The bad news is that taxes in America are tilted in favor of the rich. The best news is that we could be only weeks away from a tilt in favor of the middle class: the reforms President Biden is urging to help balance the Administration’s $3.5 trillion budget bill.
The changes won’t be going as far as the president first proposed. Congress writes the laws, and House Democrats have already dialed back on Biden’s wish list. Even so, the bill will almost certainly reflect a sharp shift in America’s priorities.
As Biden himself puts it, “My tax policy is based on a simple proposition, which is to stop rewarding wealth and start rewarding work a little bit.”
Republicans oppose everything, and a few Democrats have differences as well. Here’s a quick rundown of some major items as legislators continue to shape the final bill.
A cut in the top marginal rate was part of Trump’s 2017 tax giveaway. Biden wants the rate back where it was, at 39.6 percent. It would apply to taxable incomes above $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for married couples.
The tax break on capital gains is a huge part of America’s tax handout to the haves. The current levy on long-term capital gains tops out at 20 percent, little more than half the top rate on income from work. Biden hoped to equalize those rates, but that hope is history.
The Democratic-controlled Ways and Means Committee opted instead for a hike in the capital gains tax to 25 percent. Significantly, the new rate would apply to any gains realized after September 13—preventing any stock sell-offs to avoid the 25 percent rate. The Committee also recommended a 3 percent surcharge on taxable incomes above $5 million.
Ending the carried interest loophole is another of Biden’s tax-fairness goals. Candidate Trump promised to do it, but President Trump reneged and let it stand: “a tax dodge for wealthy private equity and hedge fund managers,” allowing them to defer taxes and ultimately treat their income as lower-taxed capital gains.
Bills are advancing in both the House and the Senate to do what Trump turned his back on. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has drafted the most extensive repeal: it doesn’t even include the Biden recommendation for a $400,000 income exclusion.
A supporter of the Wyden bill, former BlackRock managing director Morris Pearl, describes carried interest as an “absurd, regressive loophole with no credible economic justification…that has allowed some of the wealthiest people in the country to cut their tax bill nearly in half.”
Wealthy corporations have also been big winners in the tax-cut sweepstakes: Trump reduced the rate on corporate earnings from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent. Biden was pushing for an increase to 28 percent—still less than it was before Trump—but he won’t be getting it.
The current Democratic plan calls for graduated corporate rates, moving from 18 percent for incomes below $400,000 to 26.5 percent on incomes above $5 million. The benefit of the lower rates would phase out for firms with incomes over $10 million.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) wants an even lower top rate. Nothing can pass if Manchin doesn’t come aboard (and every other Democrat as well). In other words, the numbers are still in flux.
Liberals are happy enough with what’s in the bill, but deeply unhappy about what isn’t. Listen to Inequality.org: “Without significant changes…billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos will hardly pay a nickel more in taxes. And families like the Waltons…will continue to amass huge dynastic fortunes.”
All the same, America could be on the verge of a seismic change in tax policy. After decades of tax laws that disproportionately favor the rich, Biden is shifting the focus to the broad middle class.
Instead of putting millions more into the pockets of millionaires, he intends to put billions more into the social safety net—into childcare and healthcare and education.
President Kennedy, 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” President Biden to America’s wealthy, 2021: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what your taxes can do for your country.”
Congress willing, Biden’s message could be delivered within weeks.
Why does the Canada Revenue Agency treat Jewish, Christian, and Muslim charities so differently?
In June the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLM) released a report showing that the CRA disproportionately targets Muslim groups. According to the report, 75% of the groups whose charitable status was revoked following a division audit by the CRA between 2008 and 2015 were Muslim. ICLM’s findings add weight to a report released in March by the National Council of Canadian Muslims that also found Muslim charities were disproportionately targeted for surveillance, audits and revocation of their charitable status.
Some Jewish and Christian charities, on the other hand, openly support the Israeli military and West Bank settlements in contravention of CRA rules. Recently, a formal legal complaint was submitted to the CRA by Palestinian-Canadian refugee Khaled Mouammar and Rabbi David Mivasair regarding the charitable status of the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association (CZCA). The complaint details that organization’s support of the Israeli military in contravention of CRA guidelines for registered charities. CRA rules state that “increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada’s armed forces is charitable, but supporting the armed forces of another country is not.” Yet, the Israel Defense Forces website named CZCA as an organization “authorized to raise donations for the IDF.” (When Global News reporter Stewart Bell began asking CZCA questions about its ties to the IDF, the Israeli military quickly removed CZCA from its list of international organizations.) In 2019 the CZCA allocated over $1.7 million to YAHAD, which is run by a retired Israeli General and a Colonel. The organization says its “aim is raising funds for IDF soldiers.”
CZCA’s brazenness is remarkable but it’s not the only charity that appears to be breaking the rules. In 2018 the Toronto-based HESEG Foundation, which was established “to recognize and honor the contribution of Lone Soldiers to Israel,” spent more than $9 million in Israel. Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel and Beit Halochem Canada (Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel) have also directly or indirectly supported the IDF.
For over a century the Jewish National Fund of Canada has financed explicitly racist land-use policies, which should contravene the CRA’s 2003 guideline for charities to promote racial equality. JNF Canada also backed settlement projects in the occupied West Bank in violation of official Canadian policy and supported the Israeli military in clear violation of CRA rules. Despite a 2017 complaint and numerous articles detailing its lawbreaking, the CRA failed to revoke the JNF’s charitable status (three years after the complaint, the JNF was mandated to sever formal ties with its Israeli counterpart and stop supporting the IDF).
Charities that support West Bank settlements also contravene CRA rules since Ottawa officially considers them a violation of international law. A number of registered charities support settlement projects directly or indirectly. Located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Canadian Friends of Ariel University is also a registered charity. So is Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, which says it “provides financial” support to “the Jews currently living in Biblical Israel —the communities of Judea and Samaria” (occupied West Bank).
Canada’s two most significant Jewish charities — United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal — both violated Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act, which makes it illegal to induce or recruit Canadians to join another country’s military. Last June they publicized a webinar by Nefesh-B’Nefesh titled “Joining the IDF” that claimed to offer participants “everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF.”
Similarly, Jewish schools organize fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives and hold “IDF days.” In effect, the schools celebrate soldiers who regularly kill Muslims and enforce what Israeli human rights group B’Tselem calls a “regime of Jewish supremacy” in a historically Muslim area. A Muslim school that regularly brought in Hamas fighters to talk to students would immediately lose its charitable status, be shut down and its staff word probably pursued criminally. (In 2010 Muslim charity the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN) lost its charitable status essentially because it supported orphans and a hospital in Gaza through official (Hamas-controlled) channels. IRFAN was delisted for supporting orphans of a long-oppressed people and four years later was the first ever Canadian-based organization added to Canada’s terrorist list.)
The CRA’s double standard is even more glaring when looking at the issue broadly. Muslims are the main victims of hate crimes in Canada. In June alone four members of a Muslim family were killed in London, Ontario, a Muslim man was stabbed and had his beard cut off by two individuals in Saskatoon who asked him “why he was in this country” and two visibly Muslim women in Edmonton were attacked with one having a knife put to her throat and the other beaten unconscious.
Globally, Muslims are disproportionately victimized by Western violence. How many thousands of Muslims were killed by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan or fighter jets over Libya? Or US and Canadian troops in Iraq? The Israeli military has also killed large numbers of Muslims in Gaza, Syria and elsewhere. Even the US-fueled (literally) Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 could be viewed as a war of Christians on Muslims.
Looked at from a strictly religious perspective, there’s been a largely one sided “Christian” and “Jewish” war on “Muslims”. So, if the CRA is worried about violence and extremism, it should consider investigating evangelical Christian churches or groups supporting the Canadian and Israeli militaries.
The CRA treats Jewish, Christian and Muslim charities remarkably differently. It harasses organizations from the religious group facing the worst violence here and abroad while largely ignoring Jewish and Christian charities that violate its rules.
It’s time for this to stop.
• On August 10 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will be hosting a webinar on Subsidizing Apartheid: How the Canada Revenue Agency Contributes to Palestinian Dispossession.
With every new tax, fine, fee and law adopted by our so-called representatives, the yoke around the neck of the average American seems to tighten just a little bit more.
