Democracy and Corruption

I wrote this in May, June 2017 but it was never published. I’m getting around to posting it now.

How Did Trump Happen To Us?

How did Trump happen to us?

We are experiencing a shock and awe attack. Every single day we face a flood of terrible things being pushed at us so fast that we do not have time to react. Our system and commons and norms and standards and protections and rule of law are rapidly being dismantled. We are overwhelmed, exhausted, our spirits wear down, we don’t know what to do. Worse, the country risks normalization and eventual acceptance of the cruelty and insanity coming from the top.

Will we get out of this? With the nuclear codes in the hands of a crazy, egomaniacal, racist, malignant narcissist, will we live another year? If we’re alive will we be in jail?

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Who Are We To Object To What Putin Is Doing?

There are people who say, “The US has been and is doing bad things all over the world. It interfered with Russia’s elections. It bombs people. It overthrows governments.” Etc.

The United States interferes with elections in other countries. It has overthrown governments in other countries, bombed and even nuked other countries, supported brutal regimes, etc. It has committed genocide against Native Americans, held slaves, enforced an apartheid, made people of color second-class citizens, fought unions and kept wages low, allowed terrible environmental destruction, tortured people … and done a lot of things we are all against.

In general that United States has done everything it can to keep We the People here and everywhere down and under the thumb of a wealthy few.

So who are we to object to what Putin has done and is doing?

Wait, Did WE Do That?

But is that United States that does those things OUR country? Did “we” do those things?

The instances of the US doing these kinds of things here and elsewhere have been when our democracy is undermined, corrupted, manipulated by anti-democracy moneyed interests for their own gain.

That isn’t “US.”

The United State is under the control of a wealthy few anti-democracy plutocrats who OPPOSE what the “We the People’ Constitution stands for. That is the bad version of the United States that progressives fight, now and historically.

Trump is the leader of THAT United States and he is aligned with Putin to make things even worse for We the People.

WE did not go to war in Iraq, we were against it. WE are not helping Israel suppress the Palestinians, we are against that. WE are not helping the Saudis bomb Yemen, we are against that. WE did not support apartheid, we fought it.

We the People of the United States have not decided we should do these things. We the people just want a better life and the freedom to make our decisions over how our government should operate – and every time that actually happens things get better for people, more equal, more just.

What Trump was and is doing — with Putin’s Russia by his side — is to further promote this very undermining of the “We the People” democracy that we fight for.

On Trump’s Steel/Aluminum Tariffs And So-Called “Trade” Generally

I agree with the tariffs, but not the way it is being done. It should have been planned, phased in, coordinated with US industry and, most important, part of a comprehensive US economic/trade/industrial policy. The latter just isn’t going to happen under Trump nor under a Wall Street dominated economy even with Democrats running things.

Trump’s tariff doesn’t come out of nowhere. This is the result of an actual process. It comes after our Commerce Department ruled on a case that started under Obama that China is dumping steel.

Here is an example of the problem. China increased its capacity dramatically during their infrastructure boom (which is how they got through the recession). Then internal demand dropped as the infrastructure projects wrapped up, but the steelmaking capacity continued because they don’t want to lay a lot of people off. So they are selling the steel wherever they can at prices lower than cost. The rest of the world suffers. Esecially the US “rust belt” workers. But also our country’s ability to make steel as needed. Imagine a conflict with China and they cut off steel to us, after this “dumping” has closed what’s left of our production capacity.

From April 2016’s CAF post, The Big Fight Over Chinese Steel,

When China’s growth was very high, and China was building tall buildings and high-speed rail all over the place they needed a lot of steel. Then their economy slowed. Now China is making more steel than they need.

Meanwhile countries around the world are fighting their own slow growth with austerity policies that literally take money out of their economies – like cutting back on infrastructure maintenance and modernization. And their slowing economies mean less steel use.

… So there is less demand for steel in China and around the world. Current global overcapacity is estimated at 700 million tons – more than seven times what U.S. steelmakers can produce. This is expected to get worse.

But Wait, There’s More – Cheap Labor

OK, now the bigger picture. Economists will tell you about the benefits of trade. I should have said Wall Street economists.

“Trade” is supposed to be about “comparative advantage.” This means a region that grows bananas has an advantage doing that compared to Iowa. But Iowa is great at crowing corn. Iowa trades corn for bananas, etc.

