Category Archives: Tax reform

You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three

The central argument of Amusing Ourselves [Neil Postman] is simple: there were two landmark dystopian novels written by brilliant British cultural critics – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – and we Americans had mistakenly feared and obsessed over the vision portrayed in the latter book (an information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state) rather than the former (a technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble).

Andrew Postman

So what would Neil Postman say about this fellow [note title of this essay, referencing Jeff Bezos’ proclamation on what work should mean to every breathing American], or the many fellows like Bezos who have zero patience for a world without disrupting economies tied to their authoritarian business plan of more billionaires deserving (sic) more power. Disruptive and destructive, and not just economies in the book sense, but structural violence and community disintegration, murdering people with debt, lack of housing, no medical care, suicide, that’s Bezos, et al looking to capitalize on every penny gathered from every nanosecond in our individual human lives.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his company grow into one of the world’s biggest companies.

Back in 1997, Bezos told shareholders that employees at other companies “can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com, you can’t choose two out of three.”

Bezos acknowledges his high standards for employees every year, telling shareholders that “it’s not easy to work here.”

In the 24 years since Amazon was founded, CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his company grow from a modest online bookshop to one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Back in 1997, Bezos was already expecting big things out of his young company. In his annual letter to Amazon shareholders, Bezos described how much effort he expected from his employees.

“When I interview people I tell them, ‘You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,” Bezos wrote in the 1997 letter.

“Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”

The New York Times reported in 2015 exactly how bruising the work environment at Amazon could be. Employees were reportedly expected to routinely work late, were encouraged to criticize coworkers‘ ideas at meetings, and were often found crying at their desks. Amazon disputed many of the claims in the Times investigation, though the newspaper defended its reporting.

God forbid we call Amazon Boss Bezos a plantation owner of a different mother, for sure. That Americans — living in small and large cities, far and wide — depend on the Amazon way as if Amazon is sutured into all aspects of American culture (sic) and hardwired into every new born’s head. Same day delivery. A shopping cart that would be the envy of any Rothschild or Leona Mindy Roberts Helmsley.

See the source image

This essay, first, was going to address those other masters of the Universe — Google Guys and Algorithm Titans. I barely criticized a billionaire in a DV article —   Household Income, or Higher Planes of Consciousness?*

I criticized Nick Hanauer for his false balance, contrived bifurcation, and his new wind as a billionaire fighting what he calls the educationalism mindset that says that a good, grounded, deep and holistic education might be a thing of kings, whereas Nick says education backing and financing ain’t worth diddly squat in capitalism until more people make more money to buy more things, or just to survive in his nihilistic world.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

— Nick Hanauer

In my email box, Google, of course, I get an unsolicited email from an organization for which I have never associated with or even pursued. It’s the old surveillance state of Google and the internet Stasi, for sure —

Image result for stasi

Alas, Neil Postman was correct, in so far as what we say and do as writers really does not count — we are only as smart and deep and truthful as our masters will allow:

In my college economics class, we were taught that wages depend on productivity. The more productive or skilled workers are, my professors used to argue, the more they will be worth on the labor market and, therefore, the higher their wages will be. That’s bunk.

Under this logic, the way to cure our economic woes – whether poverty, inequality, underemployment, or unemployment – is through education. By educating our citizens, we increase their human capital, making them more productive and, therefore, increasing their expected income.

It sounds good, right?

This seductive myth – of education as an economic cure-all – is something Civic Action founder Nick Hanauer calls “educationism.” As Nick writes in a recent article for The Atlantic, it’s a myth he used to believe, and it’s a myth many wealthy elites still propagate. It’s what leads philanthropists to donate billions of dollars to public schools and educational institutions.

There’s just one problem: Educationism doesn’t work. If it did, our middle class would be much better off.

In the last 40 years, while the real incomes of most Americans have been stuck, we’ve gotten a lot more educated. Almost everyone has a high school diploma and the share of Americans with a college degree has more than tripled since 1970.”

But all that education hasn’t translated into higher wages. In fact, if our incomes had done what my college profs told me – gone up with productivity – the average family today would be earning $29,000 more a year. An average of $105,000!

Of course, it’s true that getting an education is likely to increase your own income. But that’s not the same as raising incomes throughout the economy. Not when four out of five of the fastest growing jobs pay very low wages – jobs like cashiers and health care assistants. Meanwhile, the pay of most people who do have a college education barely keeps up with inflation.

What we do need to do is raise incomes for working families and the middle class throughout the economy. That’s how we build an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few. As Nick writes:

“In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.”

—  Stephen Paolini, Civic Action, email with an ask for $ support

But then, this essay takes a twist, as they always seem to do when I deploy some ground-truthing. You see, most of us in the USA, the 80 percent of the population —  many of which are on the skids, on the near skids, or those of us barely scraping by, and those of us who are unseen but are many short steps away from working for one of those sweatshops like we see with Amazon (there are so many warehouse jobs, forklift gigs, sorting careers) and finding down time in the back seat of our cars)  —  so-so tire of, really, the prognosticators writing away hard in semi-secure status —  even the smartish ones on leftish magazines like The Nation, or digital forums like Truthout or Truthdig or The Intercept.

They have NO idea of what is real in the world, and that rarefied realm of citing this study or making this or that prediction, well, it is bombast at best, propaganda at worst, denuded of humanity in many cases.

Case in point — tens of millions of men and women wandering the land (US), in some warped version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, really, in a society that eats-sleeps-dreams-believes the crap that Huxley warned of, and that which Neil Postman discussed. Oh the irony, those, that billionaire book salesman, Bezos, dead to the world, dead to us, the 80 percent, living, barely, in the middle of their hellish barbecue.

I was with three fellows — two literally are sleeping in campgrounds, and one fellow living with his parents. A million miles away from what any social worker or Sheryl Sandberg or Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or any of the scions of Holly-dirt or anyone in the Trump Loony Bin Show, or those clamoring around an Obama or Oprah or Rachel Maddow. It’s a triple sick experience even thinking about how vapid that so-called debate was yesterday with half of the half-wits of the Democratic Party wanting to play president.

So, a life of men truly on the extinction block, in several demographics. These fellows I hired on to help my spouse and I move from a rental to a house we had the temerity to purchase in a Time of Climate Heating, Oceans Rising, Food Wilting, Water Draining, Economies Imploding, Saber Rattling, and ICBM Immolating.

Their lives, broken down, seem to hold the familiar life story of many people I have worked with as a non-traditional social worker for the homeless, the just-out-of-prison returnees, and chronically physically and mentally ill. They work jobs, stacking halibut,  packing shrimp, pounding two-by-fours, hauling goods, sorting things, cutting trees, landscaping, roofing. Both of these fellows are 50, living in campgrounds, one with false teeth, the other with nubs and rotting teeth.

Child support for children they have never seen, or can’t see now. Felonies for this or that charge keeping them from even getting to first base on an apartment application. Vagabonds harassed by cops, and living life in a constant move. For my other helper, Brian, he’s a former marine, working as a social services provider, has a wonderful child on the spectrum (autism) and is currently living with aging and sickly parents. All three fit the bill for zero tolerance in this society. Never reflected in the news stories, in the Mass Murdering Media, never on the minds of the One Percent, Point Zero Zero One Percent. I know for a fact, though, that those Little Eichmanns who populate the other 19 percent of the 20 Percenters, well, many of them have one degree of separation when it comes to family members with substance abuse issues, chronic mental or physical illness, depression, suicidal, schizophrenic, and homeless.