Everywhere you go, everything you do, and every which way you look, we’re getting swindled, cheated, conned, robbed, raided, pickpocketed, mugged, deceived, defrauded, double-crossed and fleeced by governmental and corporate shareholders of the American police state out to make a profit at taxpayer expense.
The overt and costly signs of the despotism exercised by the increasingly authoritarian regime that passes itself off as the United States government are all around us: warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private phone and email conversations by the FBI, NSA, etc.; SWAT team raids of Americans’ homes; shootings of unarmed citizens by police; harsh punishments meted out to schoolchildren in the name of zero tolerance; drones taking to the skies domestically; endless wars; out-of-control spending; militarized police; roadside strip searches; privatized prisons with a profit incentive for jailing Americans; fusion centers that collect and disseminate data on Americans’ private transactions; and militarized agencies with stockpiles of ammunition, to name some of the most appalling.
Meanwhile, the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and the agencies under their command—Defense, Commerce, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, etc.—have switched their allegiance to the Corporate State with its unassailable pursuit of profit at all costs and by any means possible.
By the time you factor in the financial blowback from the COVID-19 pandemic with its politicized mandates, lockdowns, and payouts, it becomes quickly apparent that we are now ruled by a government consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population and seemingly unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.
As with most things, if you want to know the real motives behind any government program, follow the money trail.
When you dig down far enough, you quickly find that those who profit from Americans being surveilled, fined, scanned, searched, probed, tasered, arrested and imprisoned are none other than the police who arrest them, the courts which try them, the prisons which incarcerate them, and the corporations, which manufacture the weapons, equipment and prisons used by the American police state.
Examples of this legalized, profits-over-people, government-sanctioned extortion abound.
On the roads: Not satisfied with merely padding their budgets by issuing speeding tickets, police departments have turned to asset forfeiture and red light camera schemes as a means of growing their profits. Despite revelations of corruption, collusion and fraud, these money-making scams have been being inflicted on unsuspecting drivers by revenue-hungry municipalities. Now legislators are hoping to get in on the profit sharing by imposing a vehicle miles-traveled tax, which would charge drivers for each mile behind the wheel.
In the schools: The security industrial complex with its tracking, spying, and identification devices has set its sights on the schools as “a vast, rich market”—a $20 billion market, no less—just waiting to be conquered. In fact, the public schools have become a microcosm of the total surveillance state which currently dominates America, adopting a host of surveillance technologies, including video cameras, finger and palm scanners, iris scanners, as well as RFID and GPS tracking devices, to keep constant watch over their student bodies. Likewise, the military industrial complex with its military weapons, metal detectors, and weapons of compliance such as tasers has succeeded in transforming the schools—at great taxpayer expense and personal profit—into quasi-prisons. Rounding things out are school truancy laws, which come disguised as well-meaning attempts to resolve attendance issues in the schools but in truth are nothing less than stealth maneuvers aimed at enriching school districts and court systems alike through excessive fines and jail sentences for “unauthorized” absences. Curiously, none of these efforts seem to have succeeded in making the schools any safer.
In the endless wars abroad: Fueled by the profit-driven military industrial complex, the government’s endless wars are wreaking havoc on our communities, our budget and our police forces. Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $32 million per hour. Future wars and military exercises waged around the globe are expected to push the total bill upwards of $12 trillion by 2053. Talk about fiscally irresponsible: the U.S. government is spending money it doesn’t have on a military empire it can’t afford. War spending is bankrupting America.
In the form of militarized police: The Department of Homeland Security routinely hands out six-figure grants to enable local municipalities to purchase military-style vehicles, as well as a veritable war chest of weaponry, ranging from tactical vests, bomb-disarming robots, assault weapons and combat uniforms. This rise in military equipment purchases funded by the DHS has, according to analysts Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, “paralleled an apparent increase in local SWAT teams.” The end result? An explosive growth in the use of SWAT teams for otherwise routine police matters, an increased tendency on the part of police to shoot first and ask questions later, and an overall mindset within police forces that they are at war—and the citizenry are the enemy combatants. Over 80,000 SWAT team raids are conducted on American homes and businesses each year. Moreover, government-funded military-style training drills continue to take place in cities across the country.
In profit-driven schemes such as asset forfeiture: Under the guise of fighting the war on drugs, government agents (usually the police) have been given broad leeway to seize billions of dollars’ worth of private property (money, cars, TVs, etc.) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property, often divvying it up with the local police who did the initial seizure. The police are actually being trained in seminars on how to seize the “goodies” that are on police departments’ wish lists. According to the New York Times, seized monies have been used by police to “pay for sports tickets, office parties, a home security system and a $90,000 sports car.”
By the security industrial complex: We’re being spied on by a domestic army of government snitches, spies and techno-warriors. In the so-called name of “precrime,” this government of Peeping Toms is watching everything we do, reading everything we write, listening to everything we say, and monitoring everything we spend. Beware of what you say, what you read, what you write, where you go, and with whom you communicate, because it is all being recorded, stored, and catalogued, and will be used against you eventually, at a time and place of the government’s choosing. This far-reaching surveillance, carried out with the complicity of the Corporate State, has paved the way for an omnipresent, militarized fourth branch of government—the Surveillance State—that came into being without any electoral mandate or constitutional referendum. That doesn’t even touch on the government’s bold forays into biometric surveillance as a means of identifying and tracking the American people from birth to death.
By a government addicted to power: It’s a given that you can always count on the government to take advantage of a crisis, legitimate or manufactured. Emboldened by the citizenry’s inattention and willingness to tolerate its abuses, the government has weaponized one national crisis after another in order to expand its powers. The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on illegal immigration, asset forfeiture schemes, road safety schemes, school safety schemes, eminent domain: all of these programs started out as legitimate responses to pressing concerns and have since become weapons of compliance and control in the police state’s hands. Now that the government has gotten a taste for flexing its police state powers by way of a bevy of COVID-19 lockdowns, mandates, restrictions, contact tracing programs, heightened surveillance, censorship, overcriminalization, etc., “we the people” may well find ourselves burdened with a Nanny State inclined to use its draconian pandemic powers to protect us from ourselves.
These injustices, petty tyrannies and overt acts of hostility are being carried out in the name of the national good—against the interests of individuals, society and ultimately our freedoms—by an elite class of government officials working in partnership with megacorporations that are largely insulated from the ill effects of their actions.
This perverse mixture of government authoritarianism and corporate profits has increased the reach of the state into our private lives while also adding a profit motive into the mix. And, as always, it’s we the people, we the taxpayers, we the gullible voters who keep getting taken for a ride by politicians eager to promise us the world on a plate.
This is a far cry from how a representative government is supposed to operate.
Indeed, it has been a long time since we could claim to be the masters of our own lives. Rather, we are now the subjects of a militarized, corporate empire in which the vast majority of the citizenry work their hands to the bone for the benefit of a privileged few.
Adding injury to the ongoing insult of having our tax dollars misused and our so-called representatives bought and paid for by the moneyed elite, the government then turns around and uses the money we earn with our blood, sweat and tears to target, imprison and entrap us, in the form of militarized police, surveillance cameras, private prisons, license plate readers, drones, and cell phone tracking technology.
All of those nefarious deeds by government officials that you hear about every day: those are your tax dollars at work.
It’s your money that allows for government agents to spy on your emails, your phone calls, your text messages, and your movements. It’s your money that allows out-of-control police officers to burst into innocent people’s homes, or probe and strip search motorists on the side of the road. And it’s your money that leads to Americans across the country being prosecuted for innocuous activities such as growing vegetable gardens in their front yards or daring to speak their truth to their elected officials.
Just remember the next time you see a news story that makes your blood boil, whether it’s a police officer arresting someone for filming them in public, or a child being kicked out of school for attending a virtual class while playing with a toy gun, remember that it is your tax dollars that are paying for these injustices.
There was a time in our history when our forebears said “enough is enough” and stopped paying their taxes to what they considered an illegitimate government. They stood their ground and refused to support a system that was slowly choking out any attempts at self-governance, and which refused to be held accountable for its crimes against the people.
Their resistance sowed the seeds for the revolution that would follow.
Unfortunately, in the 200-plus years since we established our own government, we’ve let bankers, turncoats and number-crunching bureaucrats muddy the waters and pilfer the accounts to such an extent that we’re back where we started.
Once again, we’ve got a despotic regime with an imperial ruler doing as they please.
