Here are six snapshots from this week in America:
1. On Sunday, billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson concludes the weekend summit at the Venetian in Las Vegas where four Republican presidential prospects for 2016 came to make their implicit pitch for financial support from the man who spent nearly $150 million during the 2012 campaign.
2. On Monday, a Senate subcommittee releases a report on the tax avoidance used by Caterpillar, the giant Peoria, Ill.-based heavy equipment manufacturer, which cut its tax bill by $2.4 billion over the past 13 years by allotting $8 billion in revenues from its parts division to a subsidiary in Switzerland, where only 65 of the division’s 8,500 employees work. In an email exchange about whether this was appropriate, a managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was paid $55 million to concoct this arrangement, said: “What the heck, we’ll all be retired when this audit comes up on audit…Baby boomers have their fun, and leave it to the kids to pay for it.”
3. On Tuesday, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan releases the latest version of the famous Ryan budget. To make up for tax reductions for the wealthy, the budget calls for very deep cuts in spending on Medicaid, food stamps and discretionary spending, which includes research and development, transportation and infrastructure. Amtrak would lose its $1 billion in already-meager annual subsidies and have to rely entirely on fare-box revenue.
4. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court releases a 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, eliminating caps on how much total money ultra-rich donors can give to candidates, parties and PACs in a given election cycle. Where donors had previously been limited to giving $123,200 to candidates and parties in a given cycle, they can now give as much as $3.6 million. Chief Justice John Roberts writes: “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption.” Celebrating the ruling, House Speaker John Boehner says, “I’m all for freedom, congratulations.”
5. On Thursday morning, the Wall Street Journal runs an op-ed by one of the best-known mega-donors, Charles Koch, who with his brother backs Americans for Prosperity, which spent $122 million leading up to the 2012 campaign and has already spent more than $30 million in the past six months attacking Obamacare and Democratic senators up for reelection this fall. In the op-ed, Koch explains his heavy spending by warning of the “collectivists” threatening to take over the country. “The fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation’s own government,” he writes.
6. Later on Thursday morning, between 9 and 10 a.m., part of the overhead electric line that powers the Acela train comes down onto the tracks near Bowie, Maryland, between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Virtually all train traffic between Baltimore and Washington shuts down for hours as undermanned crews struggle to repair the line, thereby severely hampering traffic in the Washington to Boston Northeast corridor that carries 750,000 passengers on 2,000 trains per day and also spelling panic for the Thursday afternoon rail commuters heading north out of Washington.
A southbound commuter train from Baltimore to Washington on Thursday morning that was caught just behind the downed lines and a stalled Acela takes four hours and 20 minutes to make the 40 mile journey, one that normally takes an hour. German tourists on the train sit bewildered about what could possibly be happening. Passengers have the consolation of listening to several proudly Republican lawyer/lobbyists on board loudly voicing their opinions on the delay. One declares it is the fault of President Obama, who is “in way over his head.” Another declares that the lack of credible information from the conductor is “just like Benghazi.”
One passenger is left thinking that this country could use some more spending on infrastructure, transportation and the general commonweal. Yes, that risks being “collectivist” and would be opposed by a casino magnate with vast holdings in Macau and would leave less for top-bracket tax cuts in the Ryan budget. But heck, it would also mean some more business for Caterpillar, which might even be prevailed upon to keep some of its income stateside, thus helping pay for said investment in the future of the greatest nation on earth.