However currently discussion of “trade” really just means using “trade” deals for moving American production out of the country to low-wage places. The “comparative advantage” involved is cheap labor. (The factories aren’t even already there, they are moved there.) Wall Street likes to argue the benefits of lower prices resulting from using what amounts to slave labor outside the US but the real benefit they get from this and the rest of the trade regime is pressure on US wages, which means people have to take what they can get (or drive for Uber) and labor cannot demand a larger slice of the pie.

When they say trade agreements “increase trade” remember that moving a factory across a border and bringing the same goods back here “increases trade” because now they cross a border. “Trade”?

Even More – “Expanding Markets”

There is another part of what we call “trade.” They say trade “opens up markets for US goods and services.” As if those markets are not already being served? What it does is open up “markets” for exploitation by the largest, ost powerful competitors, wiping out whatever has developed locally. There AND here. Look at how “trade’ has wiped out OUR textile, electronics, etc producers. And OUR giant monopolies like to use their power to wipe out local industries elsewhere.

So “trade’ is currently being used by giant multinationals to consolidate their power.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way. Imagine Democracy.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Imagine if the US had full-employment policies, so everyone who wants a job has one. This is in fact easily done.

Imagine a democracy with rule of law and sensible coherent structures for determining policy. (Those policies would include breaking up monopolies and reducing the power of big companies.)

Imagine a government that offers a job to anyone who wants one, with reasonable above-poverty pay and benefits. There is so much that needs doing, like child care, elder care, retrofitting buildings to be energy efficient, fixing up parks, teaching — you know, the list of things that a democracy would put resources into to make people’s lives better.

So imagine a system where everyone has the ability to get by, and the opportunity to do work that does good. Imagine how jobs would change if employers had to compete to get people to do the jobs they need done. That competition would involve offering jobs that actually do make the world a better place, because people would be able to choose to do that.

This Creates A New Economic Problem – A NEED To Outsource Production

Never mind the societal reckoning full employment policies would bring, with its higher wages, increases in labor’s power, etc. (That’s another discussion…) There would be a new economic problem: Our economy would have trouble finding enough labor to get things done. In other words, the economy would be prevented from running at full capacity by a demand for labor. What to do?

THEN it makes economic sense to move production elsewhere. But then it could be done non-exploitively, bringing higher pay and prosperity to the places we outsource to as well as here. Then trade becomes the benefit it is supposed to be, benefitting everyone. This is how democracies would do it.

And immigration. (But that’s also another discussion.)

In an economy designed to be of, by and for We the People outsourcing production could be good for everyone.

Imagine an economy designed to be of, by and for We the People. Wow.

Republican Deficit Fear Strategy

Driving up deficits and then using deficit fear to stop spending on things that We the People want and need has been open Republican strategy since Reagan. Google “strategic deficits.”

Tom Wicker explained in the NY Times in 1985, in IN THE NATION; A Deliberate Deficit,

To hear Larry Speakes tell it, President Reagan emerged from anesthesia righteously demanding action on the budget deficit ”this week.” That sounds fine – except that it now appears that the deficit was deliberately created by Mr. Reagan in order to do away with Democratic social programs dating back to the New Deal.

Who says so? David Stockman, the departing Budget Director, at second hand, and Friedrich von Hayek directly. He’s the Nobel Prize-winning economist who’s been a guru of Reaganomics.

… After the Budget Director’s resignation last week, Senator Moynihan of New York said Mr. Stockman had told him that even in 1981 Mr. Reagan knew the tax cuts would mean loss of revenue, but that the President had accepted the resulting rise in the deficit in order to bring pressure on Congress to cut spending.

That sharply contradicts what Mr. Reagan then publicly argued – that cutting taxes would expand the economic base and increase revenues. In his 1980 campaign, he even contended that the increase in revenues resulting from the tax cut would pay for the military buildup he also planned.

But Mr. Moynihan said Mr. Stockman had told him that in 1981, ”the plan was to have a strategic deficit that would give you an argument for cutting back the programs that weren’t desired. It got out of hand.”

Reagan used tax cuts and spending increases to goose the economy. A good economy gets votes. Then under Dems the entire Republican media machine blasted us with deficit/debt fear to force cuts in the things government does to make people’s lives better. Cuts are bad for the economy (and people), so voters not happy with Dems.

So everything people think they uderstand about deficits and debt is just the result of decades Republican “family budget around kitchen table” propaganda.

