This is NOT just Trump, this is US tax policy for decades. We of the 99% pay taxes, can’t deduct medical expenses, or college tuition costs, but corporations benefit from tax policies that allow them to entirely escape paying any of the burden of funding our country. This is not a coincidence, this is how US policy operates on so many fronts and this post suggests a surprising solution.You.
What a Mess We’ve Made; Thoughts on How We Fix It and How We Don’t
This post started as a straightforward report on US corporate tax policy. And then Wednesday happened and the post transformed into something far more fundamental. Our corporate tax policy was put into context in two conversations, one with Allegra Love from SF Dreamers and then later with two young activists. And so, you will find a bit about a US corporate tax policy at the end of some thoughts that contextualize that policy. Let me explain.
Yesterday, Roxanne and I spent an hour with Allegra Love, about which I will write in more detail next week. But one of her points, in looking over the mess that is our immigration policy, is that Americans tend to look for easy solutions for complex problems. “If we can just elect Obama,” or “flip the House,” or now “dump Trump,” we will restore the decency of America, as Biden is now proclaiming. But Allegra asserted that no new President or new Congress will fundamentally address all or even any of the challenges we face, that what is needed is a campaign that fundamentally changes our hearts, our values, our priorities and our view of what our purpose is on this planet.
Our discussion with Allegra went far deeper than this, but Roxanne and I barely had time to digest this when we raced to another meeting and then I was off to KSFR where I had the good fortune to interview Kim Smith, Navajo Nation activist, and Hannah Laga-Abram, Santa Fe youth activist. We taped a special one-hour interview that will air at 8:30 am on Saturday on KSFR, 101.1 FM. I can’t recommend this show more highly. Since the show extended well beyond our Saturday 8:30-9 am time slot, the entire show will be available by podcast late Friday afternoon at KSFR.org. Go to the Programs Menu, click on podcasts and scroll to Retake Our Democracy. It is a show very worth hearing and sharing. Let me explain:
Two young adults, one still in high school and the other no more than 30 years old, spoke with utter candor and moral clarity. And what they see in America and what they said on the show is something we all need to see, hear, and feel. In a time when Mother Earth is doing its best to warn us, we continue operating on principles guided by growth, waste, greed and myopic self-interest. These two young women understand so clearly the implications of those principles in action, and they spoke with such clarity about who is at fault. We are.
While 20-plus Democratic Party presidential candidates will try to say that this is all about Trump, we must recall that under President Obama:
- we deported more immigrants than under any US president;
- we fracked far more oil than under any other President and constructed a vast web of oil pipelines in utter disregard for the environment and the legitimate rights of indigenous peoples, their land, their water, their air and their health;
- we succumbed to the big banks and rewarded them with huge bailouts for their risky ventures that gutted our economy, while leaving millions of foreclosed homeowners with nothing;
- we allowed college tuition to grow and students to be saddled with obscene levels of debt for simply deciding to go to college;
- we did nothing to reform the racist criminal justice system that largely continues to operate on Clinton’s (another Dem) 1994 legislation that has incarcerated millions of mostly black and Hispanic men with decades-long sentences for mostly minor drug offenses and drug-related parole violations;
- we did nothing about spiraling housing costs, diminishing wages, the need for working families to work two jobs and accept food stamps just to feed their children, with many vets and working families, despite all their efforts, winding up homeless and on the streets;
- we maintained wars in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout his two terms while never getting to the promised closure of Guantanamo;
- we stuck with a tax system that allows the 1% and the the mega corporations to largely escape paying their share (or as the piece below describes, ANY share) of what is needed to run a country; and
- while Obamacare represented a most modest step forward, it left almost 20 million Americans without coverage and the rest of us paying obscene co-pays, monthly premiums with none of it deductible; while insurance and pharma industries yield huge profits while essentially screwing Americans and exulting in a system that benefits them while killing thousands of us.
All of the above transpired under the rein of one of the most revered Democratic Presidents in decades. So, we are fooling ourselves if we think any of the Democratic presidential candidates will bring us to the promised land. And yet billions of dollars and millions of volunteer hours will be devoted to trying to convince voters that one candidate or the other will restore us. The truth is, they can’t restore us, only we can.
