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.

We Do Not Have Legitimately Elected Officials

Do we have legitimate governance, with the consent of an informed electorate?

If a voter makes a choice based on a campaign that is based on lies, disinformation, promises that are never meant to be fulfilled, incorrect assumptions and premises, psychological manipulation, intimidation, well-funded mass propaganda and the rest of the entire modern Republican operation — is there a legitimate outcome? Are votes that result from that legitimate votes?

What about a candidate who just lies, saying “what the voters want to hear” with no intention of doing what was implied in the campaign? Are those “legitimate” votes?

A “legitimate” election requires a properly informed electorate given adequate and correct information upon which to make a decision. Trickery, misinformation, lies, misdirection, manipulation, financially outshouting, and all the things we understand as modern “elections” actually mean the results are not legitimate and anti-democratic.

Never mind mass voter suppression, gerrymandering and the other ways our system has become “rigged” against allowing democracy to function. Never mind possible tampering with voting machines. Those things are also for real. But alongside those, this general non-functioning of democracy has become “normalized.” We do not even expect candidates to just tell the truth about issues that are important to us anymore, and when they do they are considered to be “outside the mainstream.”

Look at the extent to which our supposedly democratic system has been de-legitimized. This is not just about Trump, this has become systemic. Saying what is needed just to get votes is a violation of democracy and de-legitimizes the outcome. Tricking people, lying, manipulating, outspending all de-legitimize the outcome.

How can we restore truly functioning, free, informative news media combined with an attentive, educated electorate? How can we restore legitimacy to our entire democratic process? The first step is to call it out, stop accepting it, see it for what it is and say it for what it is.

Thoughts On Russia Election Systems Hacking Report

Here are some thoughts on the report that Russia was trying to — or did — hack into our election systems before the election.

1) Why was this a secret? Who from? Obviously it wasn’t a secret to Russia. Maybe they’re keeping the idea that they detected it a secret? (And this tips Russia or whoever off to what we did not detect, by the way.)

2) We only know about hacking that we detect, not that which we do not detect. It’s like the saying that nothing in Washington remains a secret. The response to that is, “except for the things that do. We don’t know about those things.”

3) It shouldn’t matter if election systems are hacked. Our election system should be set up from top to bottom so that you just count actual votes. We used to do that. Now we do not. We believe what we are told the results were. Seriously. that way there is a record of actual votes, that you check whether you detect hacking or not. The way we do things now there’s no way to know who wins elections. If you set the system up correctly then it doesn’t matter if it is hacked. (It matters if someone finds a way to “stuff” a ballot box. But good systems can even prevent that, and that doesn’t decide national or even statewide elections.)

3a) If machines have “paper trails” you could count what’s on the paper and compare it to what the machines reported. We don’t do that. One reason we don’t is because that “costs too much.” (Even when someone raises the money for a “recount” it doesn’t usually involve actually counting the paper records.) Instead, we believe what we are told the results were.

3b) There are still lots of machines out there without paper trails. In Georgia, for example. They are old and very easy to hack. There are real indications they get hacked. There is no way to know. So with these machines there is no way to know for sure what the voters actually wanted. There is no way to know if they were hacked, no way to know if they made mistakes. Just no way to know. Instead, we believe what we are told the results were.

4) The only way to have an honest election is to use paper ballots. These can be tabulated by machines. Then you hand count a large random sample and check that against what the tabulators report. If that count is off by even a single vote, something is fishy and you have to count all the paper ballots. With paper ballots and careful checking you do know who actually won.

5) If you want to know who actually won an election instead of what the “powers that be” tell you, you have to do things that we largely do not do now in too many places. Instead, we believe what we are told the results were.

6) As for messing with the registration lists to keep people from voting, that’s a different problem. (Voter ID laws are also a form of messing with the registration lists to keep people from voting.) Are we hearing about lots of people being turned away at the polling places? If so this form of hacking is also a serious concern. I understand that lots of “provisional ballots” are not counted and this is serious. To solve this stop the laws that make it harder to vote, and just make it easier to vote. And make voting a holiday so people don’t have to leave work, go after work, etc. Make it easier to use verifiable, mail-in ballots.