REPUBLICANS understand this and use it. The Federal budet is NOT like a family budget.

Republicans understand our government issues its own currency. It CAN NOT go “bankrupt” because it can just issue more currency. It CAN NOT “go broke.” We can issue currency to pay for the things We the People want and need. The additional currency is money in the economy.

If we issue too much currency (too much money in the economy) we end up with inflation. So taxes soak up the excess.

Taxes are not “revenue” that is used to “pay for” spending. Taxes are useful to redistribute, rebalance the economy.

Taxes redistribute and rebalance. Is inequality rising? Raise taxes on the rich. Are billionaires and corporations exerting influence on government? Tax them back down to size. Etc.

Deficit fear is just a tool to move votes to Republicans, make the rich richer and keep We the People down.

This post is based on this Twitter thread.

There Are No Real Republican “Deficit Hawks.” Here’s Why.

Democrats are making a terrible mistake fighting the Republican tax cuts by saying they add to the deficit, that they will “blow a hole in the budget,” etc.

Why are Democrats saying this? They are using the “increase deficits” line because they think they can appeal to a few “deficit hawk” Republicans who spent the Obama years complaining about government sending and “deficits.”

It is a mistake for Democrats to think they can “get Republican votes” by mouthing Republican deficit-fear rhetoric without understanding the strategy behind their rhetoric.

Strategy: Republicans Create Deficits, Stoke Deficit Fear, Then Campaign Against Government Spending

Here’s the thing. There are no real Republican “deficit hawks.” Republicans stoke deficit fear, and then say they are opposed to budget deficits. But they always, always increase deficits. On purpose. There’s a reason.

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For some Reason The Public Thinks Politicians Side With Corporations

For some reason, the public thinks politicians side with corporations. Imagine that. and they’re looking for politicians who do not.

The LA Timesreports on focus groups with voters, seeing what they think today, in These voters in Arizona are fed up with Democrats, Republicans and, most of all, Trump,

More than two dozen voters gathered in Phoenix this week delivered a bipartisan broadside against President Trump, Republicans and Democrats, dismissing the political class as serving its wealthy benefactors and abandoning everyday Americans.

… The questions largely revolved around views of Trump and Republican efforts to pass healthcare and tax reform measures. Yet in the process, participants voiced strikingly little support for Democrats nor any enthusiasm about using their vote to cast out Republicans next year.

“Democrats are doing something badly wrong,” said one Democratic-leaning voter, saying the party “should have done a better job” last year. “Democrats are flailing.”

“I think the government is totally corrupt,” said an independent voter who leaned toward Democrats in elections but disparaged both sides.

Republicans see Trump and Republicans siding with corporations. Imagine that.

Asked whether Trump sided with regular people or big corporations, nine of 10 in the Republican group said he sided with corporations. All 10 said Republicans in Congress sided with corporations. Two said Democrats sided with ordinary people. Sentiments were not dramatically different in other groups.

“They’re all the same; they’re all puppets,” said one Trump voter.

People saw government bailing out Wall Street and corporations instead of We the People, and aren’t happy,

“People in Arizona and Ohio, all these other groups in other places in the country, thought after the crash that Wall Street and big corporations were made whole again, and they were left behind,” said Patrick McHugh, the executive director of Priorities, who observed the focus groups.

“Trump made a lot of promises to address those issues. He’s now president…. He’s now responsible for fulfilling those promises.”

So people somehow sense that government sides with corporations. People might be uninformed and misinformed, but they by and large aren’t stupid. They can see what’s going on and want something done about it.

Apart from the obvious racism, Trump campaigned on an economic message. There were people who will tell you they “took a chance” and supported Trump because he promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in government. He said he was already wealthy so he wouldn’t take bribes. He got a lot of votes from people who were fed up.

If there was a consistent criticism of Hillary Clinton it was that she was beholden to corporations, especially Wall Street, and that her paid speeches and supposed support for TPP proved it.

Lots of people supported Bernie Sanders because he obviously was not in the pocket of corporations.

Many Green voters are Greens instead of Democrats because they believe the party has sold out to corporate interests.

I wonder if there is a lesson from this?

Progressives Should Focus On Russia

Too many on the “left” say progressives should not be focusing on the Russian interference in our democracy. They say it is just an excuse to allow the failure of Clinton and Democratic leadership to offer the public good policies that help people instead of just helping corporations and the rich slide. Some even say it is just old 1950s-style “red-baiting.”

