Democracy ‘Under The Influen$e’ And The Time To Act.

by Jerry Alatalo

whitekeys3-1Alphabet Dave Hagen – writer/director of an upcoming documentary about far too much money in American politics – believes the American people haven’t yet experienced the feeling that they “don’t want this situation to continue”. Because U.S. citizens haven’t reached a tipping point in that regard, large numbers have become apathetic politically, with the 2014 mid-term elections registering the lowest voter turnout in decades. In the meantime, the upcoming 2016 election cycle will probably become the election where more money becomes spent than ever before in history.

As a guest on “Buzz Saw” with Sean Stone, Dave Hagen talks about his film “Under the Influen$e” about money’s immense presence in elections, so he and the film’s participants are doing something to get money out of the political system, end apathy, and transform conditions which have led to corporations (literally) running the United States House of Representatives and Senate. Hundreds of organizations in America, and thousands around the Earth, are making similar efforts to reverse the global trend toward increasing centralization of political and financial power, and the time is right for men and women concerned about restoring democracy to renew focus on wiser organized campaigns aiming at necessary changes, entrance into races at all levels of elective office, and other plausible, effective forms of political action – with simultaneous intensification of efforts.

More than enough men and women in America and around the Earth have become aware of what is wrong in societies and nations in the year 2015; the “tipping point”/critical mass was met some time ago . The problems haven’t been mentioned/covered nearly enough, if at all, by the corporate news media, but millions who get their news from the internet have become reminded of major problems needing serious address again and again. In other words, everybody knows what the critical problems are; all too well, like the back of one’s hands. For serious and concerned men and women the time for endless repetition in describing and re-acknowledging the problems humanity faces is best perceived as over. How many more times must people use valuable time and effort continuing to rehash/cover facts that nearly everyone paying attention is already clearly aware of?

The cases have been more than sufficiently made. Now is the time for turning the page and getting to real solutions. Now is the time for graduated, next-level, powerful global action.

(Thank you to TheLipTV at YouTube)

Doug Hughes’ Airmail Letter Campaign To Overturn Citizens United.

by Jerry Alatalo

“Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.”

– ELWYN BROOKS “E.B.” WHITE (1899-1985) American writer, editor

(wikipedia.org)
(wikipedia.org)

Doug Hughes deserves being honored and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his effort on behalf of American democracy. Most people in America want Citizens United overturned. America’s top civilian honor goes to men and women who have made efforts “In especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

After considering what Florida U.S. Postal Service mail carrier Doug Hughes might have gone through before deciding to land with his gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capital Building, the idea of taking whatever steps necessary for the American people to honor the man took hold. The popular image of postal carriers is the rugged man or woman who delivers your letters through rain, snow, hail and thunderstorms come what may, but Mr. Hughes took that concept to an entirely higher-purpose, democracy-protecting other level.

One wonders how his experience at delivering the mail, in particular the evolving of political mailings through the years, figured into his decision to take non-violent, civil disobedience action. Mr. Hughes probably noticed the difference after the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court in 2011, when the number of election-time mailings going from his Jeep to his mailbag to people’s homes and businesses started to increase dramatically. Every one of those correspondences passed through his hands while scanning the addresses to determine the accurate destination, almost like reading a book about the consequences for the American people of the Supreme Court’s regretful decision.

So, he personally saw the great increase in mailings to citizens in his Florida region coming from super-pacs/organizations spending on behalf of candidates to get them elected, with good God-fearing names like “Americans for Freedom”, “Patriots for the U.S.A.”, “Founding Fathers of America”, or, to go all the way with ridiculous names for super-pacs, “Americans for America”. While Doug Hughes zeroed in on the correct mailing address on each piece of mail, he most likely also observed the deceptively named political groups on return addresses in the upper left-hand corners of the envelopes, and like seeds grow after being planted, the idea for taking “the mail” to the Capital came to life and took shape.

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The Real News Network produced a two-minute video which explains how the mainstream media put a spin on Mr. Hughes’ truly heroic act of political conscience, focusing on terrorism and fear while dreadfully failing to report on his noble intention: getting rid of Citizens United and its allowing those with the most money to literally buy up democracy in America. Media corporations, owned by the same wealthy people who became able to buy elections after Citizens United, once again intentionally dropped the ball and avoided the “elephant in the room” – a completely unacceptable situation of too much money killing the democratic process in elections across the United States.

(Thank you to TheRealNews at YouTube)

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Like most Americans, Mr. Hughes came to conclude that something is seriously wrong when money cancels democracy, and that strong collective action is necessary to correct that wrong. He deserves Americans’ profound thanks and appreciation for taking an action carrying with it a level of personal risk and sacrifice most would never seriously contemplate.

Doug Hughes delivered “the mail”, carrying out an amazing handoff of 535 letters addressed to America’s elected representatives calling for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that true democracy is the law to observe in America for all time. An Article V Constitutional Convention or super-majority (two-thirds) vote in the U.S. Congress is necessary for an amendment overturning Citizens United to become reality.