You get both barrels of human pain and human survival and some human triumphs when talking with real people, albeit, denigrated folk, disenfranchised humans.

They are really rough around the edges, but these fellows, Tommy and Devon, they are examples of struggle and defeat and some triumph, as Brian and I note and agree. They are so far from any of the discourse going on around the world — the complete irrelevance of all the trolling, all the internet crap, all the stuff that makes for an echo chamber that sucks humanity and human connection from the ether.

You look at Tommy, and you see a man on the skids. Big laughing screwed up face, almost Dickensian, crazy might be one moniker. Hustling and wanting to have people know that there was once a time when he had some normalcy, some sense of being a man in society — not on the skids. Though, Tommy would not see himself on the skids.

Brain injury 23 years ago when a van hit him head on as a pedestrian. And he still works, moves heavy furniture, and hammers roofs.

Devon, a former truck driver, someone who has a few years in the Marines, and as Brian states — people are only awakened to the level of how they have been able to access those tools necessary to be woken up. Yet, Brian states that he’d much rather be in the company of these men than the MSWs and other graduate-level punishers he’s worked with, as I have also worked with, in the non-profit arenas as supposed social services workers.

They probably know nothing about this movement, which could affect Tommy and Devon:

When reporters for the International Amazon Workers Voice interviewed part-time Amazon “associates” (a cheap euphemism for “employees” used to disguise the exploitative relationship between workers and management at the company) in Baltimore to discuss their attitude toward Bezos’ fortune, they were met with a torrent of disgust, calls for sharing the wealth, and social anger.

“Tell Mr. Bezos and the rest of management to come out of their offices and get on the shop floor” said one worker who identified herself as a single mother of two. “At the end of the day, they never feel what we go through in a day for $12 an hour. They get to sit down in their offices and get paid more than we will see in a year,” she said.

Bezos’ wealth typifies the way an increasingly small number of multi-billionaire CEOs and finance operatives extract ever more obscene sums from the international workforce. This process of ever-increasing wealth for the few and exploitation for the majority is reaching a political breaking point.

Explaining her work environment during the holidays, the working mother said, “they just had us move 100,000 packages in 5 hours, and at the end we aren’t even paid enough to take care of our kids. I’m a single mother, I don’t receive food stamps. My rent is $850 a month. I have to pay for gas, electricity, bus passes, plus raise two kids.

“If we decided to quit, who would move these packages out of the door?” she said, noting the social power of the workers employed by the company. “We are the ones making you rich.”

Brian and I talk about Amazon, and the nefarious nature of how the guy at the Washington Post attacks the fourth grader Trump and others, while he is part of the Military Industrial Complex. From The Intercept:

Amazon’s extensive relationship with the NSA, FBI, Pentagon and other surveillance agencies in the west is multi-faceted, highly lucrative and rapidly growing. Last March, the Intercept reported on a new app that Amazon developers and British police forces have jointly developed to use on the public in police work, just “the latest example of third parties aidingautomating, and in some cases, replacing, the functions of law enforcement agencies — and raises privacy questions about Amazon’s role as an intermediary.”

Then there’s the patent Amazon obtained last October, as reported by the Intercept, “that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice.” In particular, it would enable anyone using the product to determine a person’s accent and likely place of origin: “The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent.”

All of this is taking place as Amazon vies for, and is the favorite to win, one of the largest Pentagon contracts yet: a $10 billion agreement to provide exclusive cloud services to the world’s largest military. CNN reported just last week that the company is now enmeshed in scandal over that effort, specifically a formal investigation into “whether Amazon improperly hired a former Defense Department worker who was involved with a $10 billion government contract for which the tech company iscompeting.”

Bezos’ relationship with the military and spying agencies of the U.S. Government, and law enforcement agencies around the world, predates his purchase of the Washington Post and has become a central prong of Amazon’s business growth. Back in 2014, Amazon secured a massive contract with the CIA when the spy agency agreed to pay it $600 million for computing cloud software. As the Atlantic noted at the time, Amazon’s software “will begin servicing all 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.”

Given how vital the military and spy agencies now are to Amazon’s business, it’s unsurprising that the amount Amazon pays to lobbyists to serve its interests in Washington has exploded: quadrupling since 2013 from $3 million to almost $15 million last year, according to Open Secrets.

What would the house-less Tommy and Devon say about this Byzantine world of hyper billions of dollars and hyper trillions of human hours wasted on the things of capitalism, of power and control, consumption?

We were keeping our eye on 1984. But it’s Brave New World we should have feared instead.

I know many friends who wonder why we — people like me — still live in the US? Many wonder what it will take young people to stand down the systems of oppression. Some believe the young people have it, as in Greta the Carbon Dioxide Robin Hood, or AOC, the new face (sic) of American politics.

This system we have now is one where a few voices count (get read, heard, published, followed), and the majority of voices are just bursts of yelling in the woods, in campgrounds, in one’s lovely home in the old sedan, in our own bedlam. People travelling from one insane place to another, but in that realm, a sanity sets in for guys like Tommy and Devon. The world is pretty clear-cut, and on many levels, these people have positive outlooks — toothless, no real estate or swelling investment accounts. Just that hard way forward. Cigarettes and bicycling miles a day. Places to shower. Places to get out of the rain without the bulldozers of misanthropy pushing them further and further into ditches or out on the periphery until they stare us all down, face to face, the coming of a New Brave World. Is it the entertaining ourselves to death cycle, or a little bit of the other — big brother, watching our every move, holding every syllable mouthed in a cloud server, every speck of mole cataloged, and every word penned or typed, collected to hold us at bay, hold us as prisoners of our own faulty beliefs?

 

Needless to say, Charles Dickens grew to hate the system and rail against it in his works. In his seminal novella “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by two portly men raising money for the poor.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the [one of the gentlemen], taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

— Charles Dickens, 1843, A Christmas Carol 

Or, updated for 2020, as illustrated by a commentator on an article about Portland, OR, once the Rose City, now The City of Rocks:

To disrupt illegal camp sites set up by homeless in Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is moving boulders onto the roadsides. The project will eventually cost about a million dollars, but ODOT argues this cost is less than the cost of dealing with existing campsites.

Many have pointed out that this policy does nothing to address the underlying problem or help the people in the camp, but only forces them to move somewhere else.

KGW8


odot boulders homeless camps highway 26 1015 2018

—Scrooge/Marley, Edward Sullivan, Planetizen

A debtor's prison in London.

A debtor’s prison in London.

Whom Did Tax Reform Benefit?

Characterizations of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act have followed agendas – its opponents maintaining it is a bill for the wealthy, and its supporters arguing that the bill fairly satisfies all economic levels.

A previous article, Failure of Trump Tax Cuts, analyzed the effects of the Tax cuts on the economy and showed that tax cuts do not pay for themselves; they do not generate additional revenue that compensate for the loss of government receipts. This article analyzes tax cut effects on individual wage earners. Four scenarios, representative of the tax paying public in years 2017 and 2018, are presented.

  • Single tax payer using standard deduction;
  • Single tax payer using itemized deduction of $16,000;
  • Married taxpayer, two children, filing separately and using standard deduction; and,
  • Married taxpayer, two children, filing separately, and using itemized deduction of $16,000.