Criticism of Russia is not related to previous pre-1990s criticisms of communism or socialism. Russia is not that. Today it is a kletocracy run by one guy and a bunch of oligarchs, sort of the perfect Koch/Thiel/Trump/corporate state that Republicans are trying to bring about here.

They Did It

The Trump campaign did do this and the Republican Party is running cover for it, just so they can continue to loot us with tax cuts for the rich and taking away the things our government does to make our lives better.

Its better for progressives if the spectrum of power goes from the left to centrist Dems, instead of from centrist Dems to the far right as it does now. Using Russia to get lots of Rs out of power and move that spectrum left only helps us obtain an environment in which Medicare-for-All, free college and university, allowing everyone to vote, restoring taxation and regulation on corporations, breaking up monopolies, bringing racial and gender justice, ending privatization, finally fighting climate change and all the other things needed to heal the country and planet are possible to achieve.

We need the public to understand that conservative/Republican/corporate rule is anti-democracy and not legitimate. Focusing on Russia helps us get there.

The Russia Story Isn’t Going Away

It’s not like the Russia story is going to drop from the news, allowing other things to be discussed. So ride the wave instead of fighting the tide.

The Russia story actually gives us an opportunity to talk about good policies instead of policies that hurt the country, by tying that discussion to Russian efforts to hurt us. All the talk about Russia gives us the opportunity to tie Republican anti-government policies to the ways Russia hoped to benefit from their interference in our democracy. Russia helped put them there in an effort to hurt the country and Republican policies hurt the country.

The Russia story delegitimizes Republicans by exposing their lack of legitimacy. (Along with voter suppression, gerrymandering and other ways they are not legitimately in power.) The more they and their policies are delegitimized the more progressive policies fill the vacuum.

Note how Medicare-for-All is being widely discussed, even while the Russia story dominates.

All the talk about Russian interference in democracy offers us a chance to remind people of what democracy means. erference in our democracy.

Impeachment Is Not Enough

The problem with impeachment is it doesn’t really solve our problem. The problem we have goes so far beyond just Trump and into flaws in the the design of our system.

George Washington established rule by “norms” when he declined to run again for President, saying we are not a nation of kings. So it became a norm that presidents hand over power. In the years since we developed a system of democratic norms instead of laws that can be enforced, with systemic mechanisms to ensure enforcement.

So now we have a president who has no interest in norms or rule of law, and we have no laws and no systemic mechanisms to do anything about it. He and his cronies are destroying our system of democracy and rule of law.

These clowns got into office illegitimately and we have no mechanisms to stop the destruction of all the “public structures” We the People own and treasure, from our public land to our public schools to our public infrastructure to our system of checks and balances to our democracy itself.

They got into office illegitimately using a corporate-and-billionaire-financed propaganda machine (and possibly non-US “dark money” funding sources) spewing lies at us 24/7/365 for decades, massive voter suppression, possible election-rigging, the electoral college designed around maintaining slave states, lies (“I will drain the swamp”) and all the other things they have done.

And beyond the presidency we have the gerrymandering lock, states populated by cows but with two senators, and other ways they maintain a grip on power when they can’t get the votes.

All impeachment does is move the incompetent, loathsome Trump out of the way, after he signs the things they want and they are through with his usefulness. But the entire fraudulent crowd will still maintain illegitimate power.

What we need is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that can sweep away all the corruption, illegitimacy and lies and find ways to restore democracy and return Power To The People.

An Innovative Solution To Corporate Taxation

While we’re talking about taxes…

Over the weekend The Zero Hour with RJ Eskow interviewed economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, to talk about “A New Way to Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share.”

The idea is, as Baker wrote last week in the LA Times, Instead of taxes, make corporations give the government stock,

If the tax reformers are serious, and I hope they are, here’s one simple way to largely eliminate the gaming opportunities that have made these people rich.

Instead of traditional taxes, the government could require corporations to turn over a portion of their stock, say 25%, in the form of non-voting shares. The government would benefit from any dividends or share buybacks but would have no voice in running the company.

This system would eliminate almost all opportunities for gaming since a company would not be able to deny the government its share of profits unless it also withheld profits from its other shareholders. And we would not call that “tax avoidance” but outright theft – the sort of thing that gets people sent to jail.

