The Universal Notebook: Trump-eting the U.S. economy

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Very few things in the new Manichean America are as clear and easy to understand as the fact the Republican Party is the party of Corporate America.

If working-class Americans accidently benefit from their pro-business, deregulation agenda, so be it. But the important thing is to beef up the bottom line whether it hurts consumers, employees and the environment or not.

It’s almost as if, for GOP Inc., any concern for unity, justice, tranquility, welfare and the natural world is a sign of weakness. The mean streak that defines the modern Republican Party runs right through the Trump administration, Congress and the Supreme Court.

While Trump and Republicans in Congress are busy dismantling the federal government, gutting the State Department, eviscerating the Environmental Protection Agency; dumbing down education; granting huge tax breaks to the corporate wealthy (even though a majority of Americans opposed their tax bill), and turning health care, prisons and public education over to for-profit interests, an activist Supreme Court is maniacally unleashing the corporate hounds of hell on the American people.

The high court’s decision in Citizen United, allowing corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to election campaigns, and in Hobby Lobby, allowing corporations to site religious convictions to justify discrimination, are two of the worst Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history. The mistaken idea that corporations have the same rights as individuals underlies conservative thinking and undermines American democracy.

Now we have the Trump administration feverishly deregulating American business, boasting on the White House website that is has already withdrawn or delayed nearly 1,600 regulations, actions that are all pro-business and anti-people.

Here in Maine we have the dubious distinction of having the only Atlantic state governor who is not opposed to offshore drilling, an oily prospect floated by Trump’s Interior Department. Gov. Paul LePage, of course, will be out of office and comfortably retired in Florida by the time the oil slick comes ashore in the Gulf of Maine. Trump, who spends as much time golfing as he does governing, has excluded Florida offshore waters out of enlightened self-interest.

Another bone the Trump administration has thrown to big business is the repeal of net neutrality protections for the internet. Though 83 percent of Americans favored keeping rules that guaranteed equal access to all web content and prohibiting internet service providers from prioritizing and charging for access to some sites, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to scrap net neutrality and allow the free market to have at the internet.

That has made FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, an Obama appointee, the most hated man on the internet. Pai argued that net neutrality amounted to government control, failing to see that there is a difference between control and protecting the public interest.

As she seeks to replace free public education with for-profit public schooling, Trump’s billionaire education commissioner, Betsy DeVos, has managed to expand tax-exempt education savings plans that once only applied to college costs to public, private and religious elementary and secondary schools.

Trump has also seen to it that the government won’t prevent debt collectors from charging 16 percent fees for collecting on student loans. And, surprise, surprise, Boss DeVos was an investor in one of the two companies recently selected to collect overdue loans. Self-dealing is highly profitable, as Donald J. can readily attest.

Now, Trump and his coterie of minions and meanies are trumpeting the good economy as proof that the King of Chaos has delivered an economic miracle that justifies all the deregulation and tax breaks. But he and they seem to ignore the fact that the U.S. economy was booming before the bankrupt billionaire took up residence in the White House. In fact, in many ways, the economy was doing better under Obama.

Job growth under Trump, for instance, has lagged behind that under Obama for five of the last seven years. The soaring stock market is part of a long-term bull-market trend, but stocks rose more sharply during Obama’s first year than during Trump’s. The Dow rose 30 percent in Obama’s first 11 months in office compared with 24 percent under Trump. And while Trump complained that low unemployment numbers and the improving stock market were fake news when Obama was president, now they are evidence of Trump’s business acumen.

In fact, the healthy U.S. economy has little or nothing to do with Trump’s machinations. Even the rebound of coal, a favorite Trump charity, is not his doing. A world-wide energy boom saw the price of coal double back in 2016 when Donald J. Trump was still just a bad joke.

Nope, if you think Trump has been good for business, you’ve been snowed. But then it was a snow job that got him elected in the first place.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Mainer1

    Democrats exalt sexual deviants, thugs, illegals, bottom
    feeders, men peeing in the women’s bathrooms, and Islamic extremists. Democrats
    demonize white men, white boys, people (other than themselves) who have money
    they earned, the United States, Western culture, laws, heterosexuality (or,
    really, just anyone who doesn’t feel the need to make a public issue out of
    sexuality), differing opinions, Christianity, and merit-based anything.

    That’s what got
    Trump in….those who are giving and not getting are sick of those who are
    getting and not giving.

  • Little crow

    What was the problem with the internet before net neutrality was introduced in 2015? Was there some part of free speech that you think needed to be regulated?

    • EdBeem

      Net neutrality does not regulate free speech, it protects it.