Once again, we’ve got a judicial system insisting we have no rights under a government which demands that the people march in lockstep with its dictates.
And once again, we’ve got to decide whether we’ll keep marching or break stride and make a turn toward freedom.
But what if we didn’t just pull out our pocketbooks and pony up to the federal government’s outrageous demands for more money?
What if we didn’t just dutifully line up to drop our hard-earned dollars into the collection bucket, no questions asked about how it will be spent?
What if, instead of quietly sending in our checks, hoping vainly for some meager return, we did a little calculating of our own and started deducting from our taxes those programs that we refuse to support?
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if the government and its emissaries can just take from you what they want, when they want, and then use it however they want, you can’t claim to be anything more than a serf in a land they think of as theirs.
What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is ONE RIGHT WAY to proceed with growing up.
― John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
We used to research the cup of coffee. School. Mostly community colleges, but at two universities — UT-El Paso and Gonzaga. A lot of evening classes I taught. Even on military compounds, and in prisons, and in the bowels of twin plants in Juarez.
In the old days, sleeves rolled up, adults and young people in classrooms, computers, paper and white boards at our ready, would get comfortable and uncomfortable. It was not an easy class, those Composition 101 and 102 mandatory (sometimes ONLY) writing classes for college students (I am so for mandatory 12 classes on writing, thinking, media, rhetoric, propaganda, etc.). Food and drinks, music during essay writing, and face to face consternation and confrontation. Cooperation.
That cup of coffee from the earliest look at where that bean came from originally intrigued the students. Who would have known (we talked about the Colombian exchange, the Doctrine of Discovery, food, animals, other things that came to the Imperialists). Think of the spice islands on steroids:
The original domesticated coffee plant is said to have been from Harar, and the native population is thought to be derived from Ethiopia with distinct nearby populations in Sudan and Kenya. Coffee was primarily consumed in the Islamic world where it originated and was directly related to religious practices.
Fun stuff, this sort of research and writing, and deep dive. We turned these assignments into poetry, poster illustrations, research papers on the diseases of coffee, on the power of coffee like so many thousands of other foods and products, crossing oceans. Many a product of empire and racism, and the coffee paper also turned into “Is There Slavery in Your Chocolate?” essays.
In recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public. In 2004, the Ivorian First Lady’s entourage allegedly kidnapped and killed a journalist reporting on government corruption in its profitable cocoa industry. In 2010, Ivorian government authorities detained three newspaper journalists after they published an article exposing government corruption in the cocoa sector. The farms of Western Africa supply cocoa to international giants such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé—revealing the industry’s direct connection to the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and slavery. (Source)
So much has happened since I first hit the streets as a newspaper journalist in 1977, and so much has changed since I started teaching college classes in research writing and writing and journalism (1983). The “see, speak, hear no evil” paradigm is the destiny of capitalists. It is the way of who we are every waking nanosecond of our lives. Boycott Divest Sanction my ass. This is where I also pretzel myself into contradiction after contradiction. I should be on an island, or just on 20 acres I have near Mount Adams. Eating mushrooms and stitching moss and bark clothing.
Capitalism is the cancer, virus, prion, the tapeworm, the carrot and the stick. It is the blood sucker of all concepts. Slavery is Capitalism. We talked about this, in so many ways, not always me railing overtly with my anti-Capitalist thesis. I would bring to class small business owners, restaurant owners, ex-military, nonprofit directors, friends who were homeless, living in garages, artists, and dissidents of many kinds. Another thing that is DEAD in the water.
Now, you have to get people vetted and approved to come to a classroom. This is the sickness of our lefty culture. The rightwing has already played this card, too. “Why the hell are you bringing a person from Planned Parenthood to your class? Illegal. Stop. I’m calling the president.”
That coffee, now, looking at a cup, the ecological footprint, the energy used to get a cup of coffee to say, my Spokane students. Because Spokane loves its coffee. The amount of water used to grow a cup of coffee. We’d look at the coffee in Central America, or Colombia. Where that plant is grown. What was bulldozed to bring that plantation there. Who works the finca? Which indigenous group of non-Spanish speakers in Guatemala work these plantation, tends the bushes, picks and dries the cherries. Species lost, pesticides used. Water diverted. And, food crops denied.
Again, young and older adults, blown away in my classes, since I was teaching them to look deeper at any number of topics, and develop critical thinking and discourse skills, in whatever watered down version I’d get with many students who were coming to college ill-prepared to really write “essays.” Variations on a theme. Just the cup of liquid, first grown and processed in poor countries, takes about 38 gallons of water to grow.
We’d try and research more and more on the life-cycle of a ceramic cup or Starbucks thermos, and the life cycle and life span of a coffee maker. Embedded energy, waste, mining, slave warehouses, metals, all that fossil fuel to move those metals, cook them, mill them, ship them around the world. Sure, we could look at at sack of dried but not roasted coffee cherries coming from the Guatemala Highlands, and then where it gets shipped by boat, and then moved by truck, and then the actual cleaning and roasting of the coffee. Packaging, and then, that journey is crossing back and forth, over land, in the air, over seas.
The assignment blows many students’ minds, as it should. In the classroom, and I’d bring in a coffee person, with coffee and snacks, and she’d talk about farms in Mexico and Africa she’s visited. Talk about the flavor, the various types of coffees.
We’d look at Fair Trade, Beyond Fair Trade, Shade Grown and the like. Socially responsible coffee. I’d talk about how Vietnam — where I had gone and worked — was cutting more and more forests down to grow coffee. Coffee pests and diseases, and soil enhancements with fertilizers. The entire life cycle analysis of as many things we could extract from the coffee history and production, well, it blows students’ minds, and it only works in person. Don’t fool yourself with the fucking mouse, keyboard and Zoom camera/mic.
We need to talk about the environmental and human and ecological costs of plantation, mountain-razing coffee:
This pathetic Zoom and remote learning (sic) formula is the deadening of the brain. Recall, Americans already have three quarters of their brains (or more) colonized by lies, propaganda, hate, myth, plain stupidity, largely from terrible K12 (prison with smiling teachers) and all the marketing, and a government whose job is to fleece the masses for the company men, and fleecing includes culling thinking and deep analysis.
All this work, for coffee? Nope, because the students then do some of their own research on any manner of things. Cause and effect, solutions, pro-con, classification, expository, digital rhetoric, and deeper position papers. Research, and while we share sources and do all sorts of things at home, in groups, the big thing is getting the classroom energized, talking, arguing. Debate every minute. We even meet out of class in a, well, coffee shop, and coffee roaster.
Thinking about origins and perspectives. This is a full-time job as an instructor, in the class with all sorts of human beings there taking in and reacting to the work, the talks, the learning and the discourse. This Zoom shit is the death of humanity as I knew it. Radical Pedagogy, 2003 article!
Always with food, something in the class, mostly evening classes.
In 1960, the University of Missouri published a short “Guide for Television Teachers.” Across the country, over 100 different colleges offered nearly 500 televised courses to a half a million students. So professors needed pointers about the best way to teach in this burgeoning new medium.
“Relax,” the Missouri guide underlined. “Try to be yourself.” Male professors should wear “conservative” ties, the guide added, while women should avoid necklines or hemlines that might “cause discomfort or embarrassment” if they leaned over a counter or sat in a low chair. Once they were properly attired, they could loosen up and let their real character shine through. “Remember that the TV camera projects your natural personality best,” the guide urged, “and the more relaxed and natural that you are, the better you will reach your viewers.”
Who are these children forced to work the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast?
Shit, those were the days. And here I am, suffering at age 64. I am feeling the burn, the beat-down burn, of more and more people around me stupid, mean, see-speak-hear not evil when it comes to this fucked up Empire, This War Machine. Those were the good old days? Is that my new mindset and refrain?
It is the contradiction to be an American totally — North American, Canadian or citizen of the USA. Every waking and sleeping minute we are covering the world in blood, exploitation, penury, death. Pain and misery is the way of the land. The hollow media, the celebrities in music and film, oh even more viral than the politicians. They are the elite, or the elite’s house boys or house girls.
“So what can we do but go with the flow? Just let it go. They have all the power, so just live your life as best you can. It’s not that bad. If we don’t bomb the world, steal the minerals, colonize space with weapons, then someone else will. What about China, Russia? I want a family, a job, and just a chance to live on weekends and kayak and smell the moose dung.”