Update: Hand counts should match what the machines are reporting. If not something is fishy. Unfortunately even “recounts” do not necessarily mean a real hand count. In Wisconsin, 2016 for example. Watch this:

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.)

Tax Cuts Defund The Very Things That Boost The Economy

After 8 years of complaining about “Obama deficits,” Republicans are proposing huge, dramatic, unprecedented tax cuts, especially for corporations. President Trump wants the rate cut from 35% down to 15%, denying the government $2 trillion of revenue over the next decade. He is also proposing dramatic income tax cuts for billionaires like him.

Republicans call corporate tax cuts “pro-growth,” saying they will give the economy a boost. Trump’s Treasury Secretary says the plan will “pay for itself with economic growth.”

So now they’re for “stimulus”?

But here’s the real question: do tax cuts actually boost economic growth?

What Tax Cuts Actually Do

In 2012 the Congressional Research Service looked at the data from past tax cuts and the effect they had on the economy, and issued a report titled, Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945. The summary explained,

This report attempts to clarify whether or not there is an association between the tax rates of the highest income taxpayers and economic growth. Data is analyzed to illustrate the association between the tax rates of the highest income taxpayers and measures of economic growth.

And what did the study find?

There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.

In fewer words: There is no evidence that tax cuts bring economic growth, but they do cause income to concentrate at the top.

But wait, it’s worse than that. Tax revenues build roads (and bridges and airports and rail systems and and water systems…), educate the population, conduct scientific research, run the courts, enforce regulations, standardize (and enforce) weights and measures, and about a million other things that make businesses prosper.

If you cut taxes, over time the business environment necessarily gets worse because those roads deteriorate, people are not as well educated, scientific research declines, courts clog up, regulation enforcement declines, along with about a million other things that businesses rely on. If you can’t get educated employees, can’t move goods on crowded and deteriorated roads and your competitors can get away with cheating, your business just isn’t going to do as well as it could.

Tax cuts defund all of those things that boost the economy and make our lives better. Over time the economy necessarily gets worse.

Are Taxes Theft?

Republicans say “taxes are theft.” They say “taxes take money out of the economy.” They say it “takes from those who work and earn and giving to those who don’t.” They say taxation “extracts wealth.” The idea behind this is that government is illegitimate and “uses force’ to “take people’s money” so “they” can have it instead. They argue there are “producers” and “moochers” and the moochers outnumber the producers and take from them.

These are all actually arguments against democracy. Substitute the words “We the People” for the word “government” in their arguments and you’ll see how this works. The “they” in their arguments isn’t some “other” that grabs the money, it is We the People. The idea of democracy is that We the People have a government and we decide how to allocate the resources of our economy to make our lives better. That means taxing and spending.

Democracy is taxing and spending. And by definition government sending is on things that make our lives better.

Are tax cuts theft? Or are they really about theft of democracy from We the People?

From Tax Cuts Are Theft,

The American Social Contract: We, the People built our democracy and the empowerment and protections it bestows. We built the infrastructure, schools and all of the public structures, laws, courts, monetary system, etc. that enable enterprise to prosper. That prosperity is the bounty of our democracy and by contract it is supposed to be shared and reinvested. That is the contract. Our system enables some people to become wealthy but all of us are supposed to benefit from this system. Why else would We, the People have set up this system, if not for the benefit of We, the People?

… The American Social Contract is supposed to work like this:

… But the “Reagan Revolution” broke the contract. Since Reagan the system is working like this:

Tax cuts eat the seed corn of our prosperity. We shouldn’t fall for yet another Republican con, this time from the con-man Trump.

United Incident Shows Why We Need To Re-Regulate Corporations

In a democracy, We the People are in charge. We are the boss of the corporations. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Apparently, that isn’t so much the way it is anymore. The United States used to regulate corporations to protect people from concentrated power. Now concentrated power has taken over our government, which fights the people for the benefit of corporate profits.

Or, to paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith and a Soviet joke: In democracy, We the People regulate corporation. In deregulated America is other way around.

