Wednesday, September 12, 2018

No. 286: Stephen R. Leimberg Speaks Out

Stephen R. Leimberg is a professional fine art, portrait, and wildlife photographer in Amelia Island, Florida. He previously taught law at Temple and Villanova University Schools of Law in their Tax Masters programs. He is a good friend of mine. He shared with me an item he had prepared in July for possible publication in his local newspaper. I thought the item deserved wider circulation. I requested, and he granted, permission for me to provide it to my readers. I edited it lightly.

by Stephen R. Leimberg

Take It Back
Republicans—Take back the Grand in your Old Party—before it is unrecognizable. Recover Abraham Lincoln's honesty and integrity and Theodore Roosevelt's care for our land. Retake the principles that the federal government should not play a big role in people's lives, that there should be less government intervention in business and the economy, that the deficit should be kept as small as possible, that good government is based on the individual, and that each person's ability, dignity, freedom, and responsibility must be honored and recognized. Demand equal rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, age, gender, or national origin. Restore tolerance and inclusiveness and respect for different points of view. All those noble Republican principles are in great and imminent danger—not from others but from within.

The Environment
Car fuel economy and power plant emissions standards and research have been cut back. We no longer have a role in the Paris Agreement. The EPA has been emasculated—all but abandoning its stated purpose of protecting our air, water, and peoples' health and preventing toxic pollution. Sweeping cuts to research on renewable energy are proposed. What is most dangerous in all of this is the tampering with, denying, or ignoring of scientific evidence and data. The current administration continues to deny climate change—even in the face of extreme weather such as hurricanes, wildfires, rising seas, and poor air quality events. FEMA has stricken climate change from its strategic plan. The EPA's web content on the topic has been removed. Climate change is no longer listed by our government as a national threat—even though catastrophic events and their costs continue.

Consumer Protection
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau isn't. It is dropping payday lending protections and suits against online loansharking—thus encouraging unfair, deceptive, and abusive business practices. Key consumer rules and regulations dealing with everything from credit access to car loans to baby crib safety and big bank abuses and student loan frauds by for-profit colleges have been delayed. Enforcement actions against shady financial practices have been dropped or dismantled. Labor Department protections for mom and pop investors have been gutted or delayed. It is almost as if the Great Recession had not occurred; the oversight to protect the most vulnerable is being stripped and our watchdogs deliberately defanged.

Tax Law
George Will, long-time staunch defender of conservatism, said of House Speaker Paul Ryan, "He sold his soul for a tax cut." And as most economists predicted, this huge tax cut (mainly enjoyed by our most affluent individuals and big businesses) resulted in stock buybacks making the richest richer. But it has not unleashed promised post cost-of-living increase wage growth for most people. To the contrary, the massive corporate tax breaks, coupled with multi-million-dollar estate tax exemptions for the ultrarich, have racked up almost $2 trillion—in national debt! Add this to the indirect tax the tariff war will impose on consumer goods, $12 billion in emergency bail-out relief for farmers (with taxpayer dollars), and income/wealth inequality continues to rise even as real wage growth stagnates, health care costs rise, and safety-net cuts accelerate.

Regardless of one's position on admission of new individuals to citizenship in our country, separating parents from children in the heartless and incompetent way this current administration did and failure to work toward immigration legislation resulted in a shame we will all long have to carry.

Astoundingly, even the far-right Koch brothers slammed the current administration's protectionism as causing long-term damage to our country. "When in order to win on an issue somebody else has to lose, it makes it very difficult to unite people." Other Republicans vented frustration at Republican leaders who voted for a whopping $1.3 trillion spending bill, calling it "crazy." Rather than bringing the country together, the head of the current administration acts as the prince of polarization, the ally of animosity, "the apostle of anger," the Arctic bear of bullies, the deacon of divisiveness, the denunciator of the press and "elites" (people who read and write?), and the comforter and encourager of supremacists and others who promote hatred, prejudice, and discrimination. Russia's Putin has been defended but fights have been picked with our allies Canada, England, France, and Germany. Our own intelligence, diplomatic, justice department, and FBI communities have been ignored, insulted, and alienated.

Faustian Compact?
Have wealthy Republicans—as George Will said—sold their souls for tax cuts? Have we abandoned environmental safety for the sake of higher corporate profits? Has the segment of our population who fear pluralism made a deal with the devil to gain a president who will state—from the Oval Office—that it is okay to be bigoted? Has the religious right closed their eyes to moral and ethical debasement and corruption to further their goals?

Now Or Never
Republicans, take back the Grand in the Old Party. Repudiate the ugliness. Protect civil liberties and the rule of law! Silence is complicity. If inaction is your choice, the GOP's future is bleak. Choose your legacy. Stand up and demand a leadership with spine and integrity who will in turn insist upon what George Herbert Walker Bush called for, "A kinder, gentler America," and what Ronald Reagan wanted, "a shining city on a hill."