Effects on wage earners are not the sole means for evaluating the worth of tax bills; other factors will be considered.

The results for single taxpayers, using the standard deduction, are shown on the left in the following table.

In 2017, this type of taxpayer added a deduction from a $4050 exemption to the standard deduction of $6000. In 2018, the standard deduction was raised to $12,000, but no exemptions were allowed.

The single taxpayer in 2018, using the standard deduction, had a $1950 advantage in taxable income compared to the single 2017 taxpayer. Because the tax rates were also lowered in 2018, a single taxpayer of equivalent gross income gained another advantage and paid less tax than in 2017.

Which earning group did the reduced taxes most benefit?

By absolute figures, the higher the earnings, the greater is the benefit. However, a more accepted manner for examining the figures is by proportion. By these criteria, the lower waged earners received the greatest benefit — 21% for low wage earner, 18% for high wage earner, and 9.3% for ultra-high wage earners.

The results for single taxpayers, using itemized deduction of $16,000 deduction, are shown on the right of the table.

In this case, the 2017 wage earner had an advantage. In addition to the $16,000 itemized deduction, the 2017 wage earner received a single exemption of $4050 applied to the deductions. The lower tax rates in 2018 offset this advantage, but insufficiently; none of the single taxpayers received much benefit, and the lowest wage earners actually paid slightly more taxes.

The results for the married taxpayer, using standard deduction, are shown on the left in the next table.

In 2017, this type of taxpayer was able, from four $4050 exemptions, to add a deduction of $16,200 to the standard deduction of $6000. In 2018, no exemptions were allowed, even for married families. Offsetting this disadvantage were the child and spouse credits. In 2017, each dependent child, created a $1000 tax credit, directly off the bottom line of the tax statement. In 2018, each dependent child created a $2000 tax credit and a $500 tax credit was allowed for the spouse. In 2018, the child tax credits are refundable (not the spouse credit), which means a negative tax, up to $1400, is refundable.

The higher tax credits in 2018 enabled all of these types of married taxpayers ($4500 tax credits) to reduce their taxes in 2018. Note that the difference in taxes between the 2018 single taxpayer using the standard deduction and the married taxpayer using the standard deduction is exactly $45000. In this scenario, the absolute tax gain was almost equal between all wage earners, except the ultra-high wage earners. Proportionately, the lower wage earners received the most benefits.

The results for married taxpayers, using an itemized deduction of $16,000, are shown on the right of the table. In this case, by itemizing deductions, just as for the single taxpayers, the 2018 married taxpayers lost the $6000 advantage they had compared to the 2017 taxpayers. The combination of loss of this advantage, together with the difference in tax credits and tax tables for the two tax years, made erratic differences between taxpayers from the two years. Generally, the absolute advantage for the 2018 taxpayer was small, even going negative for middle-income wage earners.

For this scenario, only the ultra-high wage earners managed to maintain a distinct advantage in the 2018 tax year. The low wage earners had a decent advantage, but the $1400 limitation in the tax credits limited the advantage.

Other Considerations

The analysis uncovers the inutility of the standard tax deduction, which only moves the income down the tax schedule. As an example, a single wage earner of $40,000 in 2018 who uses the $12,000 standard deduction pays the same tax as a wage earner of $38,000 in the same tax schedule that has no standard deduction. For those who itemize deductions, subtracting $12,000 from their deduction steers taxpayers to itemize deductions only when they have more than $12,000 in deductions. Similar reasoning applies to the exemption; it also only shifts the tax table by the exemption, which every single taxpayer has, by the exemption amount. Having a standard deduction and an exemption make it seem that the Internal Revenue Department is being considerate of taxpayers, but all these considerations do is raise the level at which it is beneficial to itemize deductions. Is it not simpler and preferable to have neither a standard deduction nor exemptions and modify the tax table to more equitably distribute taxes?

Married taxpayers with children, who also have no exemptions in 2018, have a $500 tax credit for the spouse and a $2000 tax credit for each child. Regardless of the taxable income, all taxpayers receive the same credit. Is this fair or logical? Should the lower income groups, in which the care of a dependent child is a greater percentage of available income and, therefore, a greater financial burden, receive more benefit? Tax credits are a correct approach, but shouldn’t they be inversely proportional to the income? As an example, a wage earner with dependent children, could receive a tax credit by the formula

N X K/I = TC

where N= number of dependents, K = Tax Credit for one dependent, I = income, and TC = Total tax credits.

As an example, if N=2, K= 80 (expressed in 000), and I = 40 (expressed in 000), then
TC = 4 or $4000.
If I = $100,000, then TC = $1600.

Although the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act managed to save all 2018 wage earners something in their taxes, the savings beg another question, “Were the benefits sufficient to warrant the Tax act?” Entering into the discussion is that the reduced taxes increased the federal deficit. Regarding the entire situation from a total perspective, we have the increased deficit essentially financing the tax cuts. Wage earners received a temporary loan from the government, which should be repaid one day by increased taxes. Should be, but not definitely – the deficit monotonically increases with no regard of ever reducing it.

The tax cuts could have been used to re-distribute the wealth – heavy tax cuts for low wage earners and no tax cuts for ultra-high wage earners. Why give those earning $200,000 another $5000 and low wage earners only another $1500? Shouldn’t it be the other way? Better yet, why not make tax cuts, budget neutral, and have low wage earners receive sizeable tax cuts and ultra-high wage earners pay more taxes to compensate for the revenue lost to the government planners..

Going further, why has the administration bothered to spend huge dollars for preparing, legislating, and managing new income tax policies that gave $6000 to people who already had after tax income of $160,000, and served to increase the federal deficit and support their largesse? Why did it not keep the same tax legislation and use the costs incurred for the new tax legislation together with the monetary benefits that occurred with the new legislation and use the total revenue to assist the least advantaged citizens of the American economy?

Conclusions

(1) The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act mainly favored those using the standard deduction.

(2) From a proportional saving perspective, lower wage earners gained mostly from the Act

(3) The fact that the Act was not budget neutral, and increased the deficit, its effectiveness is definitely judgmental.

(4) A more meaningful and fair Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gives more decisive benefits to all low wage earners and serves to redistribute the wealth.

(5) Reappraisal of the income tax should have included a reappraisal of the worth of the standard deduction.

(6) The tax credits gave equal weight to all income levels, which does not seem fair or logical.

(7) The most debatable feature of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is that it assumes that the function of income taxes is to regulate consumer purchasing power rather than provide adequate revenue for government programs.

Americans for Tax Reform and Grover Norquist take note: There is no evidence that income tax cuts pay for themselves or stimulate the economy. Until poverty is eliminated, tax cuts are meaningless if they only give more funds to those who already have adequate means to live.

Wall Street Mini-Tax Could Raise Maxi Revenue

With great fanfare, politicians on the left are thinking big on tax reform: a 70 percent rate on incomes over $10 million, a wealth tax on the super-rich, estate taxes as high as 77 percent. With no fanfare at all, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has made the case for thinking small. According to the CBO, a mini-tax on sales of stocks, bonds and other holdings could boost revenues by scores of billions a year.