The Face Of Deregulation

This is literally the face of deregulation of corporations:

This is what can happen to you now in the United States if you get in the way of something a corporation wants:

We’ve all seen the videos. A guy gets beaten and dragged from his paid seat on a United Airlines flight because, in essence, he was interfering with corporate profits just by being in the seat. The airplane was full, the corporation decided it could make more money by moving some employees to another town, and a passenger was in the way.

Airline Deregulation

Airlines used to be regulated in the U.S. as a public utility that served citizens. They competed with each other by offering better service.

Then in 1978, airlines were deregulated and passengers were considered consumers instead of citizens. The airlines argued that more competition would bring benefits. Instead, as time passed, airlines did what corporations tend to do.

They consolidated, reducing competition. They reduced and reduced and reduced service to reduce costs. They cut employee wages and benefits. They changed routes to “hubs” for their convenience, causing passengers to have to wait hours in crowded airports. And they write contracts that said you can’t use their (essential) service without signing away every right you have.

Since deregulation, airlines intentionally overbook many flights. They scrunch as many people into smaller and smaller seats just inches from the next, and sell you more legroom. Instead of serving food, they sell it. They charge you if you travel a suitcase. They charge you to bring a travel bag on the plane.

Soon, they will put a large spike in the seat and charge you to shorten it.

And you can’t do anything about it. You can’t even complain without risking being considered “disruptive” and dragged from the airplane and jailed. And be careful how you dress.

Not Just Airlines

It’s not just airlines. All kinds of corporate deregulation have been harming We the People. There used to be regulations requiring broadcast media to act in the public interest in exchange for use of publicly-owned broadcast frequencies. Now, obviously, there isn’t.

Pollution rules are being deregulated. Pesticides that harm children are being deregulated. The list is long.

“Arbitration clauses” are now used in all kinds of contracts and agreements to keep you from being able to take corporations to court. “Tort reform” laws also restrict access to courts when people are harmed by corporations.

You get the idea.

“Burdensome” Regulations

Corporations complain that regulations are “burdensome.” They complain that regulations cost them money.

Of course, regulations that stop corporations from polluting streams place a “burden” on them to properly dispose of waste. Of course it costs money to require them to not just dump waste into rivers, streams, and the air we breath.

Carmakers used to complain that rules requiring seat belts in cars were a “burden.” Tobacco companies used to complain that stopping them from selling cigarettes to kids “cost money.” So far, government regulation has protected us from these abuses-for-profit. But for how long?

Who Is Our Country FOR?

Americans have lost our understanding of the meaning of democracy and of the powers democracy brings us and duties it places on us. We have become consumers instead of citizens and we think that markets should make decisions for us instead of our votes.

In a democracy, We the People are supposed to be in charge. In a democracy, our government by definition exists to serve us, protect us, and do things for us that make our lives better.

A democracy regulates corporations to protect people from concentrated power. If we let concentrated power make decisions for us, we end up getting dragged off of airplanes because the corporation decided the seat we paid for would make them a bit more profit.

Corporations should be regulated to serve the public interest. Why else would We the People want to allow these things called corporations to exist at all?

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Tax Cuts Steal Democracy

The Trump administration, as have all Republican administrations, is promoting tax cuts for the rich, saying they will “create growth.” Never mind the destructive history of tax cuts, the destructive history of “trickle-down economics” (and the destructive history of Republican administrations generally) — they’re doing it again.

Getting A Few Bamboozlements Out Of The Way

Any time taxes come up, decades of Republican bamboozlement gets in the way of rational discussion. Republicans say things like “taxes take money out of the economy” and “tax cuts create growth” to trick people into supporting tax cuts for the rich and corporations (which are really just more tax cuts for the rich).

So it is reasonable to look at what has actually happened when taxes on the rich have been cut. History shows that tax cuts have never produced “growth.” (See also, the Congressional Research Service’s non-partisan study, “Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945“: “Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth.” Also, take a look at what happened in Kansas and six other states when they tried to grow their economies through tax cuts.)

Tax Cuts Defund Our Democracy And Concentrate Power At The Top

So tax cuts do not “grow the economy.” They just don’t. But tax cuts and the resulting drop on revenue to our democracy are used to force cuts in the things our government does to make our lives better and help our economy prosper in the longer term.

