Just the Facts

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Dr. Errington Thompson is a critical care trauma surgeon, author, and talk show host. Listen to the Errington Thompson Show, available through Podcast and download at: www.whereistheoutrage.net

by Errington C. Thompson, MD –

Let’s look at some facts…

Hurricane Harvey

As you know, Harvey was a devastating hurricane that came ashore between Corpus Christi and Houston, Texas at the end of August. It then stalled on the Gulf Coast for days, dumping torrential amounts of rain on Houston and the surrounding area: some parts of Houston received over 50 inches of rain. The small town of Rockport, Texas, where Harvey came ashore with Category 4 winds, was decimated. Flooding occurred from Houston all the way to Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The problem in a natural disaster is the initial devastation and then the prolonged cleanup. The problem is made worse when the natural buffers no longer exist. In Houston’s case, sprawling development has paved over hundreds of square miles that had been open prairie; those lands were designated to let rainwater runoff go into the ground. Unfortunately, developers and local government ignored recommendations and warnings over many decades, and this time the water had no place to go. So it stayed wherever it fell, and drowned the entire city.

With all the devastation, it is the cleanup where the federal government, working with state and local officials, has an opportunity to really help people suffering the most. It’s also an opportunity that shows just what government is capable of doing, and doing well. Let’s hope FEMA lives up to its reputation for helping the people it exists to serve.

No matter how effective federal aid is, this will not be a speedy recovery. This will be prolonged and painful. Give what you can. These Americans need help.

A week after Harvey came hurricane Irma, which was an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm; meteorologists have called it the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. I am praying for the Americans in the Houston area as well as those affected by hurricane Irma.

North Korea

The problem with all the saber-rattling between North Korea (the “Republic” of Korea, or ROK) and the United States (President Trump) is that there really is no military solution to the North Korean problem. Since the late 1980s, North Korea has slowly but steadily tried to build up a nuclear arsenal.

Seoul, the capital of South Korea—one of our strongest allies in the world—is only 35 miles from the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. North Korea is less than 1000 miles from Japan. So, North Korea does not need any fancy weapons (nuclear weapons) to cause massive devastation to two of our closest allies: it was only a few years ago that we watched Iraq use simple, small, unguided SCUD missiles against Tel Aviv. Now, imagine North Korea firing hundreds of these unguided missiles (or bigger, more destructive, more advanced missiles) into the heart of Seoul, where 1.8 million people live. Imagine the devastation. Think of the kind of damage that North Korea could inflict on Japan, using only slightly more sophisticated missiles.

As far as I know, we don’t have any weapon capable of shooting thousands of missiles out of the sky. Sure, I understand that we have enormous military power. We have guided missiles that can be fired from halfway around the world and hit a building or airfield without difficulty. We can clearly obliterate the North Korean leadership.

The problem is, once we fire a missile, North Korea, in an act of desperation, will fire hundreds, if not thousands, of missiles at our allies. So what do we do then? In our arsenal are Patriot missiles (surface-to-air missiles that can intercept incoming missiles in midair), which are wonderful, but they are not perfect: sure, we can shoot down some ROK missiles, but I seriously doubt we can shoot down all of them. This is the dilemma. Can we—or should we—gamble with the lives of the people in Seoul or Tokyo?

One of the scenarios that I hear a lot from my conservative friends is that we should send some of our elite troops to sneak into North Korea. Then, in something that resembles a Tom Clancy novel, these elite troops should track down the leadership of North Korea and “take them out.” This sounds great. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take into account the fact that North Korea is a closed society. It is a small country on a peninsula; its only borders are with China on the mainland (and 11 miles of border with Russia), and the DMZ separating it from South Korea on the south. You simply don’t sneak into North Korea, not from the sea, and not from Russia or China. All points of entry are closely monitored. These are the facts.

Tax Cuts for the Rich

Ignoring Korea for the time being—for an hour or two, at least which is a lifetime for someone with his attention span—President Donald Trump has turned his attention to cutting taxes. (Though at any moment his attention will turn back to killing Obamacare, which he and many Republicans still want to do.) But his current obsession is the claim—really, the myth—that “high taxes” are “destroying American businesses.”

So, like all his Republican predecessors, Trump is once again proposing a huge tax cut for businesses. This tax cut is being sold as something that will make American businesses more competitive around the world. According to proponents, it will allow businesses to build more factories and increase wages for hard-working Americans. This is the theory—one that we know never happens.

First of all, American businesses are making record profits, across the board, in almost every sector; “high tax rates” are not holding them back. That’s just a fact. Trump himself has touted the stock market’s “unprecedented,” “yuuuuge” rise to around 22,000 since he was elected.

Second, tax cuts don’t lead to more jobs. Instead, whenever business gets a large tax cut, businesses pay their top executives even more money. That’s just a fact.

That’s why we have seen executive salaries go from 30 times that of the lowest worker in an industry—the standard ratio from the 1940s to the ’80s—to more than 300 times that number since “Reaganomics” took hold. It’s also why the minimum wage is still only $7.15 an hour, when it would be $22.00 if jobs and wages had matched the growth in corporate wealth, stock prices, and executive salaries as a result of previous business tax cuts.

So, while this proposal from the Trump administration has no details attached to it, I think we can assume that this is the same trickle-down policies that the Republicans have been selling for more than 30 years. That’s why we have to say this over and over again, every time the GOP revives this zombie:

Trickle-down economics lines the pockets of the rich and stagnates wages for lower and middle-class Americans. The vast majority of Americans will not benefit from corporate tax cuts. On the contrary, these tax cuts will significantly hurt hard-working Americans. That’s a fact.

Ronald Reagan pushed through huge corporate tax cuts and wholesale changes in the tax structure, allowing businesses to pay an effective rate of about 15%, compared to a nominal rate of 35%. Republican Congresses gave George W. Bush four separate tax cuts in the early 2000s. Since 2010 the state of Kansas, with a conservative GOP governor and state legislature, practiced Reaganomics to the hilt: they cut all the taxes they could find over the past decade, and the result is a stagnant economy which has decimated the lower and middle classes. They’ve closed schools, sold public property, shortened the school week, laid off thousands, and they’re still broke—because they have no revenue from taxes, which is just about the only way a government can pay for necessary services.

In Kansas, and across the United States, under trickle-down Reaganomics, we have never seen any benefit to the middle class. So naturally Trump and his Republicans want to try it again. These are the facts.

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