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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
“Tax cuts skewed towards the wealthy elite starve our communities of much-needed resources while further tilting the scales towards large corporations and the rich.”
– Stephen Rouzer at Main Street Alliance
If you cut taxes for the rich and giant corporations, what happens to the rest of us? Tax cuts mean budget cuts, so what suffers is education, infrastructure and all kinds of things government does to make our lives better and our local businesses stronger.
Republicans argue that pushing wealth and income to the top few has a “trickle down” effect. They say wealthy people (like Paris Hilton) are “makers” who “create jobs” and therefore deserve to have heaps of money pushed their way for their benefit. They say that government spending on things that make the lives of We the People better really just makes us into “takers.”
But in reality, policies that push more and more of our country’s resources into the largest hands put our smaller hands at even more of a disadvantage. The giant corporations have huge advantages over small, local businesses just due to their size; huge tax breaks on top of their size-given advantages just make it that much harder for smaller businesses to compete. So the “WalMart business model” of undercutting and bankrupting a community’s small businesses and draining entire regions of wealth gains even more power. After decades of these “trickle down” policies, this is also known as “look around you.”
Trump’s Tax Plan Means Fewer Customers With Money To Spend At Local Businesses
The Main Street Alliance is a “is a national network of small business coalitions” that “works to provide small businesses a voice on the most pressing public policy issues across the nation.” (Donate here.)
A Main Street Alliance blog post by Stephen Rouzer, “Donald Trump’s Revised Tax Plan Won’t Work for Main Street,” begins,
The latest version of Donald Trump’s ever-changing tax plan is facing scrutiny from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Main Street Alliance leaders. The plan, one that features across the board tax cuts, disproportionately benefits the highest-income earners, those grossing more than $1 million annually.
This description of Trump’s plans as a huge benefit to the wealthiest is based on a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) post explaining a Tax Policy Center (TPC) analysis of Donald Trump’s tax proposals. The CBPP post, “Revised Trump Tax Plan Heavily Tilted Toward Wealthiest, Tax Policy Center Analysis Shows” explains how the analysis shows that Trump’s tax cut raise the after-tax income of the already-wealthy by another 14% or more, while hardly benefiting the rest of us – or even cutting the take-home incomes of the poorest.
This would seriously affect small, local businesses. Rouzer explains how passing so much to the top few while starving the rest of us means local businesses have fewer customers with money to spend:
A 2015 report released by the Main Street Alliance, “Voices of Main Street,” surveyed over 1000 small business owners and found that 52 percent of respondents cited “more customers” as the most important key to increasing small business success. Doubling the number of respondents that said “lower taxes” and more than quadrupling the number that responded “fewer regulations.”
Tax cuts skewed towards the wealthy elite starve our communities of much-needed resources while further tilting the scales towards large corporations and the rich.
Rouzer concludes with some great comments from business owners:
“To level the playing field for Main Street businesses our tax code must no longer skew in favor of large corporations and their shareholders,” said Deborah Field, the owner of Paperjam Press in Portland, Oregon, and a former corporate tax accountant. “Without holding multinational corporations accountable to pay what they owe and first providing relief to low and middle-income earners we shouldn’t begin to consider tax cuts for the rich.”
“The vast majority of small business owners don’t support a tax system that augments their piece of the pie by cheating their fellow citizens out of theirs. When we contribute our fair share of taxes, those dollars get reinvested in our local communities,” said David Borris, the owner of Hel’s Kitchen Catering in Chicago and Main Street Alliance Executive Committee member. “Local communities that support tens of millions of small businesses nationally.”
Amanda Ballantyne, national director of the Main Street Alliance, says that “Mr. Trump’s tax breaks would deprive the government of badly needed funds for investments in infrastructure, transportation, education, and social services. The resulting budget cuts hinder the types of investments that drive local economies and put small businesses in a better position to succeed.”
The kind of tax policy that small businesses need is one that supports their customer base and their communities. “In that regard, Trump’s plan falls flat,” says Ballantyne.
Donald Trump wants to dramatically cut taxes for the already-wealthy and their giant corporations. This would starve local communities of resources like teachers and infrastructure, while stacking the deck further against smaller, local businesses.
I listened to this on a walk, and it is a must, must, must listen podcast.
Robert Reich, speaking Tuesday at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco: “The Oddest Presidential Election in Living Memory”
From the website:
Tue, Sep 27 2016 – 6:30pm
Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley; Former Secretary of Labor; Author, Saving Capitalism
Holly Kernan, Executive Editor for News, KQED—Moderator
In the midst of an unpredictable presidential election, get insight from a veteran political figure who knows Washington inside and out. Time magazine named Reich one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. Come hear his provocative thoughts on the presidential election and the future of America.
Some people say that the Democratic Party doesn’t really stand for anything. Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed and pushed as a Democratic presidential candidate, and has achieved results that could change that.
The 2016 Democratic Party platform is a very progressive policy outline. It isn’t everything a Sanders supporter would want, but it does have a lot, and it offers an outline for a lot more progress than the country has seen in a very long time.
But a lot of critics are saying things like “So what?” “It’s just a piece of paper.” “No one reads it after the convention.” Meanwhile, much of the public believes that politicians only say what they need to say just to get elected and will betray them as soon as they take office.
There is a path to fixing this.
A Strong Progressive Platform
The draft of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform is surprisingly progressive. Robert Borosage wrote Monday, in “The Democratic Party Platform: Progress and Resistance“:
The platform incorporates Sanders’ language and push on a range of issues – electoral reform (where Clinton’s platform was also strong); criminal justice reform, including prohibition of the death penalty and an end to private prisons; shackling Wall Street, including a financial transaction tax and a pledge to break up too-big-to-fail banks and pass a 21st-century Glass-Steagall Act.
This weekend, the platform committee adopted a commitment to a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage. Clinton’s new pledge to make in-state public colleges and universities tuition-free for those earning less than $125,000 and her concessions on health care – doubling spending on community health centers, allowing those over 55 to buy into Medicare, an expanded public option in Obamacare – will be written into the platform. The platform also endorsed expanding Social Security, even though it voted down a pledge to lift the cap on Social Security taxes.
These and other pledges led Clinton and Democratic National Committee spokespeople to spin the platform as the most progressive document in the party’s history.
Katrina vanden Heuvel lists the progressive accomplishments in the platform at The Washington Post:
Candidates are not bound to the party platform. Yet the platform is important as a measure of where the party assembled stands. For citizen movements in motion, the platform can provide an important measure to challenge Democratic Party candidates and state and local officials.
Concluding, she writes, “The ‘political revolution’ hasn’t been won yet, but there has been real progress.”
But you hear people say the platform is meaningless.
Enforce The Platform
Look at what we have here:
● A political party that people say doesn’t “stand for” anything.
● A cynical public that believes candidates make promises to get elected and then go back on those promises.
● A progressive movement that has organized and activated millions of people, building some real clout.
● A party platform that attacks many of the problems of the country in ways that will make all of us and the economy and the country and the political system better off if it is implemented.
What if … what if our progressive movement ties those elements together? What if progressives keep this platform from being just another meaningless piece of paper? What if progressives work to make the platform actually mean something after the election?
Make Them Do It
What if progressives work to enforce the platform after the election? What if progressive organizations and activists organize and rally people to support Democrats who honor the platform and to make political life unpleasant and untenable for those who go against the platform?
Progressives should make politicians actually stick to the platform. This would make the platform actually stand for something that the party could present the public and say “this is what we stand for and what we will do if you elect us.” This would fight public cynicism about politicians and parties. This would turn this platform into an organizing tool that merges our outside movement with elections and policy.