I am down — really depressed — because of what that cup of coffee assignment represents: I am old. I am no good as a teacher because it is a digital and PC and cancel culture study body. I am down because most of the people I would have worked with years ago on political issues, as artists, well, they are either dead, or brains deadened by the struggle and the losing. I am depressed because that cup of coffee assignment is not lauded. The entire Western Civilization or Western Culture is in various forms of mental illness. That illness grouping includes a million wrong ways to medicate or mediate the illnesses of the minds.
I am not that, but I am alone, it seems. Now, the coffee, and where it comes from. Do I invest in Folgers Coffee (a division of J.M Smucker Company)? This is what’s depressing me now — my spouse and I are moving some money saved into some investments. Now I have to decide how to put some of it away, or as they say, to invest it. Because there are no interest rates, the average person can’t go to a state bank or any institution and put money into a municipal bond to do some good for society and make a few percentage points above zero. What’s wrong with 4 percent or 5 percent interest? That is the crime, zero or negative interest rates. Criminal. Imagine, there is not one thing on planet Earth, planet Wall Street, planet Retirement Fund which is not heavily tainted with DDDD: death, disease, destruction and destitution. We have been relooking at Socially Responsible Mutual Funds, or ESG’s, and the picture was never pretty:
Oh, you can say, “Broker, find me a fund that isn’t into war, weapons, mining, prisons, guns, germs, exploitation, banks, insurance companies.” It is virtually impossible. You might not want Walmart stock in the mutual fund, but then Amazon and Facebook and Kraft Foods might be in it. Microsoft, Boeing. Any amount of honor or commitment to NOT engaging in investing that gives money to the murderers, the exploiters, the ocean-soil-jungle-forest-wetland-river killers, it is all lost because they all are wrapped up into one big fat thievery corporation — BlackRock and Blackstone and the top 100 banks, hedge funds, and so many other “if-you-can-make-6-or-12-percent-on-yearly-return” investment products are so embedded in the master slavers in Fortune 1000 circles, and even within the 10,000 largest corporations.
[Modern-Day Robber Baron: The Sins of Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman]
The system is rigged for brokers to use brokerage houses, big ones, and those fees — buy, sell, trade, manage — more money and profits made for NOT producing one potato or bicycle. Yet, MBAs and the others in this crew believe that they don’t want their precious children to work the slave fields of Ivory Coast, or to be soccer ball stitchers, or to be at the wrong end of a toxic waste discharge hose. But invest in Hershey’s, or Nike, or Smithfield, well, out of sight, out of mind. Yep, they would not want their precious families bombed with the amazing number of components tied to an amazing number of businesses wrapped up in one missile. Screws, wires, capacitors, metal shrouding, telemetry, paint, seals, nuts and bolts, precision metal parts, tubes and coils and electronic guidance systems and batteries and, well, you get the picture. But goddamn, you can make bank on investing in defense (sic) companies because there is an endless demand by governments to have that shit in stock. We the taxpayer pay for those Hellfire’s:
Lockheed Martin, Boeing (previous second source), and Northrop Grumman (seeker only for AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire) Unit cost US$150,000 (FY 2021)!
It’s much more than just those three companies making bank for these missiles. There is an entire contingent (armies) of companies and service economies tied to this murder weapon:
In the past, I have studied mutual funds I have invested in, to squirrel away some savings, and the picture is pretty ugly. There are no SRI’s that are nothing more than just market washing. Socially Responsible Investing, NOT:
Look at what Warren Buffett owns as part of Berkshire Hathaway. Products — Diversified investments, property and casualty insurance, Utilities, Restaurants, Food processing, Aerospace, Media, Toys, Automotive, Sporting goods, Consumer products, Internet, Real estate, Railroad
So the average Joe and Jane, if they get a mutual fund or two for some long-term investment, this is the reality — you might be a social justice warrior, an anti-racist campaigner, an anti-war proponent, an environmentalist, community crusader, a socialist, an anti-capitalist, but if you stick your toe just a bit into the pond for minimal investments, just to protect a few thousand dollars here and there, this is what you get — money into the pockets of madmen: school to prison pipeline experts, war lords, surveillance capitalists, drug pushers, bad loan chieftains, medical fraudsters, real estate thugs, polluters, mountaintop removers, river toxifiers, land thieves, propaganda priests.
I am so serious about this now — where does the money go, and which company is being supported by stockholders shoveling money into their companies? Look at the union busters, at the price gougers, at the political lobbying arms, all these giant corporations and their networks of bunkos!
You can turn blue in the face decrying Monsanto (Bayer) for its pesticide poisons or Exxon for climate change propaganda or Sackler/Purdue Pharmacy for opioid addictions, but if you have a mutual fund, there is a chance that somehow those companies are entwined somewhere in the formula of a “strong mutual fund.”
The corporate giants are also demanding that Congress allow the repatriation of about $2.5 trillion stashed abroad without paying more than 5% tax. They say the money would be used to grow the economy and create jobs. Last time CEOs promised this result in 2004, Congress approved, and then was double-crossed. The companies spent the bulk on stock buybacks, their own pay raises and some dividend increases.
There are more shenanigans. With low interest rates that are deductible, companies actually borrow money to finance their stock buybacks. If the stock market tanks, these companies will have a self-created debt load to handle. A former Citigroup executive, Richard Parsons, has expressed worry about a “massively manipulated” stock market which “scares the crap” out of him.
Banks that pay you near zero interest on your savings announced on June 28, 2017 the biggest single buyback in history – a $92.8 billion extraction. Drug companies who say their sky-high drug prices are needed to fund R&D. But between 2006 and 2017, 18 drug company CEOs spent a combined staggering $516 billion on buybacks and dividends – more than their inflated claims of spending for R&D. — Nader
We all are sinners in capitalism — just paying our tax bill: death and destruction raining down on Palestinians, for example:
“Seven deadly sins: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Science without humanity, Knowledge without character, Politics without principle, Commerce without morality, Worship without sacrifice.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Oh, we all think we have found the formula for living in this insane and murderous country. Oh, we have to put nose to the grindstone. Follow the leaders. Get the jab. Do as you are told. You home is not your castle. There are no 40 acres and a mule. No handouts. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Pinch your nose, cover your eyes, plug your ears, muffle your mouth!
So, you end up throwing in the towel — no purity test, no selective boycotting of this or that product or service. No true anti-Imperialist leaning, when tax filing time comes. Nothing free in this un-Democratic land of thieves, murderers and thugs. Almost every step you take in America is full of landmines, cow pies, toxic puddles and electrified fences. The horizon is one theater of the absurd after another. The amount of nonsense and self-congratulatory verbiage from all manner of people who think they are enlightened or vaunted or above the dirty, scab-sucking, ripoff fray of capitalism, well, that is the self-delusion, the big lie.
So, the role of k12, and of higher education? One of the key foundations for a society — good education, robust, and deep learning, deep thinking, and systems thinking growing. Under capitalism and consumerism and conformist ideology that is US of Amnesia, there are so many broken things about face to face education, and I have written tons on this. Taking it to Zoom, to televised classes, remote learning, well, all the bad gets funneled into this new normal-abnormal.
In addition to education, colleges and universities provide indoctrination in the values and shared beliefs that our society deems important. These commonly shared values and tenets must be instilled, importantly beginning in grade school and before (the Jesuit boast, variously stated, is “Give me the first seven years and you can have all the rest”), and continued and reinforced through high school and college.
It is at the university where young men and women of indoctrinated conviction are most typically apt and able to respond to what is going on in the world around them, perhaps even take to the streets. Indoctrination can be overt or subtle. — George Heitmann
The crisis of 2020 has created the greatest wealth gap in history. The middle class, capitalism and democracy are all under threat. What went wrong and what can be done?
In a matter of decades, the United States has gone from a largely benign form of capitalism to a neo-feudal form that has created an ever-widening gap in wealth and power. In his 2013 bestseller Capital in the 21st Century, French economist Thomas Piketty declared that “the level of inequality in the US is probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past anywhere in the world.” In a 2014 podcast about the book, Bill Moyers commented:
Here’s one of its extraordinary insights: We are now really all headed into a future dominated by inherited wealth, as capital is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, giving the very rich ever greater power over politics, government and society. Patrimonial capitalism is the name for it, and it has potentially terrifying consequences for democracy.