The estimate came in December 2018 when the CBO released its list of options for cutting the federal deficit. For the period 2019-2028, a Wall Street tax of 0.1 percent would bring an extra $777 billion into the Treasury. Market declines were predicted early on, along with lower capital gains and lower trading volumes. Even so, after factoring in all the headwinds, the tax still produced average annual revenue increases of almost $78 billion. The numbers rose as the years went by: the inflow totaled $534.5 billion in the closing half-decade, compared to $242.2 billion from 2019-2023.

The tax is called a financial transactions tax, “FTT” for short. The United States had one from 1914 until 1965; it could be coming around again as lawmakers try to cope with “the defining challenge of our time,” income inequality.

Such a levy would instantly become the single biggest non-income tax on wealth in America. Five days a week and after-hours, the financial markets execute millions of trades involving billions of shares. The huge majority belongs to taxpayers in the upper rungs. Given the volume and the value of the trades, even a tiny tax would generate giant revenues. The Institute for Policy Studies, in a Q&A on the tax, said the burden “would fall overwhelmingly on short-term speculators. For most pension funds and traditional stock-and-bond-holders, the cost would be negligible—in fact less than typical portfolio management fees.”

A detailed analysis of FTTs by the Tax Policy Center was published in 2016. The study looked at the arguments pro and con, and there were plenty of both. For opponents, the tax was “an answer in search of a question.” It would “curb productive trading…reduce market liquidity, raise the cost of capital, and discourage investment.” If you want more, “It could also cause prices to adjust less rapidly to new information.”

For proponents, the upsides included less “speculative short-term and high-frequency trading,” less volatility, and fewer bubbles. Payback was part of the argument too: It “could help recoup the costs of the [2009] financial-sector bailout as well as the costs the financial crisis imposed on the rest of the country.” From this sprang the nickname, the “Robin Hood Tax.”

The name fits—but Robin never took from the rich on a scale so small and yet so large. The study concluded that a tax of 0.34 percent “could raise a maximum of about 0.4 percent of GDP ($75 billion in 2017) in a highly progressive manner.” Note that the 0.34 percent rate more than triples the CBO’s 0.1 percent, but brings in no more revenue. The reason is tax evasion, which rises as the rate increases; the increases can ultimately lose more revenue through evasion than they gain. Nonetheless, the tax is clearly a fiscal policy bonanza.

If it again becomes law, said the Center, the bonus billions could be used “to benefit the poor, finance future financial bailouts, cut other taxes, or reduce public debt.” The last option, of course, is how the CBO was spending the money. There’s no lack of other possible uses, including sorely-needed infrastructure repairs or restoring free tuition to public colleges and universities.

Even the right gets something to love with a FTT. Here’s the Tax Foundation in February of 2018, praising sales taxes and their superiority to income taxes: “Retail sales taxes are one of the more transparent ways to collect tax revenue. While graduated income tax rates and brackets are complex and confusing to many taxpayers, sales taxes are easier to understand; consumers can see their tax burden printed directly on their receipts” (in this case, directly on their financial transactions receipts).

In the newest news, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-NJ) have just submitted FTT legislation calling for an 0.1 percent tax to the current Congress. Earlier efforts over the last decade have gone nowhere, and any Democratic bill faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Timing is everything, though. And the nonpartisan CBO just gave out those big, beautiful numbers for precisely the tax that Schatz and DeFazio are proposing.

This article originally appeared at www.nydailynews.com

One Tiny Tax Reform, Millions for America

It’s no secret that the federal government needs more revenue going forward. Congress could put the Treasury on autopilot to raise billions (and ultimately tens of billions) year after year. Guided by fairness, it could enact spend-down rules for non-retirement accounts that mirror those for retirement accounts: at age 70 ½, require minimum distributions and tax all gains at ordinary income rates.

Let’s look first at the tax policy drawn up by lawmakers to govern the original individual retirement accounts (IRAs) in 1974. Then let’s see how the same policy points to duplicate rules for regular, non-retirement holdings.

Congress gave generous tax breaks to IRAs all through the build-up years. In fact, they’re tax-free, starting with contributions and including realized and unrealized capital gains, capital gains distributions, and dividends. If markets rose (a solid long-term bet), compounding would add hugely to the value of the breaks.

On the back end, legislators turned the accounts into a fair and far-sighted bargain. They elected to tax all withdrawals as ordinary income—including the capital gains, normally taxed at much lower rates (currently 15%). Under this mandate, taxes that were forgiven all along are continually recouped at ordinary income rates as retirees cash in.

So it is that IRAs, 401(k)s and the like yield tens of billions in federal income taxes every year—all of which is actually repaying America for those decades of tax breaks. According to the latest estimate from the Internal Revenue Service, taxable income from retirement accounts (not including pensions and annuities) totaled over $254 billion in 2016.

For legislative foresight, it’s hard to beat the taxation rules laid down for retirement accounts. More revenue is streaming into the Treasury precisely when an aging America needs every dollar it can get—to shore up Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, to replace and repair infrastructure, to see that more Americans get a college education. There’s no end to the nation’s pressing (and costly) needs.

Presciently, the annual inflow of new retirees means that revenue from retirement accounts is almost certain to increase. The actual numbers, of course, depend heavily on the stock market, which in the large has been a major plus. Wall Street’s bull run has surpassed 3,452 days, making it “the longest on record by most definitions.”

In another revenue boost, even the affluent who don’t actually need the money have to begin drawing down and paying back. Minimum distributions begin at age 70 ½ and continue at slowly increasing percentages each year.

On to non-retirement accounts and the case for treating them in like fashion. Holders of such accounts are also indebted to the Treasury for decades of tax breaks; they too should be required to take minimum distributions starting at age 70 ½, with the realized capital gains taxed at ordinary income rates.

Year after year, all their reported investment income gets taxed at a preferential rate. Year after year, they can avoid capital gains taxes by not realizing their gains—by simply buying and holding, while the markets and compounding drive the gains ever higher.

There’s also a final break that costs the Treasury dearly. In an egregious giveaway, unrealized capital gains can be wiped from the books by passing the holdings along to an heir. Through a loophole called the stepped-up basis, the value at the time of the transfer becomes the heir’s basis—erasing, and leaving untaxed, all the accumulated gains in the account. That break would vanish if Congress made minimum distributions a universal rule.

The comedian Rodney Dangerfield rose to fame with a signature line, “I don’t get no respect.” Retirement accounts, the vast majority defined-contribution, get no respect either. They’re regularly attacked for shifting the retirement savings burden to workers; far better and more secure, the critics say, were the defined-benefit pension plans that employers paid.

True enough—but there’s been little recognition of how completely defined contribution plans have outdistanced traditional pensions. Worker participation rates long ago eclipsed the pre-IRA highs. Total retirement savings have soared; likewise for company contributions. Lastly, as a fairness bonus, taxing capital gains the same as wages makes for less income inequality.

Over time, though, the most inspired contribution of defined contribution accounts has to be those endless tens of billions in payback headed for the Treasury.  Congress could (let’s make that should) raise the revenue numbers another notch by applying the minimum distribution rule to regular accounts.

After all, why should retirement accounts be the only ones repaying the Treasury for tax breaks?