      • Little crow

        Net neutrality is by definition regulation, and the Internet was free before 2015; it didn’t need to be regulated. Whenever the government is involved, people will try to use its political power to try to silence their opponents, as Obama used the IRS and the FBI to spy on, threaten and intimidate his rivals, despite the fact that they are supposed to be impartial government agencies.

        • Just Sayin’

          You claim that before 2015 that the Internet was free and needed no regulation, but let’s take a look at what was happening with the net in those times:

          In 2005 Madison River blocked Vonage access to all of it’s customers, Comcast secretly blocked all peer-to-peer communications, the ISP Tellus blocked a website that was supporting a labor strike against Tellus, and also blocked over 700 unrelated websites when they did so.

          In 2007 ATT forced Apple to block Skype and any other competing VOIP technologies in order to keep users buying more minutes from them.

          In 2010 Windstream communications (An ISP) began hijacking search engine queries and redirecting them to it’s own search engine instead of the ones users were attempting to use.

          In 2011 we saw MetroPCS announce its plans to block all streaming video that wasn’t through Youtube. We also saw AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon block Google Wallet because it competed with a similar payment app called Isis that all three had partial ownership of.

          In 2012 Verizon blocked a whole host of apps that allowed for the tethering of a phone’s internet connection to other devices so that it could continue to charge a $20 fee for the same service. This not only violates the principles of a neutral network, but also violated a pledge made by Verizon to the FCC as a condition of the 2008 airwave auction.

          In the same year we saw AT&T blocking apple’s Facetime video streaming unless users subscribed to a more expensive plan that allowed it.

          In 2013 and 2014 we saw some of the largest ISPs, including Time Warner, Verizon, and AT&T taking up policies that deliberately overloaded centralized interconnection points and caused severe slowdowns for certain kinds of traffic, largely streaming video services. This was not from congestion of the existing lines or infrastructure, but the result of deliberate policy.

          In the FCC vs Verizon case of 2013, the representative from Verizon was asked if his company would adopt policies that would favor some sources or content over others if the rules were changed to permit it. The answer given was ““I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.”

          You say that the net needed no regulation, but I see plenty of companies taking the route to willfully restrict our access to information, goods, and services, almost exclusively to benefit their bottom line. These actions would deny average Americans access to vital services and information as well as hindering innovation and damaging the American economy. It’s clear that something needed to be done to protect the American public and the well being of our access to something as vital as the Internet, and so Net Neutrality laws were put into place.

          Care to tell me how the Internet was free and didn’t need to be regulated again? I can keep going if you like.

          • Little crow

            I’ll assume that these examples you cite are true, and they are cases of fraud and abuse that are already illegal or actionable in civil court, as they should be.

            The regulation I was referring to was the government regulating the content and pricing of the Internet. If that were to happen, the content and pricing would be subject political pressure and our First Amendment would be threatened. The basic principle here is that the free market allows people choices, albeit with variable pricing, while the government is a monopoly that stifles innovation.

          • Just Sayin’

            I hate to tell you, but in most cases these actions were neither fraud, nor actionable in any meaningful way. Moreover, you’re asking regular people to take on large corporate legal teams in the hopes of a win, and most people simply don’t have the money to throw away on the likely court losses when they’re outgunned in court.

            Moreover, you can’t rely on the free market when ISPs operate on a monopoly in so much of the country. Millions of Americans do not have a choice over how they get their internet access, millions more have a choice between only two companies.

            The immense cost of the infrastructure involved, setting up wires and the computer backbones to route all those signals, keeps small businesses from being able to enter the marketplace and compete, while the major players keep focusing on areas that ‘coincidentally’ show little overlap. There is no such thing as a free market for ISP’s, it’s far too controlled by the major players to allow any meaningful competition, so that argument fails on its face.

            Even the recent repeal of the Title II Net Neutrality rules came only AFTER the FCC enacted legislation designed to PREVENT states from deciding on their own Net Neutrality rules. This doesn’t sound like the government is being hands off, it’s still setting the standards, it’s just setting standards that protect the profit interests of the major corporations over the well being of the average internet user.

          • Little crow

            I think you’re right about the power of big businesses to control the market, but to assume the government is going to protect you and me from them is a mistake. The government regulators will staff their agencies with people from the companies being regulated; and the regulations will be designed to protect the big businesses. That’s the way it always works. It’s also why large corporations promote government regulations: they know they will have to comply with regulations anyway, but they want the regulations to hamstring the smaller upstart businesses.

            Big corporations can have a lot of power and be ruthless and hard to deal with, but nothing is harder than a huge monopolistic government that can throw you in jail for non-compliance. No corporation can do that.

          • Just Sayin’

            While I understand that you’re frustrated with corruption in the regulation process that we often see, and I share in it, look at the case you’re arguing about.