Paul Krugman maintained in the same podcast that the United States is becoming an oligarchy, a society of inherited wealth, “the very system our founders revolted against.” While things have only gotten worse since then thanks to the economic crisis of 2020, it’s worth retracing the history that brought us to this volatile moment.
Not the Vision of Our Founders
The sort of capitalism on which the United States was originally built has been called mom-and-pop capitalism. Families owned their own farms and small shops and competed with each other on a more or less level playing field. It was a form of capitalism that broke free of the feudalistic model and reflected the groundbreaking values set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including the rights to free speech, a free press, to worship and assemble; and the right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process.
It was good in theory, but there were glaring, inhumane exceptions to this idealized template, including the confiscation of the lands of indigenous populations and the slavery that then prevailed. The slaves were emancipated by the US Civil War; but while they were freed in their persons, they were not economically free. They remained entrapped in economic serfdom. Although Black and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately oppressed, poor people were all trapped in “indentured servitude” of sorts — the obligation to serve in order to pay off debts; e.g., the debts of Irish workers to pay for passage to the United States, and the debts of “sharecroppers” (two-thirds of whom were white), who had to borrow from landlords at interest for land and equipment. Today’s U.S. prison system has also been called a form of slavery, in which free or cheap labor is extracted from poor people of color.
To the creditors, economic captivity actually had certain advantages over “chattel” slavery (ownership of humans as a property right). According to an infamous document called The Hazard Circular, circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts during the American Civil War:
Slavery is likely to be abolished by the war power and chattel slavery destroyed. This, I and my European friends are glad of, for slavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages.
Slaves had to be housed, fed and cared for. “Free” men housed and fed themselves. Free men could be kept enslaved by debt by paying them wages that were insufficient to meet their costs of living.
From ‘Industrial Capitalism’ to ‘Finance Capitalism‘
The economy crashed in the Great Depression, when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government revived it and rebuilt the country through a public financial institution called the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. After World War II, the US middle class thrived. Small businesses competed on a relatively level playing field similar to the mom-and-pop capitalism of the early pioneers. Meanwhile, larger corporations engaged in “industrial capitalism,” in which the goal was to produce real goods and services.
But the middle class, considered the backbone of the economy, has been progressively eroded since the 1970s. The one-two punch of the Great Recession and what the IMF has called the “Great Lockdown” has again reduced much of the population to indentured servitude; while industrial capitalism has largely been displaced by “finance capitalism,” in which money makes money for those who have it, “in their sleep.” As economist Michael Hudson explains, unearned income, not productivity, is the goal. Corporations take out cheap 1% loans, not to invest in machinery and production, but to buy their own stock earning 8% or 9%; or to buy out smaller corporations, eliminating competition and creating monopolies. Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis explains that “capital” has been decoupled from productivity: businesses can make money without making profits on their products. As Kevin Cahill described the plight of people today in a book titled Who Owns the World?:
These latter day pharaohs, the planet owners, the richest 5% – allow the rest of us to pay day after day for the right to live on their planet. And as we make them richer, they buy yet more of the planet for themselves, and use their wealth and power to fight amongst themselves over what each possesses – though of course it’s actually us who have to fight and die in their wars.
The 2020 Knockout Punch
The final blow to the middle class came in 2020. Nick Hudson, co-founder of a data analytics firm called PANDA (Pandemics, Data and Analysis), argued in an interview following his keynote address at a March 2021 investment conference:
Lockdowns are the most regressive strategy that has ever been invented. The wealthy have become much wealthier. Trillions of dollars of wealth have been transferred to wealthy people. … Not a single country did a cost/benefit analysis before imposing these measures.
Policymakers followed the recommendations of the World Health Organization, based on predictive modeling by the Imperial College London that subsequently proved to be wildly inaccurate. Later studies have now been done, at least some of which have concluded that lockdowns have no significant effects on case numbers and that the costs of lockdowns substantially outweigh the benefits, in terms not just of economic costs but of lives.
The number of “centi-billionaires”– individuals with a net worth of $100 billion or more – also grew. In the US they included:
Jeff Bezos, soon-to-be former CEO of Amazon, whose net worth increased from $113 billion in March 2020 to $182 billion in March 2021, up by $70 billion for the year;
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, whose net worth increased from $25 billion in March 2020 to $164 billion in March 2021, up by $139 billion for the year; and
Bill Gates, formerly CEO of Microsoft and currently considered the “global vaccine czar,” whose net worth increased to $124 billion in March 2021, up by $26 billion for the year.
Two others are almost centi-billionaires:
The net worth of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, grew from $55 billion in March 2020 to $95 billion in March 2021, up by $40 billion for the year; and
The net worth of Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway grew from $68 billion in March 2020 to $95 billion in March 2021, up by $27.6 billion for the year.
These five individuals collectively added $300 billion to their net worth just in 2020. For perspective, that’s enough to create 300,000 millionaires, or to give $100,000 to 3 million people.
The need to shield the multibillionaire class from taxes and to change their predatory corporate image has given rise to another form of capitalism, called philanthrocapitalism. Wealth is transferred to foundations or limited liability corporations that are designated as having charitable purposes but remain under the ownership and control of the donors, who can invest the funds in ways that serve their corporate interests. As noted inThe Reporter Magazine of the Rochester Institute of Technology:
Essentially, what we are witnessing is the transfer of responsibility for public goods and services from democratic institutions to the wealthy, to be administered by an executive class. In the CEO society, the exercise of social responsibilities is no longer debated in terms of whether corporations should or shouldn’t be responsible for more than their own business interests. Instead, it is about how philanthropy can be used to reinforce a politico-economic system that enables such a small number of people to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth.
And Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer SpaceX has effectively privatized the sky. Astronomers and stargazers complain that the thousands of satellites it has already launched, with many more in the works, are blocking their ability to see the stars.
[…] With tens of thousands of new satellites approved for launch, and no laws about orbit crowding, right-of-way or space cleanup, the stage is set for the disastrous possibility of Kessler Syndrome, a runaway cascade of debris that could destroy most satellites in orbit and prevent launches for decades…. Large corporations like SpaceX and Amazon will only respond to legislation — which is slow, especially for international legislation — and consumer pressure […] Our species has been stargazing for thousands of years, do we really want to lose access now for the profit of a few large corporations?
Public advocacy groups, such as the Cellular Phone Task Force, have also objected due to health concerns over increased electromagnetic radiation. But the people have little say over public policy these days. So concluded a study summarized in a January 2021 article in Foreign Affairs. Princeton professor and study co-author Martin Gilens wrote:
[O]rdinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. … Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences … of economic elites and of organized interests.
Varoufakis calls our current economic scheme “postcapitalism” and “techno-feudalism.” As in the medieval feudal model, assets are owned by the few. He notes that the stock market and the businesses in it are essentially owned by three companies – the giant exchange-traded funds BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. Under the highly controversial “Great Reset” envisioned by the World Economic Forum, “you will own nothing and be happy.” By implication, everything will be owned by the techno-feudal lords.
Getting Back on Track
The capitalist model has clearly gone off the rails. How to get it back on track? One obvious option is to tax the uber-rich. As Chuck Collins, author of The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions (2021), writes in a March 2021 article:
A wealth tax would reverse more than a half-century of tax cuts for the wealthiest households. Billionaires have seen their taxes decline roughly 79 percent as a percentage of their wealth since 1980. The “effective rate” on the billionaire class—the actual percentage paid—was 23 percent in 2018, lower than for most middle-income taxpayers.
He notes that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and co-authors recently introduced legislation to levy a 2 percent annual tax on wealth starting at $50 million, rising to 3 percent on fortunes of more than $1 billion:
The tax, which would apply to fewer than 100,000 U.S. residents, would raise an estimated $3 trillion over the next decade. It would be paid entirely by multi-millionaires and billionaires who have reaped the lion’s share of wealth gains over the last four decades, including during the pandemic.
Varoufakis contends, however, that taxing wealth won’t be enough. The corporate model itself needs an overhaul. To create a “humanist” capitalism, he says, democracy needs to be brought to the marketplace.
Politically, one adult gets one vote. But in corporate elections, votes are weighted according to financial investment: the largest investors hold the largest number of voting shares. Varoufakis argues that the proper principle for reconfiguring the ownership of corporations for a market-based society would be one employee, one share (not tradeable), one vote. On that basis, he says, we can imagine as an alternative to our post-capitalist model a market-based democratic society without capitalism.