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From wikipedia.org:

Amendments may be adopted and sent to the states for ratification in one of two ways:

  • Affirmative votes by two-thirds of both the Senate and House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress.

OR

  • A national convention assembled at the request of the legislatures of at least two-thirds (34) of the states.

To become part of the Constitution, an amendment must be ratified by either (as determined by Congress):

  • The request of legislatures of three-fourths (38) of the states.

OR

  • State ratifying conventions in three-fourths (38) of the states.

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Mr. Hughes’ self-sacrificial, honorable example is a profound one very worthy of emulation in ways which require little or no risk by comparison. Share the path of true democracy with Doug Hughes and an increasing number of determined, morally motivated men and women across the 50 states of America, then create and “deliver” your own personal message to elected representatives at both state and national levels.

The path begins at: thedemocracyclub.org

Mount Rainier - 1

 

GOP Senators’ Plan Ends Capital Gains Taxes: ‘Good For The Economy’?

Cross-posted from, thank you to:  www.jacobinmag.com

(Comment: In response to the proposal by U.S. Senators Rubio and Lee to eliminate capital gains taxes completely, how about zeroing out taxes on the first $50,000 of income, and taxing capital gains at the same rate as wages? Wouldn’t the effect on the economy be more positive than Rubio and Lee’s plan, because those with incomes up to $50,000 are more inclined to spend it into the economy, rather than bank money like those who enjoy large capital gains – exacerbating an already record high level of wealth inequality?)

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The Next Great Treasury Raid

A new proposal to eliminate capital gains taxes would realize a dream the Right has had for decades.

Sen. Barry Goldwater accepts the Republican presidential nomination in San Francisco on July 16, 1964.

Sen. Barry Goldwater accepts the Republican presidential nomination in San Francisco on July 16, 1964

The latest craze in conservative circles is to see who can heap the most praise on the tax reform plan that Republican Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio released earlier this month.

Bloomberg’s Ramesh Ponnuru called it “the most pro-growth tax reform since Calvin Coolidge’s presidency.” Veronique de Rugy gushed in the National Review that “it’s just about impossible not to be happy with the plan.” The Mercatus Center’s Scott Sumner even went so far as to argue that, if enacted, the Lee-Rubio plan would “easily be the best thing the Federal government has done since the civil rights laws of the 1960s.” And they were far from alone in their enthusiasm.

Insofar as those on the Right quibble with the plan at all, they object to the so-called “reformocon” elements of the proposal, like the increases in the child tax credit and the maintenance of graduated income tax rates (instead of flat rates or a national consumption tax).

Why such conservative love for Lee-Rubio? As de Rugy put it, the plan packages a variety of ideas that “the free-market movement has highlighted for years.” Lee-Rubio is the culmination of more than four decades of conservative assault on the taxation of capital income.

Though they’ve never wholly escaped taxation, throughout the history of modern federal tax policy capital gains have usually been taxed at lower rates than labor income. In the decades after World War II, however, many policymakers and tax experts viewed the capital gains preference as a flaw, rather than a virtue, of the federal tax code. When they spoke of capital gains tax “reform,” most meant eliminating this special privilege and instead taxing capital income at the same rates as ordinary income.

By the early 1970s, most mainstream political forces agreed that addressing the capital gains loophole had to be part of any significant revision of the federal tax code. President Nixon’s undersecretary of the treasury, Edwin S. Cohen, called the preferential treatment of capital gains “undoubtedly the single most important source of complexity in the law.” Philip Stern — the author of The Great Treasury Raid, a 1963 bestselling loophole exposé — spoke for many on the Left when he called the capital gains preference “the greatest single cause of both inequity and complexity in the American tax system.”

The Treasury Department put hard numbers behind these objections when it began publishing estimates of the federal tax expenditure budget in the early 1970s. This data demonstrated that the capital gains preference not only accounted for the single greatest revenue loss among all tax loopholes, but that it was the rich who reaped its benefits, with more than half of all capital gains accruing to those making more than $100,000 per year in 1972 (more than $550,000 in today’s dollars).

With the Treasury hemorrhaging revenue, the rich escaping taxation, and tax accountants expending needless energy devising complex schemes to convert their clients’ earned income into capital gains, few objective experts seemed to support the capital gains preference anymore. Harvard tax economist Richard Musgrave summarized the conventional wisdom of the early 1970s when he told Congress that there were “no valid grounds” for continuing to tax capital gains at lower rates than earned income.

When George McGovern challenged Nixon in the 1972 presidential election, he ran on an anti-capital gains preference platform, declaring, “money made by money should be taxed at the same rate as money made by men.” McGovern also linked the issue of tax loopholes to rising economic inequality, calling unapologetically for “redistribution of income” by closing federal tax loopholes and lowering taxes — not only at the federal, but also state and local levels — for low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Despite McGovern’s sweeping loss to Nixon, both Nixon’s internal polls and public surveys showed that tax reform was the only issue on which McGovern consistently bested Nixon, a fact pollster Louis Harris called “remarkable.”

