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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

When Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney aren’t attacking each other for “vulture capitalism” and “bitter envy,” they often deliver sonorous warnings that the Obama administration is driving us toward national insolvency – that we will soon face the same fate as Greece or Italy. These exaggerated predictions of deficit doom are intended to frighten the gullible, with the ultimate aim of achieving drastic cuts of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (and possibly the privatization of those programs for profit). But what the Republican candidates never mention a fundamental cause of the fiscal crises in Greece and Italy when proffering false comparisons with the United States: the impressive levels of tax evasion and underground economic activity in those crippled economies.

If anybody is pushing the United States toward the edge of fiscal disaster, it may just be the Republicans in Congress who insist on slashing the Internal Revenue Service operating budget. According to the agency’s internal watchdog, tax evasion — rampant among the one percent, by the way, both here and in Europe — costs the Treasury around $400 billion a year, more than one-sixth of the $2.3 trillion collected. Rather than hire more auditors to ensure that the wealthy pay their share, Congress actually cut the IRS budget in 2011 — and brought us a bit closer to the impecunious state that Romney, Gingrich and all those debt-conscious Republicans supposedly despise.

In Italy, the annual cost of tax evasion is conservatively estimated at $150 billion, or almost eight percent of that country’s gross domestic product. In other words, more than enough to begin solving Italian fiscal problems without the harshest austerity. In Greece, the tax evaders steal away with an estimated $30 billion a year, or about 10 percent of Greek GDP — not enough to balance their budgets yet but certainly enough to soften the economic damage of cutbacks. In the financial markets, everyone knows that better tax enforcement, usually a dreaded notion among traders, is mandatory so that southern Europe can borrow and recover.

Although Americans are taught from an early age to hate taxes and disdain the IRS, our rate of tax evasion has nevertheless been much lower than the rest of the developed world. Still, in an era when legislators are considering drastic reductions in essential programs, the rising level of taxes owed seems like an obvious target for better enforcement. But studies here and abroad show that tax evaders are far more common in the uppermost brackets than at the lower end, where levies are mostly deducted from paychecks — which makes evasion an important element in the growing global income inequality. Perhaps that’s why the likes of Gingrich and Romney, those faithful servants of the one percent, will never mention it.

Actor as Donald Trump in Russia Today video ad

Screenshot from RT's 'Trump is here to make RT Great Again'

Russia Today, the network known in this country as RT, has produced a new "deep fake" video that portrays Donald Trump in post-presidential mode as an anchor for the Kremlin outlet. Using snippets of Trump's own voice and an actor in an outlandish blond wig, the ad suggests broadly that the US president is indeed a wholly owned puppet of Vladimir Putin– as he has so often given us reason to suspect.

"They're very nice. I make a lot of money with them," says the actor in Trump's own voice. "They pay me millions and hundreds of millions."

But when American journalists described the video as "disturbing," RT retorted that their aim wasn't to mock Trump, but his critics and every American who objects to the Russian manipulations that helped bring him to power.

As an ad for RT the video is amusing, but the network's description of it is just another lie. Putin's propagandists are again trolling Trump and America, as they've done many times over the past few years –- and this should be taken as a warning of what they're doing as Election Day approaches.

The Lincoln Project aptly observed that the Russians "said the quiet part out loud" this time, (Which is a bad habit they share with Trump.)