There is one Achilles heel in the globalists’ strategy, an option that remains open to governments. This option is a tax on the rental income – the “unearned income” – of land, natural resources and monopoly takings.
Reforming the banking system is another critical tool. Banks operated as a public utility could allocate credit for productive purposes serving the public interest. Other possibilities include enforcement of anti-monopoly legislation and patent law reform.Perhaps, however, the flaw is in the competitive capitalist model itself. The winners will inevitably capture and exploit the losers, creating an ever-growing gap in wealth and power. Studies of natural systems have shown that cooperative models are more efficient than competitive schemes. That does not mean the sort of “cooperation” coerced through iron-fisted totalitarian control at the top. We need a set of rules that actually levels the playing field, rewards productivity, and maximizes benefit to society as a whole, while preserving the individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
David Gelles, the New York Times reporter, likes to report about corporate plutocrats raking it in while stifling or endangering their workers. We’ve all seen those large advertisements by big companies praising the sacrifices of their brave workers during this Covid-19 pandemic. When workers ask for living wages, most of these bosses say “No” but take plenty of dough for themselves.
Gelles reports that Boeing, after its criminal negligence brought down two 737 MAX planes and killed 346 people, went into a corporate tailspin. The company laid off 30,000 workers and its sales and stocks plummeted as it reported a $12 billion loss. No matter, the new Boeing boss, David Calhoun, managed to pay himself about $10,500 an hour, forty hours a week, plus benefits and perks.
“Executives are minting fortunes, while laid-off workers line up at food banks,” writes Gelles. Carefully chosen Boards of Directors rubberstamp lavish compensation packages, as they haul in big money themselves for attending a few Board meetings.
It gets worse. Hilton Hotel had many rooms empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But CEO Chris Nassetta made sure his pockets weren’t empty. He was paid $55.9 million in compensation in 2020 or more than a million dollars a week!
Gelles goes on to report that with “the cruise industry at a standstill…,” the Norwegian Cruise Line, “doubled the pay of Frank Del Rio, its chief executive, to $36.4 million.” That is more than $700,000 per week. He must have worked overtime counting empty ships and red ink.
T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint got government antitrust approval with the assurance that more jobs would be created with cost savings. Instead, they’re starting layoffs while awarding CEO Mike Sievert over a million dollars a week. Sometimes, CEOs make more dollars from their company than the entire company itself makes in profits. Companies that lay off workers pay their top executives huge amounts, and still have the avarice to demand and get federal stimulus grants.
On March 22, the New York Times reported a new analysis by IRS researchers and academics about tax evasion by the richest 1% of U.S. households. Taken as a whole, these super-rich don’t even report a fifth of their income, according to this study. The ultra-wealthy get away with this heist by offshoring to tax havens and pass-through businesses. Adding to this unlawful evasion is their upper-class power over Congress to rig the tax laws so they can avoid even more taxes.
The Republicans, by starving the IRS budget and audit staff over the past decade, have aided and abetted enormous tax evasions. Curiously, the cowardly Democrats have not made this an issue in their campaigns against the GOP. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year are at stake.
Trump, of course, made matters worse. ProPublica found the IRS audited the poor at around the same rate as the richest Americans.
Big Corporations make out like no mere individuals. Earlier this month, the New York Times told its readers that The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) study revealed: “55 of the nation’s largest corporations paid no federal income tax on more than $40 billion in profits last year.” These companies even received $3.5 billion in rebates from the Treasury Department, so zany are the fine-print tax bonanzas.
Twenty-six corporations paid no federal income taxes since 2017, according to the ITEP study. These included Nike and FedEx.
Corporations get lots of these tax breaks by arguing before Congress that they need them to invest and create jobs. Repeatedly, these promises turn out to be false. Some have called them lies, citing profits totaling over 7 trillion dollars in the past decade being shredded in buybacks of the companies’ own stock.
Apple, whose quasi-monopoly reaps huge quarterly profits, just announced another $90 billion in stock buybacks. Apple doesn’t know what to do with its cash from vastly overpriced computers and iPhones. Apple, not surprisingly, pays very little in federal income taxes to Uncle Sam – despite the U.S. being the land of its birth and source of ample R & D corporate welfare paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
CEO Tim Cook, arguably the most miserly CEO plutocrat in America, turns a deaf ear to health, labor, and environmental specialists pleading with him to address the solid waste of its junked electronic products and pay its serf-labor in China a living wage. These two expenditures would not consume 10 percent of Apple’s enormous profits. To which, Emperor Cook says no dice.
Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Kimberly A. Clausing, a U.S. Treasury official, said according to the Washington Post, that while other wealthy nations typically raise roughly 3 percent of GDP through corporate taxes, in the United States that share fell to just 1 percent following the 2017 Trump tax cut−all while corporate profits, as a share of U.S. GDP, were setting records.
The usual progressive members of Congress issue denunciations of this whole corporate, ultra-rich tax escape racket. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe corporations pay too little in taxes, according to Gallup polling. Unfortunately, nothing happens in Congress to address this injustice.
When are the American people going to move on to Congress and their Big Boy paymasters? When the plutocratic class evades taxes, either there are fewer public services, more public deficits, or higher taxes on the middle class. As Joe Biden says – they must pay “their fair share.” People, use your civic muscle to make your members of Congress act and do it, now!
Over 30 years ago, a real estate bigwig in Manhattan (no, not him) was convicted of tax evasion. Her name was Leona Helmsley, the famous Queen of Mean. Even more famous, lasting approximately forever, were six words she let slip: “Only the little people pay taxes.”
The words are far from true—the big people have always paid the lion’s share of taxes—but they point to a truth that’s finally getting the attention it deserves. Here it is, in a different six words:
The big people hugely evade taxes.
They consistently and significantly under-report their incomes. According to The Internal Revenue Service, they’re by far the biggest contributors to a tax gap approaching $600 billion a year. (The gap is the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid, and it’s long been out of control.)
Even more damning, the latest research has turned up a link between incomes and levels of tax evasion: the more money the rich make, the more they cheat.
Those in the top fifth generally fail to report 10% of their incomes. The unreported percentage climbs with incomes, hitting 20% or more for those in the top 5%.
The biggest thieves of all occupy the top sliver, the top 1%. In general they cheat the Treasury by not reporting between 25 and 30 percent of their real intake. (Sarcastic props to those in the top .01%; they’re so trustworthy, they only under-report by about 15%.)
Let’s translate those numbers into dollars. America’s richest 1% have an average annual income of about $1.7 million. Not according to their tax returns, though—the incomes they report are short on average by $425,000 to over half a million.
It’s highway robbery by the rich. As the researchers calculated, “Fully collecting the unpaid taxes of the top 1% would increase income tax revenue by an amount equivalent to 10.1% of the aggregate amount actually collected. For example, it would have increased tax revenue by $173 billion in 2019…”
The cheaters cheat because the system inherently encourages them and lets them get away with it. They self-report their incomes; they decide what numbers to enter on their tax returns, and the IRS effectively has to accept them. Audit rates, always low, have been driven even lower by a Republican hatchet job on the agency’s budgets. The number of auditors is similar to the totals in the 1950s, “when the economy was a seventh of its current size.”
Self-reporters include millions of sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and S-corporations. The vast majority of workers—Helmsley’s little people—live in a totally different tax world. Their incomes are automatically reported by the companies they work for. As their W-2s and 1099s warningly remind them, “This information is being reported to the Internal Revenue Service.”
At long last—in what would be a major breakthrough—the work income of rich tax cheats could be in for similar treatment. They could get their own 1099s, listing income information supplied by the banks they use. And, yes, the same information would be shared with the IRS. These new and special 1099 forms are a key component of the IRS Enhancement and Tax Gap Reduction Act, reintroduced in February by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR)
The bill adopts the central conclusions of a definitive 2020 analysis by former IRS commissioner Charles O. Rossotti. Since most of the tax gap stems “from income that’s not reported to the IRS by third parties,” the No. 1 priority is obtaining and verifying those numbers. The bill would also “significantly increase IRS funding levels over the next decade” to help the agency narrow the gap and better carry out its overall mission.
