story, if true at least to some extent, the peasants actually did reap some kind of reward finally. No such evidence exists for the modern economic theory.
Gary “Hands Up” Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council.
It’s a good line to trot out as cover for tax cuts for the rich, apparently, and that’s why to sell the latest tax cut package it’s been used again by current presidential administration flacks like Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council and former Goldman Sachs executive. The package passed the U.S. Senate on December 2, and now it awaits reconciliation with a similar package already passed by the House of Representatives. Republican leaders in Congress hope to have the bill ready for the president to sign by Christmas. Happy Holidays! Or Merry Christmas, if you prefer that with your egg nog.
Besides selling the bald-faced lie that the tax package is somehow supposed to benefit any other economic group but the wealthy, through the voodoo of trickling down, Republicans are cramming in several other things before they tie up the package with a nice bow. One is the repeal of the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act, which will leave 13 million people uninsured. Another is the authorization of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. And a third is the destruction of the Johnson Amendment, which will be like a Citizens United watershed moment for right wing churches, allowing them to flood political campaigns with money from their congregations without endangering their tax exempt status. Of course, other churches, left wing or neutral, will be able to do the same, but it is the religious right that has long scorned the Johnson Amendment as an impediment to its agenda. Indeed, all three of these additions to the tax package will scratch itches conservatives have been worrying over for years or decades.
There are other items added to the basic tax package that will satisfy many conservatives, though surprisingly not all, and not because the tax cuts don’t go far enough, but because they go too far or are misplaced. At a presentation before an auditorium full of CEOs in November, Gary Cohn stressed that the corporate tax cuts in the new package should spur investment, and to prove his point he asked for a show of hands from those present who would increase their company’s investments. A few raised their hands, but not the majority, and certainly not as many as Mr. Cohn apparently expected, because he asked “Why aren’t the other hands up?” before quickly moving on to other business. CEOs elsewhere have also questioned the necessity of the corporate tax cuts, which is to their credit considering how greedily corporate America generally behaves.
No, the corporate tax cuts in the latest bill are intended to benefit the financial sector, Wall Street. That’s why people like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, creatures of Wall Street, like the bill and defend it. They understand it. It means more money for themselves and their colleagues. They talk about how it will help producers of things produce more and better things, and how it will improve life for the lower orders. They believe none of that, nor do they understand it. They never produced anything. They have no interest in producing anything. They can barely conceal their contempt for people who produce things, and particularly the ones who get their hands dirty doing it.
From the 1940 Disney film Fantasia, the Chinese dancers of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker balletenvisioned as mushrooms very much like the fly agaric kind.
People like Mnuchin and Cohn and the Supreme Leader who appointed them understand only money, meaning the more of it for themselves the better, especially if it means less for everyone else. To move economic metaphors from the latrine to the marina, from trickle down to a rising tide lifts all boats, the Wall Street Greed Heads could follow a better model than trickle down by investing in the bottom, the rising tide. They don’t understand that, however, nor can they spare what little empathy they have for it, and that leaves 99 percent of the country coping with the trickled down policies the Greed Heads do understand, which is all for the few, the one percent.
The crudity and vindictiveness of Supreme Leader’s response to criticisms of his lackadaisical leadership in disaster recovery efforts for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria has been startling even for him, a crude and vindictive man. Certainly racism and sexism play a part, as they do in much of his behavior, but in this case there is the disquieting sense there is something more at work, and as is often the case, it helps to follow the money.
The Buccaneer Was a Picturesque Fellow, a 1905 painting by Howard Pyle (1853-1911) used as an illustration in Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates: Fiction, Fact & Fancy Concerning the Buccaneers & Marooners of the Spanish Main.
Supreme Leader dropped the clue himself when he referred to Puerto Rico’s high debt load, adding that the Puerto Ricans must nonetheless continue to repay their debts despite their currently dire situation. What an odd thing to mention in discussion of relief efforts for a population struggling for survival! Did he mean those words to be taken to heart by the Puerto Ricans, who now have more pressing worries? No, not as much as he meant his words to reassure the holders of Puerto Rico’s over 70 billion dollars’ worth of promissory notes on Wall Street.
At the 18th hole of the AT&T National Pro-Am Tournament in 2006, Supreme Leader (not his title then) leans on his golf club. The pirates have exchanged their muskets for golf clubs. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.
Puerto Rico has no representatives in Congress and no votes in the Electoral College. It is a territory, and while its people are citizens of the United States, they have no say in federal matters relating to their island. On June 11, 2017, Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, but the decision to make Puerto Rico a state still resides with Congress. Most Puerto Ricans identify as Democrats, and since both house of Congress currently are controlled by Republicans, it is unlikely Puerto Rico will see a change in its political status anytime soon. The island’s people are effectively second-class citizens; to become first-class citizens, they must either make their island one of the United States, or entirely independent.
Mainland political interests are against Puerto Rico statehood, and there are also economic interests against it, such as large corporations and Wall Street banks that seek to continue plundering the island, an activity made easier by Puerto Rico existing politically between the devil and the deep blue sea. Who cares if the Puerto Ricans are suffering in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which have piled on to an economic recession which started for them over ten years ago and has continued to worsen? Certainly not sociopaths like Supreme Leader and his economic advisors Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, both formerly of Wall Street.
The damage caused by Supreme Leader, Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, and other members of our ruling class is far more deplorable than what Monty Python depicted in this TV sketch, but still it helps to ridicule them.
It’s not as if Puerto Rico has 38 electoral votes like Texas, where Hurricane Harvey landed, or 29 like Florida, where Hurricane Irma continued its devastation after leaving the Caribbean islands, or even 3 votes like the District of Columbia, with its population otherwise shut out of federal representation but for those 3 measly electoral college votes. Puerto Ricans have zero votes. Not one vote in the electoral college, in the House of Representatives, or in the Senate. No one speaks for them. Thanks to its colonial relationship to the United States, however, there is money to be pillaged from its poor and working class people, and what’s left of its dwindling middle class. That’s why Supreme Leader acted the way he did, and tweeted what he tweeted, because he was looking out for himself and his cronies, and that’s his real constituency. Why would he care one way or the other about the Puerto Ricans?