This government (We the People) share of corporations would replace taxation, because the government would collect dividends or the value of the share would increase along with the profits (formerly taxable) of the corporation. The government and corporate tax-accounting bureaucracies would be unnecessary. Our democracy would receive revenue so it can do things to make our economy and lives better.

Why should the government (We the People) have a share of corporations? People generally do not understand what a corporation really is, and this common misunderstanding works to be benefit of those who make money off of them.

Corporations are entirely creations of government. They don’t exist without government. A corporation is a package of laws designed to accomplish a public purpose.

Individuals do not generally have the kind of capital available to accomplish large-scale projects like building a series of factories to make cars or airplanes. It’s also risky to sink so much of one person’t holdings into something like that so those with sufficient resources might not do it.

So government (We the people) created corporations to enable pooling of capital and reduction of individual risk. We (through our government) grant these entities the right to enter into contracts, write checks, hire people, borrow money, file lawsuits, etc. as if they were a “person.”

A common misconception is that shareholders “own” corporations. They do not, but shareholders do elect the Board of Directors, which hires people to manage the corporation according to the Board’s instructions.

People tend to think of and talk about corporations as sentient entities. But corporations do not think or decide or act or anything else. The managers of the corporation do that. For example, “Wells Fargo” did not “decide” to commit fraud against their customers, the corporation’s executives — people — did that.

Another common misconception is that corporations are required by law to do whatever they can to make profits for the shareholders. In fact this is a relatively recent concept that flourished as people’s understanding of the purpose of corporations diminished. In fact government does much to limit what corporations can do while seeking profits. They cannot (aren’t supposed to) kill or injure people to increase profits, cannot poison the air and water, cannot commit fraud, etc.

So the idea that government should keep their hands off of corporations and not hold some percent of them for the benefit of We the People is really preposterous. This thinking misunderstands what a corporation is, how and why it exists and what its purpose is.

The goal of Baker’s idea is to create a system where corporations are paying their share to We the People, without all of the incentives to come up with schemes to avoid taxes. Baker’s idea accomplishes that goal. Baker suggests that government hold 25% of corporate shares, but the tax rate has already dropped from 52% to 46% under Reagan to 35% today, and the corporate share of the overall tax burden has fallen from 32% to only 10%. SO perhaps a higher share would be appropriate for restoring revenue and democracy.

(See Lynn Stout’s The Shareholder Value Myth for a deeper dive into what and why a corporation is.)

Corporate Tax Cuts Are Really Just Tax Cuts For The Rich

Republicans are proposing a huge, huge cut in corporate tax rates. They are also proposing to let giant, multinational corporations keep much of the taxes they already owe on profits they are keeping in “offshore” tax havens.

Lower tax rates mean higher after-tax profits, which increases the value of stock holdings.

Who owns corporate stock, and therefore receives the benefits of these tax cuts?

Do We All Benefit From Corporate Stock?

Lets look at just who owns corporate stock.

Republicans like to pretend that all of us are invested in the stock market, if not by directly owning stocks, then through “our” retirement plans. This is usually written by and believed by upper-level, comfortable people that actually do have retirement plans.

But 45% of Americans have no money for retirement at all. Only 44% of Americans put anything into a 401K if their company offers one — and this number includes workers with only $100 in the plan. Only 18% of Americans are putting money in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), ehich may or may not hold stocks. Only 4% of private-sector workers have only a “defined benefit” plan, usually called a pension.

So much for “our” retirement plans. Aside from retirement plans, a 2016 Gallup survey found that only 52% of Americans own any stocks at all – down from 65% in 2007.

So Who Does Own Stock?

Here is a chart of who owns corporate stock (and therefore pays those taxes.)

As of 2007, the top 1 percent owned 50.9 percent of all stocks, bonds, and mutual fund assets. The top 10 percent owned 90.3 percent. Things have only concentrated upward since 2007.

How much have things concentrated upwards since then? 20 Americans now hold as much wealth as half of all Americans put together and “the 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the population.”

People talk about an “upper class” that holds most of the wealth in our society now. Maybe the thinking on this needs to change from a “class” of people to just a few people.

It is these few people who are the beneficiaries of corporate tax cuts. As tax rates drop the value of their stock holdings rises. The rest of us lose our ability to have good schools, roads, health care, courts, scientific research and all the rest of the things our government tries to do to make our lives better.

This is who we are talking about when we talk about corporate tax rates. It’s not anonymous, nameless corporation, it is people — just a few people.