Despite Caving on Superdelegate Votes, Democratic Leaders Stick With Old Wine in Old Bottles …

The challenge by progressives to Democratic party leaders for November’s midterms—and the 2020 presidential election—is to tone down the anti-Trump focus and play up domestic planks as did the Great Depression’s president Franklin D. Roosevelt (“FDR”) to solve the nation’s critical domestic needs. Campaigners do not want to waste time and energies in yet another party defeat because the party continues to abandon the interests of millions once under its “big tent” in catering to the interests of banks, big business, and the rich.

*****

So Democratic party’s leaders finally surrendered to its progressive wing’s demand to disallow the 716 superdelegates bloc to vote on the first ballot for a presidential nominee in 2020. That took two years at hard labor for progressive movements to wear down the Democratic National Committee (DNC) movers-shakers from using this Machiavellian tactic to stop a super-popular candidate from blocking its hand-picked pro-corporate nominee.

To move the party back to its base and prioritize today’s domestic needs that campaigners can offer voters will require fighting the DNC cabal’s long-practiced backroom tricks and threats. A few days before the Chicago annual meeting of members was the cabal’s 30-2 vote reversing the rules committee’s two-month-old ban on taking donations from union leaders in the fossil-fuel industry. That will keep the doors open to company contributions constantly influencing Congress.

DNC members apparently overlooked this deed in also passing a procedural-reform package including both same-day registration and party change, open primaries, toughening conflict-of-interest rules and financial oversight of DNC finances, and adding an Ombudsman committee for complaints.

For progressives, that means the next and greatest hurdle in both the November midterm elections for Congress and the 2020 presidential contest is to wear down the DNC’s resistance to planks still packing stadiums and halls for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ hugely popular platform planks: Medicare-for-All, $15 minimum wage, tuition-free public colleges, expanded Social Security, and a federal public-works jobs program. They are the same kind of vote-getting planks created and implemented by the famed Great Depression president, Franklin D. Roosevelt (“FDR”) for a mostly destitute and despairing nation.

But the DNC cabal’s opposition has been fiercely opposed to such plans, especially Medicare-for-All. DNC and Congressional minority leaders—Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Schumer—reap thousands in annual donations from the health-care industry. Small wonder then that last year, Pelosi insisted that “Americans aren’t ready for Medicare-for-All.” In July, her hedge was that if the Democrats win the House in November, “Medicare-for-All” proposals “should be evaluated.”

The cabal’s stance is criminal, given that millions of uninsureds will die in that stall. By May, some 45,232,000 were uninsured because of cost, many because they could no longer afford Obamacare, thanks to Congressional Republicans killing its subsidized mandate and/or the insurance industry’s constant increases in premiums and deductibles.

Yet the Reuters-Ipsos June/July poll of nearly 3,000 respondents showed that 70% support Medicare-for-all (Democrats: 85%; Republicans: 52%). Current cost estimates for the program show health-care savings of $2 trillion dollars over a 10-year period over the present for-profit system because of significant low-overhead in federal administration of the program.

Increasingly disappointed in the last few years in the Democratic party’s choices of losing candidates for Congressional and president, campaign volunteers are going to be increasingly absent. Many veteran campaigners hoped the cabal would be almost totally focused on fixing the nation’s critical domestic needs, as was FDR rather than foreign adventuring.

We veteran canvassers have a greater sense of voters’ values and demands than the party’s indoor leaders and technocrats. And we have the slammed doors or welcoming greetings to prove it. Most householders on our walking lists are unlikely to vote for Congressional or presidential candidates serving Wall Street, the industrial complex, or super-conservative “centrism.” We know we’ll hear about Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors or the critical need to attack Russia, Iran, North Korea, or China before they attack us.

What we heard on the doorsteps even in the 2015-16 presidential election was Americans’ yearning for a new FDR to address most American’s vital domestic needs, not endless wars continually supported by the party on behalf of multinational corporations. Didn’t 139 House Democrats just vote to allocate $717 billion for military spending?

We expect to be braced now on doorsteps on why the party doesn’t support Bernie’s platform or his presidential candidacy when he’s still ranked as America’s most popular politician and attracts standing-room crowds because of those planks.

Some householders may be politically savvy enough to ask why Pelosi is still House minority leader and pouring the DNC’s old wine into old bottles, something even Democratic cohorts are discussing in weighing her replacement after the midterms.

But she still remains the powerful voice of the cabal—and is a top fundraiser. As such, she wrote a six paragraph letter to Congressional colleagues the day before the DNC’s general meeting with pointed orders for the midterms. Four paragraphs dealt with fighting the Trump regime. True, “working people” are mentioned five times in her demand that incumbents focus on delivering a “strong economic message for the people.” But she carefully avoided planks about Medicare-for-All, a $15 hourly wage, and ludicrously urged the impossibility of eradicating political corruption, and closed with:

As November rapidly approaches, we must also stay focused on delivering our strong economic message to hard-working families across America that we are fighting For The People: working to lower health care costs and prescription drug prices, increasing workers’ pay through strong economic growth by rebuilding America, and cleaning up corruption to make Washington work.

She’s supported by the cabal’s latest tactic against progressives, the “New Democrats,” organized to preserve major donations from Wall Street, Big Pharma, big corporations, and the military-industrial complex. Its political-action committee (NewDemPAC) has raised $2.7 million. They counted on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to pick and fund its midterm candidates.

Support comes from neo-liberal groups and institutions, especially the Clintons’ Third Way Democrats, to carry the centrist dogma of super-caution in times when FDR-like bold actions are essential. The Third Way is touting 12 super-small planks to rebuild the economy: an American Investment Bank for small businesses and an Apprenticeship America plan to fund 100 apprenticeship programs.

The Third Way’s president defended these two top planks as the means “to stand up and launch a serious, compelling economic alternative to Sanderism.” Yet 40% of American families fret over paying for food, housing, increasing utility rates, and health care. An FDR assuredly would quickly expose Trump’s second-quarter boast that the GDP (gross domestic product) is at 4.1 percent, and his lies about a booming economy. Too many Americans are not experiencing it and echo the cry of “You can’t eat GDP. GDP doesn’t pay the bills.”

How are we volunteers to tell householders and renters that these ”New Democrat” programs are “serious, compelling economic solutions” to their basic problems?

Obviously, though this right-wing group has spent thousands on focus groups and “listening” tours around the country for those planks, their audiences must have been the well off. They’re deaf to the real needs attracting most voters in the Rust-Belt states to candidate Donald Trump and the millions flocking to Sanders’ rallies. It’s doubtful they care that 57% of Democrats and 51% of U.S. millennials view socialism positively, according to a July 30-August 5 Gallup poll. Or why such voters yearn for a new FDR to implement Sanders’ planks.

FDR was a powerful, experienced, and practical problem-solver as president. His leadership rescued the nation from its darkest hours of the Great Depression and grateful millions rewarded him with four terms in the White House.

Fresh from governing and working hard to rescue New York state, FDR was a jaunty 51 when he moved into the White House in 1933 with a pragmatic “brain-trust” staff experienced in relief work and practical economics. They hit the floor running.

In the first 100 days, they set up “New Deal” programs despite howling opposition from a terrified Democratic cabal and those in Congress, and the colossal power of big business, and the “banksters.” All of them learned no one could intimidate or deter Roosevelt in his near-impossible mission, not even Churchill, Stalin, or Hitler.

