Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad


There’s a lot to say about Trump reversing some of the Obama administration’s policies on Cuba. The White House recently announced it was banning individual travel to the island and further restricting what business Americans can do there.

Yes, there’s a lot to say, but I wonder if there’s any point in saying it. After all, most Americans want to relax the embargo on Cuba. Even most Republicans disagree with Trump on Cuba, polls show.

That requires a bit of explanation. America has a longstanding embargo on Cuba, preventing the U.S. from selling much of anything there. The policy traces back to the Cold War. The economic harm to the island resulting from the policy is obvious when one sets foot in Cuba.

When I visited in 2010, life had gotten better for Cubans since the hardest times in the early 1990s. Still, life was difficult. Meat was a luxury for Cubans. Milk was only rationed to young children. I bought a handmade dress for $15, a handsome sum to a Cuban but a pittance to me.

Obama didn’t end the embargo. It’s still in place.

What Obama overturned were other Cold War-era measures. He restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and relaxed a travel ban on U.S. citizens visiting the island.

The only way I was able to visit Cuba in 2010 was with a special government permit, and by going for business instead of pleasure. The U.S. government also limited how much I could spend there. And, of course, I couldn’t bring any Cuban rum or cigars home.

I’ve traveled all over on five different continents. In college, I spent an entire summer in China, a Communist country with a bad human rights record — quite a bit worse than Cuba’s, arguably — that the U.S. is on perfectly good terms with, thank you very much.

Yet I’ve never been hassled, searched, and investigated as much upon my return home as I was when I came back from Cuba.

On the way out, I had to first fly to Cancun and then board a second flight the next day to Cuba. On my return, I was questioned, searched, and scolded until I nearly missed my connecting flight.

The hypocrisy was jarring. Why is the U.S. on good terms with China but not Cuba?

After Obama relaxed America’s anti-Cuba policies, you could literally fly Southwest to Havana.

I think the best comment on Trump’s policies came in the form of a satirical “news” article: “President Trump Orders the Execution of Five Turkeys Pardoned By Obama.” No, not really. It’s a joke. But it exposes the motives and sentiments behind many of Trump’s actions.

In part, Trump is probably working to secure the hard liner Cuban vote in Florida by undoing Obama’s Cuba policies.

But more than that, Trump wants us to believe that Obama made America a “mess.” To show us what a great president he is, Trump wants us to believe that everything was awful before him — so bad that it required Trump to make it “great” again, by undoing obvious boons like Obama’s mild Cuba reforms.

If Obama did it, it’s bad. Therefore Trump will do the opposite. Yet he has no interest in understanding complex issues that cannot be solved easily. Health care, ISIS, and North Korea come to mind — and now Cuba, too.

To Trump, trying to understand the complex background of America’s relationship with Cuba is superfluous, since Trump himself doesn’t understand it. Yet he’s hurting both Americans and Cubans in the process.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org

What Happened to America’s Wealth? The Rich Hid It.

There’s actually trillions that could be used to fix our roads and schools. The wealthy just don’t want you to know where it is.

By Chuck Collins

Guest Columnist

If you find yourself traveling this summer, take a closer look at America’s deteriorating infrastructure — our crumbling roads, sidewalks, public parks, and train and bus stations.

Government officials will tell us “there’s no money” to repair or properly maintain our tired infrastructure. Nor do we want to raise taxes, they say.

But what if billions of dollars in tax revenue have gone missing?

New research suggests that the super-rich are hiding their money at alarming rates. A study by economists Annette Alstadsaeter, Niels Johannesen, and Gabriel Zucman reports that households with wealth over $40 million evade 25 to 30 percent of personal income and wealth taxes.

These stunning numbers have two troubling implications.

First, we’re missing billions in taxes each year. That’s partly why our roads and transit systems are falling apart.

Second, wealth inequality may be even worse than we thought. Economic surveys estimate that roughly 85 percent of income and wealth gains in the last decade have gone to the wealthiest one-tenth of the top 1 percent.

That’s bad enough. But what if the concentration is even greater?

Visualize the nation’s wealth as an expansive and deep reservoir of fresh water. A small portion of this water provides sustenance to fields and villages downstream, in the form of tax dollars for public services.