It isn’t clear to me just now what “only we can”actually means or how we make the change needed. I just know it won’t come from candidates. It never has; it never will. But part of what “only we can” means is coming into focus. A part of it must be our recognition of our continued complicity in a system that offers many of us comforts, but at costs that we will no longer be able to ignore.
Whether it is piles of plastics that can’t be recycled, the costs of one climate-generated disaster after another, the persistent voices of indigenous peoples laying claim to their land and serving as a very uncomfortable reminder of just how out of balance we are as a people, or the millions of refugees who will begin fleeing their countries because their land can no longer produce food–when the millions of desperate refugees appear on our border, our leadership will likely tell us we need walls to protect what we have. But the truth is that unless we change who we are and what we value, what we have will be worthless.
And so at some point, this cascading of consequences must cause enough of us to say “ENOUGH” and somehow force our archaic political system, so wedded to the interests of the wealthy, to cease to exist, allowing an entirely different system driven by an entirely different set of values and priorities to restore whatever is left to be restored. And the sooner this happens, the more there will be left to restore.
But it is time to remove the blinders and recognize that our solutions do not lie with candidates, but with ourselves. We are the ones whose hearts and minds must change, who must recognize that what is required is real sacrifice and real change — not a march, not a check, not a petition, and not a day of canvassing, but a sustained commitment to changing the discussion entirely. We need an entirely new system driven by an entirely new set of values. And this won’t emerge from political debate or an election cycle. It will emerge because enough of us understand what is going on and how utterly we are being screwed and our planet is being frittered away for dollars, piles and piles and piles of dollars that will ultimately be worthless as there will be nothing left worth buying.
And then out of this recognition perhaps a galvanizing action will begin to take shape: 100,000 students burning their student loans and telling the government: “Come get us.” Or 1 million taxpayers saying “Not with my money,” and refusing to pay taxes and telling the powers that be: “Come get us.” But before any of this can transpire, many hearts and minds must reach the stage where they are ready to act boldly. My question to you is this: How do we get there? And quickly? If you need a bold relief illustration of just how bad it has become, take a look at a much truncated version of the original post, below, the one I had intended to write about US corporate tax policy.
The NY Times reported on a recent report from the Institute for Tax and Economic Policy . The report disclosed that 60 Fortune 500 companies paid no federal taxes on $79 billion in corporate income last year. Amazon has become the poster child for corporate tax avoidance; last year it had an effective tax rate of below zero — receiving a rebate — on income of $10.8 billion. The chart at left was so long, I could not capture all of it and so you see only 19 of the 60 culprits, all banks, utility monopolies, gas and oil, pharma, healthcare, the predators of our souls who get huge profits and rebates, rebates paid out of the taxes paid by people like Jeff Williams.
From the NY Times report, Jeff Williams, 57, who manages a convenience store on the midnight shift, had heard about Amazon’s tax breaks on the radio. As he sat outside his home in Niles, OH, he also was doing some comparison. He was treated for cancer, heart disease, and two hernias last year but wasn’t able to deduct his expenses, he said. Amazon, meantime, availed itself of a full suite of tax breaks. “Amazon doesn’t pay taxes, but I pay taxes,” Mr. Williams said.
And that is the crux of the problem: the tax system, the political system, the economic system, the regulatory systems, all of them are set up to serve and accommodate corporate America and our 1% slave masters. Somehow it is okay for corporations to deduct their gas-guzzling corporate jets so they can tootle around the earth for parties and summits, while Mr. Williams can’t deduct his medical expenses that are keeping him alive. Somehow that is fair and just? And that is manifest in virtually every system that governs our lives and circumscribes our options, belittling real change as naive or too idealistic.
President Barack Obama proposed lowering corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 28 percent — Republicans in 2017 pushed it down to 21 percent, in addition to expanding some generous tax breaks. Democrats are not exactly champing at the bit to restore some semblance of justice to our tax system or any system. So we, the people, must.
I am not exactly winding down to a compelling conclusion of “here is what is next,” because frankly I don’t know. But I think I understand that Retake’s correct place in this debate, in this community, is to shine the light on what is at the root of our current situation and perhaps then out of conversation within this community, together we begin to find a path forward.
Please comment on this post and share it with others. We will continue the discussion on our Facebook page.
Paul & Roxanne