He and his team started by tackling the financial industry’s depredations with a bank “holiday,” followed by a tough law (Glass-Steagall) forbidding them to play the stock market. Another law refinanced home loans. A new agency (Securities & Exchange) finally policed Wall Street. Farmers got crop subsidies, preventing the nation from starving. Millions of unemployed got jobs fixing long-neglected and vast infrastructure needs (Works Progress Administration) so the nation got dozens of dams and the Tennessee Valley Authority for cheap power and flood control. Millions of idle youths got jobs doing environmental work (Civilian Conservation Corps).

FDR’s second term gave the elderly Social Security and brought unions protections for wages, hours, and collective bargaining (the National Labor Relations Board).

He primed the public pump both with temporary public debt and hiking taxes on the rich, actions petrifying today’s DNC cabal because of its heavy dependence on big donors bent on preserving the status quo of low taxes and few federal regulations.

The New Deal “investment” cost $500 billion in today’s dollars, but was repaid by jump-starting a dying economy into a miraculous recovery before WWII. Treasury revenues climbed because of federal paychecks spent on food, housing, goods and services. That fed business profits, increasing taxes and bank reserves for loans to those businesses and industries. Improved highways and ports moved commerce faster and farther which, in what’s called the “multiplier effect,” created jobs.

In short, led by FDR, the Democratic party was then in tune with the times and priorities of most Americans. As one old-timer recently remarked: “Roosevelt was so popular that the party wouldn’t have had to spend a dime campaigning.”

If he were in charge today, he would stump the country with specific plans crafted by a “brain-trust” and immediately implement them by Executive Order if a frightened Congress balked at fast-tracking such bills into law.

Every Congressional candidate for the November midterm elections would be “strongly urged” by an FDR to rescind the recent corporate tax-cut of 21% if it’s to be paid by cutting $2 trillion from Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and public schools. At the least, they would be told to either block making those cuts permanent after the 2025 sunset or face another Executive Order forcing 95% of those cuts be invested in factory startups and wage increases.

A new FDR team also would be creative enough to block tax havens and money moved to international banks. Those cunning and greedy current actions to stratify profits rob the Treasury of billions in federal revenue.

In addition, they would fight for a $15 per hour wage in 2018, not 2025 because most Americans’ wages are not just stagnant, but dropping while living costs are rising and layoffs are increasing. The July PayScale study reported a decrease in 80 percent of industries and overall by 0.9% from this year’s first quarter.

Indeed, workers are earning 1.4% less than a year ago when measured against today’s Cost of Living (COLA) rate? No state has a minimum wage yet of $15 per hour. In 15 states alone, it’s still $7.25. In Georgia and Wyoming, it’s $5.15. But, then, if none in the DNC’s elitist cabal has ever had to survive on $5.15 or $7.25 per hour, why would they consider advocating wage hikes or increases in Social Security cheques to match the COLA rate?

Additionally, an FDR would make short work on the campaign trail of Trump’s claim that June’s unemployment rate was 4%. Such a statistic involves 6,600,000 humans and the 359,000 who’ve given up looking for work in times when manufacturing has “suddenly leveled off.” If robots are expected to cut manufacturing jobs by a third in the next decade, it means a jobless rate of 39,021,210, a catastrophic number compared to the Great Depression’s highest year (1933) of 12,830,000 when FDR took office.

He and his team would counter such a disaster again by the “multiplier effect” by resurrecting both the WPA and CCC, along with a federal guaranteed annual paycheck, again paid for by temporarily increasing the federal debt and raising taxes for U.S. companies moving overseas or “going robotic.”

Despite these immense and highly visible domestic challenges, the cabal’s actions to ignore them depend heavily on planks chiefly demonizing Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t war hawks. Media critic Norman Solomon notes: “…polling shows that few Americans see Russia as a threat to their well-being. That they’re far more concerned about such kitchen-table issues as healthcare, education, housing and overall economic security.” A recent Hill/HarrisX poll also shows 54% of Americans favor a second Trump-Putin meeting and that 61% believe “better relations with Russia are in the best interest of the United States.”

Loss of special-interest contributions has been one major threat. But Bernie showed how to raise millions by “volume” of $27 contributions from individuals.

Moreover, the DNC’s choice of a presidential candidate cost them the 2016 election because some 35% of eligible Democrats failed to vote. They balked either because a plutocrat regarded them as “deplorables” of fled to third parties like the Greens or Trump as the lesser evil. Too many of the cabal’s recent actions show the same disregard for millions of ordinary voters, the definition of insanity: doing the same things and expecting different results.

The battle lines between progressives and the “New” elitist Democrats have yet to be hardened. It’s never too late for campaigners and candidates to convince the DNC leaders to pour new wine into new bottles to bring back millions of voters they’ve ignored for the last three decades. That means seeking out new FDR types for Congress in the midterms and the White House in 2020.

As for the thousands of volunteers counted on to get-out-the-vote (GOTV), we’re tired of wasting time, creativity, “foot-power,” and money working for candidates continuing to ignore actions addressing the nation’s vast domestic needs. Give us another FDR and immediate action on Bernie’s planks or we’ll vote with our feet.

Ensuring Justice In The Era Of Transformation

In our last article, we predicted that the 2020s will be an era of transformation.  We focused on the development of the movement since the “Take-Off” phase of the 2011 Occupy encampments, followed by Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, Idle No More, carbon infrastructure protests, debt resistance, immigration protests and more. The 2020s will be a decade when the impacts of years of mismanagement of crisis situations, such as climate change, inequality and US militarism, become unavoidable requiring major transformations. What we do now to prepare will help determine the result.

Transformative Era will be Driven by Long Neglected Issues

For many of the issues the popular movement has been raising, the government has failed to act or taken counterproductive actions, putting the profits and interests of campaign donors ahead of the necessities of people and protection of the planet. The environment is being destroyed, the food supply is being poisoned by pesticides and the wealth divide is widening.

The massive threat of climate change has become more immediate and worse. In the last year, the scientific consensus has become more dire. The impacts are upon us now wildfires and superstorms, war brought on by drought, mass migrations and deaths.

At the same time multiple analyses and government reports point to a fading US empire. Since the end of World War II, the US has dominated the globe politically, economically and militarily becoming the largest empire in world history. That era is coming to an end.

In his new book, In the Shadows of the American Century, historian and chronicler of empire Alfred McCoy writes that US empire will end in the next decade. The US is falling behind in all spheres of influence. McCoy demonstrates how US spying on foreign governments and using torture in multiple countries have undermined the US’ moral authority, as have aggressive bullying for corporation-friendly trade deals, holding back climate agreements in the Obama era and pulling out of the climate agreement in the Trump era. He chronicles the rise of China, India and Russia, among other countries. The power dynamics of the world are changing with the US being left out of important decisions while China and Russia work in tandem in more areas.

McCoy describes various scenarios for how US empire will end, depending on how the current crises play out. No matter what happens, it is up to those of us living in the US to demand the US dismantles its empire in a way that causes the least harm. Paul Street writes, “the decline of the American Empire might be a good thing for ordinary people at home as well as abroad.” Ending empire is an opportunity for changes that move us toward being a cooperative nation in a multipolar world rather than hanging on to power through military might.

The end of empire will have many repercussions. Public investment in empire has meant a lack of investment on urgent needs; e.g., repairing failing and inadequate infrastructure, rebuilding cities that have been ignored, especially in black and brown communities, strengthening education from pre-school through post-graduate, to name a handful of many inadequately-funded areas. The empire economy helped create an unfair economy at home that pushed people into poverty, debt and homelessness. To reverse those impacts, the US must shift military spending to meet civilian needs and provide funding for a new democratized economy.