The new 1099s would go to upper-tier taxpayers with income “from low-visibility sources.” In practice this would mean “about 5% of all individual filers and about 20% of those with sole proprietor incomes.” Self-reporters with modest incomes would not face any additional scrutiny.
Here’s to a long-overdue income reporting reform. If it passes, if it works, the IRS may finally know as much about the big people as it’s known about the little people for over 75 years.
The rewards would be huge. According to DeFazio, “the average U.S. household is paying more than $3,000 annually to subsidize taxpayers who aren’t paying all that they owe.”
We’re not living the American dream. We’re living a financial nightmare.
The U.S. government—and that includes the current administration—is spending money it doesn’t have on programs it can’t afford, and “we the taxpayers” are the ones who will be forced to foot the bill for the government’s fiscal insanity.
We’ve been sold a bill of goods by politicians promising to pay down the national debt, jumpstart the economy, rebuild our infrastructure, secure our borders, ensure our security, and make us all healthy, wealthy and happy.
None of that has come to pass, and yet we’ve still been loaded down with debt not of our own making.
This financial tyranny works the same whether it’s a Democrat or Republican at the helm.
Let’s talk numbers, shall we?
The national debt (the amount the federal government has borrowed over the years and must pay back) is $28 trillion and growing. That translates to roughly $224,000 per taxpayer.
The government’s answer to the COVID-19 pandemic has been to throw more money at the problem in the form of stimulus checks, small business loans, unemployment benefits, vaccine funding, and financial bailouts for corporations. All told, the federal government’s COVID-19 spending has exceeded $4 trillion.
According to the Committee for a Reasonable Federal Budget, the interest we’re paying on this borrowed money is “nearly twice what the federal government will spend on transportation infrastructure, over four times as much as it will spend on K-12 education, almost four times what it will spend on housing, and over eight times what it will spend on science, space, and technology.”
Clearly, the national debt isn’t going away anytime soon, especially not with government spending on the rise and interest payments making up such a large chunk of the budget.
Still, the government remains unrepentant, unfazed and undeterred in its wanton spending.
Indeed, the national deficit (the difference between what the government spends and the revenue it takes in) is expected to be $2.3 trillion for fiscal 2021.
If Americans managed their personal finances the way the government mismanages the nation’s finances, we’d all be in debtors’ prison by now.
Despite the government propaganda being peddled by the politicians and news media, however, the government isn’t spending our tax dollars to make our lives better.
We’re being robbed blind so the governmental elite can get richer.
This is nothing less than financial tyranny.
“We the people” have become the new, permanent underclass in America.
In the eyes of the government, “we the people, the voters, the consumers, and the taxpayers” are little more than pocketbooks waiting to be picked.
Consider: The government can seize your home and your car (which you’ve bought and paid for) over nonpayment of taxes. Government agents can freeze and seize your bank accounts and other valuables if they merely “suspect” wrongdoing. And the IRS insists on getting the first cut of your salary to pay for government programs over which you have no say.
We have no real say in how the government runs, or how our taxpayer funds are used, but we’re being forced to pay through the nose, anyhow.
We have no real say, but that doesn’t prevent the government from fleecing us at every turn and forcing us to pay for endless wars that do more to fund the military industrial complex than protect us, pork barrel projects that produce little to nothing, and a police state that serves only to imprison us within its walls.
If you have no choice, no voice, and no real options when it comes to the government’s claims on your property and your money, you’re not free.
It didn’t take long, however—a hundred years, in fact—before the American government was laying claim to the citizenry’s property by levying taxes to pay for the Civil War. As the New York Times reports, “Widespread resistance led to its repeal in 1872.”
Determined to claim some of the citizenry’s wealth for its own uses, the government reinstituted the income tax in 1894. Charles Pollock challenged the tax as unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor. Pollock’s victory was relatively short-lived. Members of Congress—united in their determination to tax the American people’s income—worked together to adopt a constitutional amendment to overrule the Pollock decision.
On the eve of World War I, in 1913, Congress instituted a permanent income tax by way of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution and the Revenue Act of 1913. Under the Revenue Act, individuals with income exceeding $3,000 could be taxed starting at 1% up to 7% for incomes exceeding $500,000.
It’s all gone downhill from there.
Unsurprisingly, the government has used its tax powers to advance its own imperialistic agendas and the courts have repeatedly upheld the government’s power to penalize or jail those who refused to pay their taxes.
While we’re struggling to get by, and making tough decisions about how to spend what little money actually makes it into our pockets after the federal, state and local governments take their share (this doesn’t include the stealth taxes imposed through tolls, fines and other fiscal penalties), the government continues to do whatever it likes—levy taxes, rack up debt, spend outrageously and irresponsibly—with little thought for the plight of its citizens.
To top it all off, all of those wars the U.S. is so eager to fight abroad are being waged with borrowed funds. As The Atlantic reports, “U.S. leaders are essentially bankrolling the wars with debt, in the form of purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds by U.S.-based entities like pension funds and state and local governments, and by countries like China and Japan.”
Of course, we’re the ones who will have to repay that borrowed debt.
As Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in a 1953 speech, this is how the military industrial complex will continue to get richer, while the American taxpayer will be forced to pay for programs that do little to enhance our lives, ensure our happiness and well-being, or secure our freedoms.
This is no way of life.
Yet it’s not just the government’s endless wars that are bleeding us dry.
We’re also being forced to shell out money for surveillance systems to track our movements, money to further militarize our already militarized police, money to allow the government to raid our homes and bank accounts, money to fund schools where our kids learn nothing about freedom and everything about how to comply, and on and on.
It’s tempting to say that there’s little we can do about it, except that’s not quite accurate.
There are a few things we can do (demand transparency, reject cronyism and graft, insist on fair pricing and honest accounting methods, call a halt to incentive-driven government programs that prioritize profits over people), but it will require that “we the people” stop playing politics and stand united against the politicians and corporate interests who have turned our government and economy into a pay-to-play exercise in fascism.
Unfortunately, we’ve become so invested in identity politics that pit us against one another and keep us powerless and divided that we’ve lost sight of the one label that unites us: we’re all Americans.
Trust me, we’re all in the same boat, folks, and there’s only one real life preserver: that’s the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution starts with those three powerful words: “We the people.”
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there is power in our numbers. That remains our greatest strength in the face of a governmental elite that continues to ride roughshod over the populace. It remains our greatest defense against a government that has claimed for itself unlimited power over the purse (taxpayer funds) and the sword (military might).
Where we lose out is when we fall for the big-talking politicians who spend big at our expense.
Writing TV commercials was fun but retirement would be heaven. I could do whatever I pleased. I’d get to spend weekday afternoons at Yankee Stadium with the sun shining down on the boys of summer.
Then a new world appeared out of the green. I invested my profit-sharing in the stock market. I discovered that newspapers had business pages as well as sports pages. I puzzled over terms I’d never seen before (such as basis prices, which I’ll return to). Looking back I realize this was just the start of an endless tax education.
All federal tax laws are pieces of a giant Rube Goldberg, the Internal Revenue Code. Informally called the tax code, it’s often called unprintable names by thousands of Americans.
I can’t speak to their reasons but I came to have my own. For more than a generation Republicans have promoted the zombie idea that cutting taxes raises revenue. It was the perfect cover for rigging the code with provisions that hugely favor the wealthy.
I’d always written for a living. Now I started writing for a cause: tax fairness.
April 13, 2006 was a breakout day. My article about capital gains and basis prices, “One tax tweak that’s worth billions,” ran in the San Francisco Chronicle. After five-plus years and dozens of rejections, I was finally in print.
I sent that article (and all those since) to the tax-deciding House Ways and Means committee and the Senate Finance committee, to the majority and minority leaders of both houses, to my two senators. Beside writing articles, I’ve testified in writing at Congressional hearings.
Not that it does much good. Almost nothing I’ve pushed for has gone anywhere. Almost everything I’ve pushed against has stayed in place or gotten worse.
Estate taxes are a perfect example. Back in 2000 there was a $675,000 per-person exemption from federal estate taxes. The 2020 exemption is $11,580,000 (more than $23.1 million for a couple). According to a Census Bureau estimate, estate taxes in 2018 would actually be paid in only 0.07 percent of cases. Putting it another way, the so-called “death tax” is a non-tax 99.93 percent of the time.