When people have a say in how their government is run they say they want good schools and colleges, good infrastructure, health care, scientific research, good courts, and all the things that government can do to make our lives better. They also say they want a “flatter” wealth distribution, with people at the bottom having a way to make a living, and people at the top helping pay for our democracy by pitching in more of the gains that democracy brings.

When people don’t have a say in how their government is run, the economy delivers for a few at the top while leaving the rest behind. And this concentration of wealth also concentrates their power over our governmental decision-making.

Tax cuts don’t just force a drop in revenue to our democracy, they push the benefits of our economy to a few at the top. The Congressional Research Service study mentioned above, Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945, found that tax cuts do not bring economic growth. The study also found, “However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.”

Democracies demand high taxes at the top because the revenue is good for the economy in the long term. Taxes bring in revenue to pay for education, scientific research and improvements in infrastructure that cause the economy to grow. Investing in modern transit systems, smart grid, energy efficiency, fast internet and other improvements leads to a huge payoff. Infrastructure improvement and maintenance is the “seed corn” of economic growth. We have been eating that seed corn since Reagan’s tax cuts. Prosperity is the fruit of democracy.

Tax cuts do not “take money out of the economy”; they redistribute it to places where We the People decide it can be better used to help make all of our lives better and grow our economy. But the Reagan tax cuts were used to force cuts in things like education, scientific research and, unfortunately, maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure.

Our economy has been in trouble ever since. From the 2010 post, Reagan Revolution Home To Roost — In Charts:

Working people’s share of the benefits from increased productivity took a sudden turn down:

This resulted in intense concentration of wealth at the top:

And forced working people to spend down savings to get by:

Which forced working people to go into debt: (total household debt as percentage of GDP)

None of which has helped economic growth much: (12-quarter rolling average nominal GDP growth.)*

Tax cuts steal from democracy.

Tax Cuts Force Unsustainable Business Models

The dramatic decrease in top tax rates has also forced unsustainable “sell the farm” business models.

From the 2010 post 14 Ways A 90 Percent Top Tax Rate Fixes Our Economy And Our Country:

A return to Eisenhower-era 90% top tax rates helps fix our economy in several ways:

1) It makes it take longer to end up with a fortune. In fact it makes people build andearn a fortune, instead of shooting for quick windfalls. This forces long-term thinking and planning instead of short-term scheming and scamming. If grabbing everything in sight and running doesn’t pay off anymore, you have to change your strategy.

2) It gets rid of the quick-buck-scheme business model. Making people take a longer-term approach to building rather than grabbing a fortune will help reattach businesses to communities by reinforcing interdependence between businesses and their surrounding communities. When it takes owners and executives years to build up a fortune they need solid companies that are around for a long time. This requires the surrounding public infrastructure of roads, schools, police, fire, courts, etc., to be in good shape to provide long-term support for the enterprise. You also want your company to build a solid reputation for serving its customers rather than cheapening the product, pursuing quick-buck scams, cutting customer service, etc. The current Wall Street/private equity business model of looting companies, leaving behind an empty shell, unemployed workers and a surrounding community in devastation will no longer be a viable business strategy.

3) It will lower the executive crime rate. Today it is possible to run scams that let you pocket huge sums in a single year, and leave behind the mess you make for others to fix. A high top tax rate removes the incentive to lie, cheat and steal to grab every buck you can as fast as you can. This reduces the temptation to be dishonest. If you aren’t going to keep the whole dime, why risk doing the time? When excessive, massive paydays are possible, it opens the door to overwhelming greed and a resulting compromising of principles. Sort of the definition of the decades since Reagan, no?

Who Pays For Tax Cuts?

Conservative economics claims that tax cuts do not have to be “paid for.” (Modern Monetary Theory shows otherwise, but that’s for another post.)

Trump uses the old “tax cuts pay for themselves” bamboozlement to claim that much of the revenue lost from his tax cuts will be made up for by increased growth. They won’t, of course. Trump also throws in a number of things that will actually increase taxes on the non-rich, while hurting homeowners and nonprofit organizations.

One place the Trump tax cuts plan to “pay for” the huge windfall for the rich is by limiting or eliminating the mortgage interest tax deduction.