System-changing Issues

The credibility of the power structure that allowed these crises to fester will shrink. On each of the issues where the people’s movement has been growing, those in power have either denied reality and done nothing or have made matters worse through counterproductive policies. Multiple crisis situations barreling toward us require mobilization for system change, not simple reforms.

The US democracy crisis is due to the corruption of money in elections, laws that prevent challenges by third parties, media that warps coverage in favor of the duopoly, gerrymandering and more. The mirage of US elections has become evident to tens of millions of people resulting in both duopoly parties being unpopular and in disarray.

System failure is also a failure of the capitalist economic system, dominated by Wall Street, monopolies and massive transnational corporations. The kleptocrats in power are looting public treasures, monetizing and profiteering off our basic necessities such as water, energy and transportation. Increasing numbers of people agree we need a new economy based on economic democracy and the Commons where key sectors are socialized and under democratic control.

In Seymour Melman and the New American Revolution, Jonathan Feldman describes Melman’s ideas for dismantling empire and capitalism and shifting economic and political power to people through worker ownership and other democratized systems.

The movement must position itself for this coming era of transition by: (1) weakening the power structure by protest of mistaken policies and building alternatives to replace them; and (2) specifically defining the transformations we want so that the power holders cannot deceive us with false measures.

Opportunities to build movement power

Economic justice: Inequality in the United States is extreme and the world’s wealthy grow obscenely richer. Three people in the US have wealth equal to half the population while millions in urban areas have zero wealthtens of millions cannot handle a surprise $500 expense and an entire generation is entering adulthood in massive debt to a job market that will keep them in debt.

Over the last 40 years, CEO pay rose 937 percent while worker compensation remained stagnant. The recent tax cuts will add to all of these problems with increased debt caused by tax cuts for the rich causing cuts to social safety net programs like Medicaid and privatizing Social Security and Medicare. An economic crash seems almost inevitable as this decade comes to a close.

National consensus on issues like taxing the rich and building the economy from the bottom up will grow, creating opportunities for new economy programs; e.g., workers owning businesses, laws ensuring a livable wage, public banks, participatory budgeting where people decide public expenditures, a guaranteed income to ensure people can meet their basic needs and other programs giving people power in the economy. Not only should the recently-passed tax cuts be repealed, but an aggressively progressive income and wealth tax should be put in place along with a financial transactions tax to shrink the wealth divide and finance essential services.

Healthcare as a public good: Health care continues to be a top issue of concern as people cannot afford necessary care. Even with insurance, the deductibles and co-pays on top of high premiums are unaffordable and tens of millions of people cannot afford any insurance. To confront the healthcare crisis, the US most move from a system dominated by profits for insurance companies, Big Pharma and providers to a system where health care is a public good with equal access for all funded by a progressive tax. National improved Medicare for all has majority support and is poised to become a litmus test issue in upcoming elections.

Internet freedom with equal access for all and independent media: The attack on net neutrality has created a massive movement and national consensus that access to the Internet should be equal for all. People recognize that the Internet is essential to participate in the economy, politics and culture, resulting in calls to nationalize the Internet. The quality of Internet service must be improved so there is high speed Internet, as exists in other developed countries. We must create an Internet for the 21st Century.

Further concentration of media is limiting access to a diversity of views. Freedom of speech in the 21st Century requires protection of political speech on the Internet not only from government but from corporations; e.g., Google and Facebook, that control social media. Laws must protect independent and social media as democracy requires diverse information and robust debate.

Confronting climate change and reversing environmental degradation: There must be a rapid transition to a clean energy economy, which will create jobs for those who install solar, wind and other clean energy sources, construct efficient transit and housing, and conduct research to develop technology needed to remake the economy. The climate crisis will impact all aspects of life, including food, farming, water management, housing and more. Energy must be democratized so people who create more energy are compensated as producers and energy is socialized through public utilities. A carbon tax will encourage the change to clean energy and provide funds for the transition.

End of empire: There will be massive shifts in the economy at home and abroad and in foreign policy as empire comes to an end. The military-security state comprises a large and decentralized sector of the US economy. A just transition to a civilian peace economy will be required. The US will no longer have the power to coerce countries into signing trade deals, an economic arm of empire, that allow the exploitation of workers, communities and the environment. A new era of trade designed to protect people and planet will become possible. New international institutions will be needed to correct the weaknesses of the United Nations and allow governance that protects human rights and economic and racial equality. Mechanisms will be required to resolve conflicts between nations peacefully.

Systemic Racism: Through all these issues, racism, a hierarchy of power that allows one group of people to dominate another, is intimately intertwined. Institutions that perpetuate racism and inequality will need to be dismantled. This is not identity politics, as some have accused, nor does it negate the suffering and oppression of poor white people. It is a reality that must be faced if we are to create new systems that do not default to disparities between groups of people. Indigenous rights and sovereignty must be respected. Reparations must be paid for generations of stolen wealth.

The Task of Insuring Justice

While transitions are inevitable, it is not inevitable they will be made based on economic, racial and environmental justice and peace. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and each other so people understand the root causes of the crises we face, build popular power and create alternative systems that have desirable results. This is not the time for reform or the belief that we just need to elect the right person. The current systems, including the electoral system, are rigged against us and we need to use popular power change them.

As Kevin Buckland writes in Roar Magazine:

If we fail to offer scalable discursive, tactical and structural alternatives to the extractivist logic that has created the climate crisis, capitalism may itself transform the coming wave of disruptions into its own benefit, exacerbating existent inequalities for every social and ecological ‘issue’ as it strengthens its stranglehold of the future on a rapidly destabilizing battleground.

Buckland focuses on the climate crisis, but the same is relevant for other crises. A crisis  provides an opportunity for change. Those who have solutions on hand and power will determine what type of change occurs.

We face formidable opponents. They have resources, money and tools that can thwart our efforts. But this is nothing new. All movements for social transformation have faced difficult odds, still they have prevailed. We outnumber our opponents and when we work together, though we may not have the money, we do have resources and tools. We also have allies.

At a recent family gathering, one of our relatives who does human rights work remarked that people in other countries feel that they should be able to vote in US elections because the US has such a significant global impact. While that isn’t going to happen, there are ways that the international community outside the US can have influence, and that is through boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This can happen at the individual level, through institutions such as universities and at the governmental level. Activists can call on their governments to target US institutions of military and economic dominance.

During the South African Apartheid, it was South African activists who called on other nations to boycott their country. This was a primary reason why apartheid ended. A decade ago, hundreds of Palestinians came together and called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel. The BDS movement is having such a great effect that Israel is fighting to stop it.

And while we are reaching out to our international allies, we can share information with each other about what systems work and don’t work so that we can create the new world we need more rapidly. Collectively, we have greater wisdom than individually.

We live in a difficult time, but it is also a time of opportunities to correct our mistakes and build something better. Change is coming. As we wrote in 2011, history is knocking. We must all decide in 2018 how we will answer it.

Welcome to the Unpeople

America’s history is rife with discrimination. When Europeans came to America, the native people had large populations and well developed societies and agriculture. The Europeans did not understand their cultures, their religions or their languages. Nor did they want to. The Europeans had better technologies, so the natives were considered savages, something less than people, unpeople. Historians have used the term unpeople to describe the indifference developed societies have for the lives of their victims for many years. The American indigenous people were just something to be disposed of, and they were.