Another handout to the haves is a loophole called the stepped-up basis. It allows appreciated assets to be passed along with the appreciation simply wiped away; only post-inheritance gains are subject to taxes.
Imagine how shocked and happy I was when my first cause became law, tucked into the rescue package passed at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. David Cay Johnston made me almost as happy when he mentioned it in one of his books on taxes: “For stocks, mutual funds and bonds…Congress now requires brokerages to report the basis of these investments, a reform wrought partly after my reporting on this issue and the work of others, including Gerald Scorse…”
I had another surprise upper just last month. Teresa Ghilarducci’s Forbes blog linked to an article of mine and backed the position it took.
So it goes for an adman-turned-taxman, grateful for “the positive psychological benefits associated with a concept now known as mastery: practicing an activity at which you have no previous level of expertise, and experiencing gradual improvement over time.”
Here’s hoping for a lot more time and a lot more improvement.
(Epilogue: The coronavirus pandemic has become the latest excuse to comfort the comfortable. The CARES Act helps millions, but it takes extravagant care of the haves.)
In 1974, the United Nations General Assembly passed a New International Economic Order (NIEO), which was driven by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The resolution laid out a clear plan for the structural transformation of the world system, which was in the throes of a crisis at the time. But, the NIEO was set aside and the world order was shaped in a neoliberal direction; this neoliberal orientation furthered the crisis and brought us to this current cul-de-sac of human possibilities.
Our team at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research developed a ten-point agenda for a post-COVID-19 world. Last week, I presented this agenda at the High-Level Conference on the Post-Pandemic Economy, organised by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). The rest of this newsletter is taken up with the agenda, which we hope will be adopted by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) who might take it forward for discussion to the UN General Assembly. We are certainly in need of a New International Economic Order.
1. Tackle the global pandemic.
Our priority is to tackle the global pandemic. To this end, enhancing and pivoting public sector production towards masks, protective equipment, ventilators, field hospitals, and tests for the entire population must be central – as it is already in places such as Vietnam and in Venezuela. It is essential to establish worker control over working conditions so that workers – who are best placed to make these decisions – can be guaranteed a hygienic work environment. In the absence of adequate public action, governments need to create work plans to hire people for projects to break the chain of infection and to ensure that people are fed, clothed, and in good health; such public action can learn from the cooperatives in Kerala (India) and the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in Cuba. The workforce in shuttered sectors – such as tourism – should be immediately hired into jobs that are geared towards countering the pandemic.
Greta Acosta Reyes (Cuba), Women Who Fight, 2020
2. Broaden medical solidarity.
A united front of the Global South must reject the IMF and creditor-driven limit placed on government sector salaries; because of these limits, former colonised countries have been losing medical personnel to the North Atlantic states. States must use their precious resources to enhance public medical education and train medical workers within communities to provide public health services. ALBA’s medical internationalism, with the Cuban brigades in the lead, must become a model for the world through the World Health Organisation (WHO). Chinese medical internationalism would play a key role here as the US departs from the WHO. The entire private health sector must be nationalised, and smaller medical centres need to be created so that people can easily access public health facilities. Governments must withdraw from public insurance for private health care; in other words, no more public subsidies for private health care. Public health systems must be strengthened, including the production of medical equipment and medicines and the distribution of essential medicines (whose prices must be controlled by regulations).
3. Create an intellectual commons.
The Global South must push for the annulment of the TRIPS Agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), which provides unrestrained property rights on goods that must be part of the global commons. This applies directly to the COVID-19 vaccine, which must be offered for production in countries without consideration of profits or intellectual property rights. But it applies equally to any pharmaceutical drugs, many of them publicly financed – the profits for which are then privately appropriated – and to energy technologies that would swiftly move us from fossil to renewable fuels as well as to more efficient communications technologies (such as 5G). In the short term, the states of the Global South must enhance mechanisms for science and technology transfer amongst themselves.
Judy Ann Seidman (South Africa), Capitalism, 2020
4. Cancel debt.
Reasonable estimates suggest that the ‘developing countries’ owe $11 trillion in external debt, with debt service for this year alone estimated to be $3.9 trillion. With the coronavirus recession, such payments are unthinkable. Debt relief must go beyond the forty-seven ‘least developed countries’ and include all of the states in the Global South; this relief must not only postpone debt, but it must cancel debt (from both public and private creditors). An international alliance must be formed on a broad front to pressure creditors to cancel the debt so that all resources that go to service the debt can be channelled fully towards the dire needs of society.
5. Expand food solidarity.
Half of the world’s population struggles with hunger. Food sovereignty and food solidarity are essential antidotes, as has been shown by platforms such as Via Campesina. Corporate control over agriculture must be challenged and food production must be made into a human rights priority. Funds need to be marshalled towards enhancing the production of food; these funds need to be spent on infrastructure for agrarian production (including to enhance such projects as the ALBA Seed Bank). Universal public distribution systems must be strengthened to provide higher incomes for farmers and to ensure distribution of food to the people. A more robust rural landscape will decongest cities and draw people to live meaningful lives in rural areas.
6. Enhance and invest in the public sector.
The CoronaShock has shown that the private sector is simply not capable of addressing emergencies, let alone human needs. States of the Global South must lead by offering a robust defence of the public sector, not only for the production of key goods and services (medicine and food), but for anything that is essential for modern life – more public housing, more public transportation, more public Wi-Fi, and more public education. Allowing the profit sector to commodify these parts of human life has eroded our capacity to build a civilised society.
Davide Leone, Associazione Italiana Design della Comunicazione Visiva (Italy), Capitalism, 2020
7. Implement wealth taxes.
Currently, roughly $32 trillion is sitting in offshore tax havens, and untold amounts of money are simply not counted towards taxation. Two things are necessary: first, that illicit financial flows be recovered, and second, that wealth taxes be properly imposed on the upper echelons of the bourgeoisie and the wealthy land-owning elite, as well as financiers and those engaged in financial speculation. These funds would be enough to redirect priorities to eliminate poverty, hunger, illiteracy, homelessness, and indignity on a global level.
8. Enact capital controls.
Without capital controls, a country has no effective economic sovereignty. States of the Global South must create an international platform that binds each of them to undertake capital controls; this is a political issue that cannot be implemented by a single country. Capital controls are measures taken by a government to regulate the flow of finances into and out of a country. Such controls include transaction taxes, minimum stay requirements, and caps on the amount of currency that can move across borders. Capital controls and democratic control over the Central Bank will prevent capital flight and should give governments sovereignty over their currency and their economy.
Túlio Carapiá and Clara Cerqueira (Brazil), Fruits of the Earth, 2020
9. Shift to non-dollar-based regional trade.
Dedollarisation is an essential part of a new agenda. Sixty per cent of the world’s reserves are held in dollars, and world commerce is largely conducted in dollars. The Dollar-Wall Street Complex has a near stranglehold on international finance and trade; it is no surprise that US unilateral sanctions are having a catastrophic impact on countries not necessarily because they rely upon the dollar, but because their trading partners are enmeshed in it. The dollar has become a weapon to undermine development. Experimental alternative payment systems like the Sucre need to be dusted off, and new global financial institutions need to be created to facilitate wire transfers. In the short run, this could begin with non-dollar-based regional facilities, although there is a need for global institutions to set aside the immense advantage provided to the United States by the dollar being used as a global currency. Relatedly, there is a need to strengthen regional trade blocs that would honour barter as a mechanism for payment.
10. Centralise planning, decentralise public action.
The pandemic has shown us the power of central planning and the importance of decentralised public action. Economies that are not allowed to plan their use of resources have floundered before the virus. There is a need to establish participatory central planning mechanisms on an ever-increasing scale and to recast social production towards need – not towards profit. These plans must be derived from maximum democratic input and must be transparent to the public. Central planning would enable the nationalisation of sectors such as mining (including energy production), the large-scale production and processing of food, and tourism; these would be placed under worker control into cooperatives. It would be an instrument to minimise waste, including profligate military expenditures. The enhancement of local self-government and cooperative production, as well as of associations and unions of the people, will allow social life to become increasingly democratic.
Ahmed Mofeed (Palestine), Coca-Cola Zero, 2020
The images in this newsletter are from the Anti-Imperialist poster exhibition. The first set of posters are on the idea of capitalism. Please go to the website and browse through the posters, which come from seventy-seven artists from twenty-six countries and twenty-one organisations.