            Title II Net Neutrality was successful in keeping big business interests from completely taking over the internet and corrupting it to serve their profit interests over the wants of the public. Ajit Pai, the current FCC Head, was a longtime lawyer for Verizon before being placed in charge. His appointment is exactly the sort of corruption you describe, and he’s using his position to dismantle all of the regulations that were actually working, massively benefiting the company he used to work for.

            There was nothing in what the FCC was doing with Title II Net Neutrality that was hamstringing the public’s access to information and services, but I guarantee over the next few years, the big companies will take advantage of their new freedom to do just that.

          • EdBeem

            Exactly. Thank you.

      • poppypapa

        So you protect “free speech” by regulating it?

        Are you in favor of the new proposals for College Campus neutrality?

  • danmaine

    Apparently anyone who doesn’t share your opinion is driven by greed, hate, racism and just about any other evil inner desire. You think Government is the answer to any and every issue, many of us feel hat Government is the problem and it needs to be as limited as possible. (Just like our Founders, who would have thought so…) Please tell me how our Education system has been improved by the over reaching Department of Education. Results haven’t changed , costs have skyrocketed. How about the war on poverty: Millions spent, the % living in poverty: UNCHANGED.

    • EdBeem

      I could support doing away with the federal Dept of Education, but I don’t want it run by someone who wants taxpayers to fund religious schools.

      • poppypapa

        If we do away with it, you don’t need to worry about who runs it, right?

        That’s the core of the problem. Any government power inevitably involves subjective/political leadership.

        From Federalist 51:

        But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

        In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

        This is a strong argument for limited government, because those who govern are not angels.


        Still, Eddie wants nothing but more government, and looser and looser interpretation of all laws in existence.

  • Queenie42

    I have a question. If corporations are considered people how come they are taxed differently than people?

    • EdBeem

      Because they are more equal than people?

      • Queenie42

        Seems like the Supreme Court did not read nor understand the Declaration of Independence.
        All men (now to include women and people of color) are created equal.

        • EdBeem

          And the Founding Fathers that strict constructionists are so fond of holding up as the source authority for all things constitutional, did not mention “corporations” anywhere. Strictly speaking, I’d argue they are not only NOT people, they have no rights under the Constitution.

          • Queenie42

            I agree. Even the Amendments do not mention corporations.
            Lawfully, to include corporations, the Constitution must say so. Which would entail an amendment which would have to pass agreement of 3 fifths of the states. ( if memory serves.)
            However, since money equates as speech nowadays, and the fact that corporations have most of the money thanks to the Republicans, corporate voices drown out and buy out any representation due to “We the People”.

          • poppypapa

            Why don’t you name the top 10 wealthiest corporations in the US, and tell us how they are led by Republicans?

            You know, like Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and the rest of the arch-conservative corporate tycoons?

          • Little crow

            That’s a really good point, all those corporations being run by liberals, or at least people who pretend to be liberals so as to inoculate themselves against criticism from other liberals.

    • poppypapa

      Were you paying 35% on ALL your income?

      Or will you be paying 21% on ALL your income now?

      I’d be surprised if your net effective income tax rate was more than 10% or so.

  • poppypapa

    So, Eddie: you’re opposed to parental choice in education? Did you and your kids decide where they would go to college, or would you prefer government made that choice for you?

  • poppypapa

    As long as you are on the subject, should Teachers Unions and other government employee unions, and for that matter, private sector unions, be given the right to contribute to campaigns with funds compelled from their membership?

    • EdBeem

      Neither corporations nor unions should be allowed to contribute at all.

      • poppypapa

        You might do an article listing how much the unions in Maine, especially the Teachers Union, spend on elections in the state.

        Which would miss their “donations in kind,” of course.

  • Little crow

    The Citizens United decision only protects free speech of a corporate body to spend money or express itself in other ways to influence public opinion. If you are opposed to this, then you must also be rightly opposed to newspapers endorsing candidates or having an opinion page (they are corporations) and unions using their influence and money (they too are corporations) as well as the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the teacher’s unions, the Fund for Animals, Black Lives Matter, the United Way, every non-profit and your local wine-tasting club. If corporations have no right to free speech then all these organizations should also be silenced.

  • poppypapa

    From a recent Wall Street Journal:

    What About Social-Media Neutrality?
    Facebook’s algorithms have outsize power, both culturally and economically.

    Jan. 28, 2018 4:43 p.m. ET

    Most arguments about “net neutrality” neglect an important reality:
    The internet most of us use is already far from neutral, thanks to the
    profit-focused algorithms and opaque content guidelines by which
    social-media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram govern
    their sites.
    Not to mention Google’s manipulation of search results…..and their “neutrality” towards employee expression.