Another “pay for” is eliminating tax deductions for charitable giving. In “Will Trump’s Tax Plan Hurt Philanthropy?” Ben Paynter explains what this will do to nonprofits.

“In the long run, the Center for Effective Government estimates that the proposed policy could reduce cause organization funding by $9.1 billion annually. And United Way Worldwide has reported that nearly two-thirds of Americans might reduce giving by 25% or more.”

Marques Chavez of The Alliance for Charitable Reform names a few names, in a letter to the editor that appeared in The Hill

“The Tax Policy Center found that a cap on the charitable deduction, as proposed by President Trump, would cost as much as $26 billion in charitable giving in one year. That is more than the combined operating budgets of the American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries International, YMCA of the USA, Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Catholic Charities USA, the American Cancer Society, United Way Worldwide and Feeding America.”

What tax cuts actually do is steal our democracy out from under us.

The Republican Congress and President Trump are proposing more huge tax cuts for the rich and corporations. Call your member of Congress and your senators, and visit their offices, to let them know how you feel about this. Join #ResistTrumpTuesdays here.

You can find local actions here and a local #Indivisible group here.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Trump Declares TPP Still Dead. So Now What?

President Trump formally withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Though TPP was killed by a long progressive fight that resulted in it not having the votes to pass Congress, of course, he took credit for killing it himself.

TPP was another “trade” deal written in secret using a process dominated by corporate interests. As David Dayen, writing in The Nation Tuesday, put it,

The public recognized that free-trade deals aren’t about free trade anymore—tariffs are currently so low it would be hard to get them meaningfully lower—but about guaranteeing corporate profits through eliminating regulations and enforcing patents. Another deal written in secret, with lobbyists whispering in negotiators’ ears, gave nobody confidence that this would change. Secret enforcement tribunals were a prime target for criticism, because they protect corporate and investor profits and enable financial speculation. No such platform exists for workers if their rights are violated.

This rigged trade process and its results brought us Trump, and here we are.

So now that that’s over, how should our country trade with the world?

Do We Even Need “Trade Deals”?

“Trade” used to be about countries that grow bananas and “developed” countries exchanging bananas for cars and toasters. The banana regions had a “comparative advantage” because the climate favored banana-growing, the developed countries’ advantage was a completed manufacturing ecosystem. Unfortunately “comparative advantage” today means companies moving their production to places that allow them to pollute and exploit workers to “lower their costs.” (The costs of pollution and exploitation are then instead borne by working people and the planet.)

It is a common misconception that we need to have a trade deal with a country before American companies can export to that country. This is partly due to misleading arguments used to sell corporate-favoring trade agreements, like saying, “Ninety-five percent of America’s potential customers live overseas, so closing ourselves off to trade is not a solution.”

Not having a trade agreement doesn’t “close ourselves off to trade.” American businesses trade with the rest of the world and the rest of the world trades with us regardless of trade deals. But without trade deals countries can set tariffs and barriers according to their own country’s needs and goals.

“Protectionism”

In places where people have a say, people say they want good wages and environmental protections (and public education and health care and infrastructure and parks and science and other things people vote for in democracies). These protections mean that working people and the environment receive a larger share of the economic pie. The economic pie is also larger as a result of that investment in public education and infrastructure and the rest, so the “investor” class does better, too. To pay for these investment those who do better are taxed more.

In non-democracies and other places where people don’t have a say people aren’t paid well, the environment is not protected and a few people at the top end up with a larger share of the smaller economic pie.

So a democracy might want a tariff to remove the price advantage of goods made at “less cost” in countries without those protections. With a balancing tariff those goods won’t undermine democray’s good wages and protections, and undermine the tax base along with them. These tariffs and barriers might be called a “democracy tax,” with the revenues used for investment to make the goods made in the democracy more competitive worldwide.

Business and “investor” interests want to pay lower wages and environmental protection costs, so they encourage countries to pass “free trade” deals that prevent governments from imposing tariffs and barriers in the future. They call the idea of democracy taxes and other decision-making by governments to protect national interests “protectionism.”