In recent years, the water level has declined to a trickle, and the villages below are suffering from water shortages. Everyone is told to tighten their belts and make sacrifices.

Deep below the water surface, however, is a hidden pipe, siphoning vast amounts of water — as much as a third of the whole reservoir — off to a secret pool in the forest.

The rich are swimming while the villagers go thirsty and the fields dry up.

Yes, there are vast pools of privately owned wealth, mostly held by a small segment of super-rich Americans. The wealthiest 400 billionaires have at least as much wealth as 62 percent of the U.S. population — that’s nearly 200 million of us.

Don’t taxpayers of all incomes under-report their incomes? Maybe here and there.

But these aren’t folks making a few dollars “under the table.” These are billionaires stashing away trillions of the world’s wealth. The latest study underscores that tax evasion by the super-rich is at least 10 times greater — and in some nations 250 times more likely — than by everyone else.

How is that possible? After all, most of us have our taxes taken out of our paychecks and pay sales taxes at the register. Homeowners get their house assessed and pay a property tax.

But the wealthy have the resources to hire the services of what’s called the “wealth defense industry.” These aren’t your “mom and pop” financial advisers that sell life insurance or help folks plan for retirement.

The wealth defenders of the super-rich — including tax lawyers, estate planners, accountants, and other financial professionals — are accomplices in the heist. They drive the getaway cars, by designing complex trusts, shell companies, and offshore accounts to hide money.

These managers help the private jet set avoid paying their fair share of taxes, even as they disproportionately benefit from living in a country with the rule of law, property rights protections, and public infrastructure the rest of us pay for.

Not all wealthy are tax dodgers. A group called the Patriotic Millionaires advocates for eliminating loopholes and building a fair and transparent tax system. They’re pressing Congress to crack down on tax evasion by the super-rich.

Their message: Bring the wealth home! Stop hiding the wealth in offshore accounts and complicated trusts. Pay your fair share to the support the public services and protections that we all enjoy.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a co-editor of Inequality.org. He’s the author of the recent book Born on Third Base. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

The Tax Plan Moms Need

A modest proposal: Tax corporations to help working moms afford childcare and stay-at-home moms save for retirement.

By Martha Burk

Guest Columnist

During his speech announcing that the U.S. is ditching the Paris climate accords, President Trump took a strange detour to declare “our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it’s doing very well. I think a lot of people will be very pleasantly surprised.”

He was right about the surprise part — since that tax bill doesn’t exist. Trump has presented only a single-page summary of his wish list, and Republicans in Congress have introduced nada.

Maybe that’s good news. Since the bill is still in preexisting condition, there’s still time for improvement. The Trump summary already outlines benefits for the majority of corporations and fat cats. Let’s add a few ideas to benefit the majority of ordinary citizens — women.

The old saw about nothing being certain but death and taxes happens to be true. Another certainty is that tax policy impacts women differently from men, and not in a positive way. It’s been that way since taxes were first collected, and if President Trump follows through on the so-called “innovative” changes he says he’ll make, it could get worse.

These days virtually every family needs child care — and like it or not, women are still pulling most of the load. Not to mention that females are by far the majority of single parents.

To ease the burden, the U.S. has long had a child care tax credit. Simply put, it’s a credit (up to $6,000, depending on income) that comes off the bottom line after income taxes are calculated.

The downside is that the credit only applies to workers earning enough to pay income taxes in the first place, which excludes many low-income families. Women’s groups have advocated for years that it should apply to payroll taxes (like Medicare and Social Security), which every worker pays regardless of income, so working single moms at the bottom can also get the benefit.

Working mothers of young children aren’t the only ones punished by our current tax system. Stay-at-home moms also come in for their unfair share of tax treatment.

They get a big fat zero in Social Security accounts for years spent caring for kids, unlike almost all countries in the European Union and other advanced nations which grant caregiver credits. President Trump has said he won’t change Social Security, but this is one change that’s badly needed, and would mean fewer women would end up in poverty in their old age.

If our new president really wanted to overhaul the tax code in a way that would help families other than his own, he’d advocate increasing taxes on the rich and corporations, and revoking favorable tax treatment for organizations like the Catholic Church that blatantly discriminate against women.