Black Africans were the next unpeople in America. Their enslavement created much of the early wealth. In spite of the Emancipation proclamation, they have never achieved equality under the law or in the society. The “Black Lives Matter” protests are a way of saying, “Hey, we are not unpeople.”. But the evidence of their treatment indicates otherwise.

After World War II, the efforts of America to conquer the rest of the world, have led to the slaughter of some 55 million unpeople, in places as diverse as Vietnam, Nicaragua, Iraq, and Libya. Almost no country has escaped our efforts to make the world safe for laissez-faire capitalism. We now have more than 1000 military bases, in more than 150 countries. We need regional command centers and mobile command centers to keep track of them. The Pentagon identified 140 countries that special operations groups have operated in, two years in a row.

Americans do not concern themselves much with the unpeople we are killing. They were concerned about Vietnam largely because of the 50,000 Americans killed there, not the one to three million other people. (We do not count unpeople accurately.) The Pentagon solved that by switching to more mercenaries, and pitting indigenous groups against each other, in targeted countries.

All of that is changed now. The Pentagon and the U. S. intelligence agencies are no longer representing America. They are truly international in scope, and represent the wealthy of all nations. All of the rest of us are insurgents, unpeople. The poor and middle class of America are seen as no more important than the poor and middle class of Iraq were. Democratic governments are to be eliminated, or at least their influence.

You might think I am exaggerating, but look at our Government. The president is a spokes model, the Congress cannot or will not do anything for the people. The people have been clear. They want an end to war, they want the economy back, they want the infrastructure repaired, they want affordable health care, they want their pensions secure, they want the money out of politics, and they want the environment protected. None of that is even under consideration. It is untouchable. Recently several congressmen admitted that the wealthy want their tax cuts, and they are going to get them. This is not democracy.

Our Government has no control over the Pentagon or the Intelligence agencies and it ignores the Constitution and all other international and domestic laws. Our elected Government has no control over foreign policy or of many aspects of domestic policy. When did Congress vote to make the Wolfowitz doctrine and “Full Spectrum Dominance” the foundation of our foreign policy? When did they vote to overthrow the government of Ukraine? When did they vote to destroy Syria, Libya, or Somalia? When did they vote to stop manufacturing and become a debtor nation? When did they vote to make the U. S. a police state? When Congress does get to vote, they do not get to know what they are voting for. They do not get a chance to review the Defense budget, the intelligence budgets, or trade pacts. Ten years ago, a plan surfaced to destroy the social democracies of Europe by overrunning them with refugees from Africa and the Middle East. Today that is reality. Did Congress get to vote on that?

The Bankers’ military-industrial-intelligence complex does not report to any government. It is ruled by elites of all countries. After WWII, George Kennan and others, warned that the Earth could not support all of its’ projected population in the style to which Americans were accustomed. It was a call to America to be ruthless and protect itself at the expense of other nations. I think the elite have modified that theory. They now plan to sacrifice the common people of all nations to protect the elite of all nations. That way, all nations’ assets can be developed, and their people enslaved.

I think George Kennan was wrong and the solution being pursued by the wealthy is wrong. The Earth does have limited resources. But humans only slow their population growth when they reach a certain comfort level. Secondly, everything can be recycled. The American model is buy things cheap, throw them away and buy more. If we stop unsolicited advertising and make good quality, lasting products, it will make a huge difference. Sufficient energy is free. We just have to learn to use it. The Earth can support plenty of humans and still have room for nature, but if people are having to scramble for every crumb, nothing will ever be safe. Not even the Earth itself.

So what can we do? First, the people have to learn the truth. Then we have to establish a democracy. That will mean getting ALL money out of politics and even restricting wealth. We need to get the psychopaths out of government elect only people who do not want to be elected. We need to go to Washington and throw the psychopaths out in the streets.

What Should Concern You About The GOP Tax Plan? It’s Not The Taxes

Imagine a world where politicians are bought and sold, not by corporations, but by religious activists hell-bent on policing your sex life. A world where thought crimes are punishable under the law.

This dystopian world is currently being pursued by the GOP under the guise of “tax reform”.

The biggest problem with the Republican tax plan has nothing to do with taxes.

There are many causes for concern in regards to the financial aspects of the GOP’s tax reform bill.

According to the non-partisan CBO report, the bill increases the national debt by 1.7 trillion dollars over the next decade.

The bill will also increase wealth inequality between the haves and the have-nots. Disenchantment and increased poverty rates will become this bill’s legacy.

These effects are frightening and are being exposed by the Democrats and the few Republicans in Congress with a conscience.

These effects, however, can be undone by Congress once the Republicans lose power. We’ve all seen disastrous tax plans get thrown to the wayside by new administrations before. The problem everyone should be focused on is one that can’t be fixed as easily by a new political party in power.

The most insidious part of the GOP tax bill is a provision pushed for by the religious right for the past 25 years.

Contained in this small section of the bill is a provision that will set the country on the road to Theocracy. The Republican party is attempting to undo the Johnson Amendment.

They want to remove the wall of separation between religion and the state, and they are hoping you don’t notice.

What Is The Johnson Amendment?

The amendment, named after Lyndon B. Johnson, passed in 1954 before LBJ became a President. It bars any church or non-profit organization from taking part in political campaigns. These organizations cannot endorse a political candidate in a direct or indirect way.

In other words, there’s a tacit agreement among non-profit organizations, churches, and the government: don’t interfere with us, and we won’t interfere with you.

What Are The Consequences Of Lifting The Amendment?

At first glance, taking away the rule prohibiting churches from taking part in politics isn’t a big deal. Why shouldn’t a preacher or Imam be able to endorse a candidate?

The answer, as always, is in the money.

If someone donates to a church or public-interest organization, they can take a tax deduction to offset their gift. A donation to a political campaign can’t take this deduction.

With the Johnson amendment repealed, there would be a way for political donors to get around this.

Churches and charities will be able to align themselves with campaigns. This puts money in their coffers while rich donors, such as the Koch brothers, get tax breaks for their massive political donations.

Churches would become political entities. Sermons during election years will be indistinguishable from campaign rallies.

Churches that choose their principles over monetary gain won’t be able to compete with their counterparts. Politicians will favor megachurches over smaller ones. Celebrity preachers will become powerful political players. Meanwhile, smaller congregations could collapse under financial pressures.

The repeal also benefits Christian churches at the expense of Mosques and other religious institutions. Republican candidates will lean on churches, as they have in the past, to play up their morality and faith. Religion will influence public policy because of their financial benefits to candidates.

The fundraisers will give Christian houses of worship a massive competitive edge over Mosques. While this would not violate the words of the first amendment, it would violate the intended spirit. One religion would gain more of a voice in government affairs at the expense of others.

How Do We Fight Back?

The first step is to contact your Congressional members. Tell them the separation of church and state is essential to protecting religious liberty. The removal of the barrier between politics and religion is not acceptable, especially under the guise of “tax reform”.

If the bill passes, put pressure on Congressional leaders to overturn this provision immediately. It will not take long for the legal system to challenge the overturning of Johnson. Religious and non-religious patriots need to prepare to make their voices heard.