“Free trade” deals set aside each country’s political decision-making in favor of “more trade” — thereby placing business interests above national sovereignty. Governments are prevented from acting to “protect” a country’s interests and businesses are free to seek the lowest costs, regardless of what happens to countries and the people in them and the environment.

“Opening New Markets” – To Monopolization

When corporate interests advocate for free trade deals they also claim the deals will “establish new markets.” Again, this falsely implies they can’t already export without establishing a trade deal. This language also makes it seem as though those countries don’t already have companies and industries in those markets. What they really want is a deal that blocks governments from using tariffs and barriers “protecting” their developing or strategic industries from being overtaken and knocked out by established or subsidized competitors from other countries. This “opens markets” to outside competition from giant corporations.

With open trade the largest multinational corporations are able to sweep into other countries — “new markets” — and buy up or knock out existing, smaller businesses. The larger companies use economies of scale, established supply chains, superior access to credit, and other advantages of bigness to become even bigger. The resulting “efficiencies” mean that people are laid off wages and benefits are cut and systems are set up to push profits to the “investors” in the corporation.

People Caught On

So American voters finally caught on to the gimmicks used to sell “free trade.” Or, better put, the damage from from free trade finally caught up to most of us. People rose up and demanded a change, and change is upon us. With TPP out of the way, and “free trade” on hold for the time being it is time to re-evaluate what We the People want from our trade deals and economy.

Stan Sorcher writes, in Restoring Trust After Our “Free Trade” Charade Ends,

Our failed “neoliberal” approach has been to manage globalization through trade deals, written by and for the interests of global companies. The neoliberal vision is a fully integrated global economy, where national identities are blurred, shareholder interests have top priority, public interests are devalued, and gains go almost entirely to investors.

… In this neoliberal vision, markets will solve all our problems, government is bad, and power and influence should favor those who already have plenty of both.

It’s time for a change. But what will the new trade regime look like?

Proposals For A New Trade Regime

Trade doesn’t have to mean a race to the economic bottom resulting in massive worldwide inequality. The benefits of a modern, globalized world are clear. Jared Bernstein, wrote last year that trade deals,

… provide necessary rules of the road by which countries deal with trade logistics, barriers, cross-border investments and conflicts, and, in this sense, they can smooth the path of globalization in useful ways. But they can also be captured by partisan or corporate interests and thereby used to channel the benefits of trade to a favored group. This has certainly been the case in the United States, and it is why many of us who are committed globalists opposed the TPP.

A new approach is needed. The question is how do we manage globalization and trade for the benefit of all of us instead of using it to set all of us against each other?

Plenty of groups and interests are already weighing in. Lori Wallach and Jared Bernstein, writing in The American Prospect last year, in The New Rules of the Road: A Progressive Approach to Globalization, (click through for specifics),

The new rules must prioritize the economic needs of low- and middle-income families while preserving the democratic, accountable policymaking processes that are essential to creating and maintaining the environmental, consumer, labor, and human-rights policies on which we all rely.
[. . .] A more transparent process with opportunities for meaningful engagement, accountability, and oversight by the public and Congress—rather than the current regime that privileges the commercial interests that have long captured these negotiations—is needed.

The AFL-CIO recently posted, 6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People, which can be applied more generally to new trade negotiations, (click through for details),

1. Eliminate the private justice system for foreign investors.

2. Strengthen the labor and environment obligations (the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation), include them in the agreement, and ensure they are enforced.

3. Address currency manipulation by creating binding rules subject to enforcement and possible sanctions.

4. Upgrade NAFTA’s rules of origin, particularly on autos and auto parts, to reinforce auto sector jobs in North America.

5. Delete the procurement chapter that undermines “Buy American” laws (Chapter 10).

6. Upgrade the trade enforcement chapter (Chapter 19).

The Sierra Club has issued a discussion paper, A New Climate-Friendly Approach To Trade, with ideas that

“start from a simple premise that marks a fundamental departure from the status quo: Trade and investment should be treated as tools for advancing public interest objectives—not ends in and of themselves.1 Agreements between countries should encourage trade and investment that support a more stable climate, healthy communities, and good jobs, while discouraging trade and investment that undermine these goals. This means, for example, incentivizing investments in renewable energy but not in fossil fuels,2 lowering barriers to the spread of green technology, and using taxes on highemissions trade to support increased climate protection and climate-friendly job growth.”