We could use the savings to allow child care credits against payroll taxes, give caregiver credits in Social Security, and give a little tax relief to employers offering paid family leave in the bargain.

Now those are some truly “innovative” tax ideas.

Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote. Follow Martha on Twitter @MarthaBurk. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

A Political or Apolitical 4th of July?

By Wim Laven

Guest Columnist

I posted a link to Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?” to mark the occasion most years. For many people this year will be different and it is important that we pay attention. The freedoms marked by the day are under attack. The Declaration of Independence declares:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is important to consider the choice of reflecting these specific values. For example, in Canada they say: “peace, order, and good government” and in France: “liberty, equality, fraternity.” “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” have been specifically chosen to represent the United States of America from its inception. These values preceded Democratic and Republican parties, the founders were Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The founders focused on guarding against tyranny, both of the majority and by elected rulers. James Madison wrote, “It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.” These days the rulers are tired of the people getting in the way.

It would be easy to highlight the hypocrisy, hence my regular reminder of the role—requirement—of slavery in the formation of the U.S.A. The hardest thing about being an American is being honest about the ugly details of our history; there are no words capable of expressing the disappointment I experienced in finding out there were slave owners in my family tree. The principles are worth aspiring to, even with our historical shortcomings, and they are under attack.

People in some demographic groups will be much more worried if they are pulled over while speeding on their way to store to pick up a missing ingredient or some briquettes for the grill than people in other groups. Some people will be working for a minimum wage that isn’t a living wage while other people are enjoying the holiday. Others will be unable to enjoy the holiday because of the recent loss of a loved one who was killed in a hate crime; that sadness is the same regardless of religious belief, sexual orientation, or skin color. My sadness is that it is frequently people who look a lot like me targeting people who look differently than I do, and white males are frequently the ones who tell me to stop being “so political.”

We have a President targeting and bullying different groups. Ignoring the fact that white males commit nearly all of the terrorism on U.S. soil. Current policies break families apart and put them on hold. We have the National Rifle Association making sure that domestic terrorists never have a problem accessing instruments of death. But, forget the fact they were silent when an African American male was killed by a police officer while lawfully carrying. The NRA now advertises a response to lawful protest, “the only way we stop this, the only we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” I guess they are happy that I’ll teach with guns in my classroom this fall (see Georgia HB 280, in effect July 1st, 2017). Forget the words of former Justice Antonin Scalia, “[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings…”

There may be as many as 22 or 23 million Americans losing health insurance; they might have a reason to protest. Almost 66 million Americans voted for losing candidate Hillary Clinton, she had 3 million votes more than Donald Trump. Trump is now a president without a mandate, the majority of Americans did not want what he ran on, and he has historically low approval numbers. Nonviolent protest is a great response to his unwanted agenda. These are matters of life and liberty. New England Journal of Medicine reporting on the impact healthcare repeal effort would have says about increasing deaths ascribable to the Republican ‘healthcare’ plan: “Estimates of this inherently murky statistic vary, but the range is from about 28,000 to nearly 100,000 a year.” A monumental loss of life!

“The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” is a liberty guarded in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — August 28, 1963, An anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington DC — November 15, 1969, and The Anti-Nuclear March in New York City’s Central Park — June 12, 1982 were all events where hundreds of thousands of Americans made a statement about policy. No statements of “clenched fists” were made by the NRA in those times. There are currently (Republican) efforts to restrict the right to protest in 18 states. This is not what you’d expect from the nation of the Boston Tea Party, which, I’ll remind you, did destroy private property (342 chests of Tea). These laws aim to restrict the power of protest, because it works.

The reason we must keep the 4th of July political is because freedom and equality are political. The success of the civil rights movement in the 60’s required actions like marches to Selma. These laws would prevent the exercise of freedoms in such marches, in Indiana they would give law enforcement the power to shut down highway protests by “any means necessary.” The political discussion and protest are required because the public isn’t getting what it wants. The fact that, “only 12% of Americans support the Senate Republican health care plan” (USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll) is important and it is a responsibility of citizens to be active and well informed. The 4th of July is not a day for ignoring tyranny, and this 4th efforts are everywhere and they are undeniable. More fundamentally we have to be political because we need life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.

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THEIR VIEW: OPINION

By Jill Richardson

Guest Columnist

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