The Coalition for a Prosperous America offers 13 21st Century Trade Agreement Principles. Among these: Balanced Trade, reciprocity, stop currency manipulation, allow “Buy America” procurement, enforceable provisions, and more.

Many ideas being discussed seem to involve a “small-ball” approach, reacting to the existing trade regime instead of reimagining the possibilities. Current discussions revolve around things like getting rid of rules favoring investors over governments, or including enforceable labor and environmental standards. And, of course that is all needed. But so is a reimagining.

Obviously the first goal of a new trade policy should be to lift prosperity and improve people’s lives on all sides of trade borders — not just for a few at the expense of the many, but generally. This means the interest of all economic and trade “stakeholders” — labor, consumers, human rights, LGBTQ+, environmental, health, etc. and their governments, along with investors and businesses — need to be involved in the process.

It can be done. For example, imagine a “trade deal” that prohibits companies from threatening workers with having their jobs moved to another country. Hmm… By imagining the unimaginable all kinds of new possibilities begin to open up.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.

Trump’s Absurd Plan To Dismantle Government’s Protections

Donald Trump released a video announcing his agenda for his “first day in office.” One of the things he said is, “I will formulate a rule which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.” Can we count the number of ways this is absurd and dangerous?

Under Trump’s 2-for-1 idea, if we want to have a regulation that a company can’t store explosives next to an elementary school, we have to eliminate a regulation that protects us from food poisoning AND a regulation that stops companies from taking money out of your bank account for no reason? (Or how about creating fake accounts and charging them fees?)

Or how about we eliminate the regulations requiring seat belts in cars? Or requiring cars to have headlights? There’s two more! And think of all the money this would save the car companies! (Ignore the pain and suffering and loss this would cause regular Americans — that’s not money.)

Here’s one that can go: eliminate the regulations against defrauding students using high-pressure sales techniques to get them to enroll at scam universities. Or against “financial elder abuse“.

Government Is We The People

In the United States government was once supposed to be about We the People organizing to accomplish things that make our lives better. We vote, our representatives impose taxes and spend and make laws and regulations toward that end.

The ongoing corporate/conservative attack on the legitimacy of government and democracy have eroded public understanding of these concepts. Education. Firefighting. Scientific research. Health care. Parks. Transportation. All are core things a government of, by and FOR the people does to make our lives better — and all are under attack, “privatized” or “eliminated” by representatives who have been “captured” by corporate/conservative money.

Government of, by and for the people by definition stops some people from doing things that hurt others. In particular for this discussion, it stops people who have businesses from defrauding others, harming others, polluting our air and water, selling dangerous products, and other destructive practices. But this means that these people make less money, so they complain, and sometimes they use their money to influence those who would regulate to stop them.

“Burdensome government regulations” all cost companies money: food inspection, clean water, fire codes, zoning rules and drug safety rules. They all “get in the way” of a company scamming, hurting, polluting or whatever makes them more money.

Regulations too often come about as a reaction to something terrible happening. Fire codes came from times when entire towns burned down. Drug-safety rules came from “snake oil” scammers selling poison and leaving town before the damage is done. Seat belt regulations came from terrible traffic injuries and deaths.

Regulations are about “how can We the People do this better?”

The Underlying Assumptions Behind Trump’s Absurd Plan

Underlying Trump’s plan to “eliminate” government regulations is the premise that “government regulation” is itself a bad thing. And underlying that is the premise that government of by and for the people itself is illegitimate. It gets in the way of business. We the People making decisions interferes with efficient decision-making done for the narrow purpose of making money.

Corporate-financed conservatives will always tell you that government and its regulations are always bad. Government just “interferes” in things it knows nothing about. They will say that government regulations hold back businesses from expanding and hiring and generally getting things done that make money. But these are self-interested complaints from people who make their money scamming or hurting or polluting. People like Donald Trump.

We should see Trump’s proposal for what it is. This is not an approach to governing, it is about dismantling what government is for so that an already-wealthy few are free to fleece, scam, harm and and pollute in the name of greed.