Indeed, the erosion of the progressive federal income tax, combined with steep increases in regressive state and local taxes, had squeezed the pocketbooks of most Americans and stoked public resentment at the loophole-filled tax code. By the early 1970s, two-thirds of Americans agreed that the “tax laws were written to help the rich and not the average man.” As a result, many in the press predicted that the capital gains preference would meet its end by the mid-1970s.

But the rising consensus around eliminating the capital gains preference elicited a sharp backlash from the Right. This pushback fit within a larger movement in the 1970s by business and the Right to reassert their strength in politics, perhaps best exemplified by Lewis Powell’s famous memo, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.”

Business, Powell argued, needed to “launch a counter-attack” against those on the Left who criticized pro-business provisions like loopholes. General Electric CEO Reginald Jones agreed, arguing in the Harvard Business Review that “antibusiness attitudes” were “rotting out the very foundations of our economy.” What the Right needed to do, Jones said, was challenge not only proposed hikes in capital gains taxation, but also the existing “discriminatory tax treatment” of capital income.

Newly founded or reinvigorated right-leaning, corporate-funded groups like the Heritage Foundation, Business Roundtable, the Cato Institute, and American Council for Capital Formation, among others, now called for cuts to — or the elimination of — capital gains taxes.

While reducing the taxation of capital income would disproportionately benefit the wealthy individuals funding these foundations — such as Richard Mellon Scaife, John Olin, Joseph Coors, and David and Charles Koch — proselytizers for the tax cuts cast them as both indirectly beneficial for average Americans and morally just.

By encouraging “capital formation” with capital gains cuts, those on the Right argued, inflation would fall, employment would rise, and prosperity would flow down the income ladder, benefitting the “poor as well as the rich, and labor as well as management,” as the Chamber of Commerce’s Walker Winter put it in 1973. The American Council of Capital Formation portrayed the idea of taxing capital income as an attack on the “American Dream” itself.

The upper-income taxpayers who received capital gains were not beneficiaries of loopholes, conservatives argued, but were instead victims of oppressive tax rates and inflation. Just weeks after being sworn in as chair of President Gerald Ford’s Council of Economics Advisers, Alan Greenspan elicited boos and catcalls from a crowd of grassroots groups when he argued that “Wall Street brokers” were “really hurt the most” by inflation — an assertion contradicted by a Joint Economic Committee study that had been released earlier that year.

These anti-tax conservatives finally found their political opening when California voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978. Prop 13 cut taxes on the only significant capital most Americans owned — their homes. However, many Republicans and right-leaning activists portrayed Prop 13 as a call for cuts to all taxes on capital.

Crisscrossing the country aboard a plane dubbed the “Tax Clipper,” Republicans from Greenspan to Ronald Reagan pitched a previously moribund capital gains tax–slashing bill authored by Wisconsin Rep. William Steiger. In speeches, Reagan argued that the Steiger bill, like Prop 13, embodied the public’s demand for low taxes and economic growth. A capital gains cut, Reagan added, would actually raise revenue, thanks to its stimulating effect.

Many, from Ralph Nader to the AFL-CIO, opposed the Steiger bill, and President Carter initially criticized it as “huge tax windfalls for millionaires and two bits for the average American.” However, rhetorically linking the Steiger proposal to Prop 13 proved to be a stroke of political genius by conservatives. Democrats quickly folded, giving the bill overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate and leaving Carter to reluctantly sign the bill.

This 1978 victory proved to be a watershed for anti-capital gains tax proponents. Mark Bloomfield, the current president of the American Council for Capital Formation, proudly displays in his K Street Office a comic book-style cartoon depicting the ACCF’s role in the passage of the Steiger bill. Indeed, with the temporary exception of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 — a compromise that taxed capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income in exchange for slashing the top income tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent — the notion that capital gains deserve special tax treatment has rarely gone unchallenged.

Today, aside from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, few policymakers advocate the older definition of capital gains “tax reform” — taxing gains the same as ordinary income. At most, some Democrats, like President Obama, support modest increases in capital gains rates.

The case for the old definition of reform remains strong, however. It has wide support among left-leaning economists like Paul Krugman, and numerous studies, both governmental and academic, have questioned whether low taxes on capital income either lead to significant job growth or bring about income gains that trickle down to low- and middle-income Americans.

In contrast, cuts to capital gains taxes undoubtedly have helped drive rising income inequality. Since the 1970s, capital income has become more concentrated. The top quintile of households now receive 90 percent of all capital gains and dividends, with the top one percent alone collecting nearly 70 percent.

Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Research Service have documented the outsized role that capital income has played in the soaring inequality evident in recent US history. Over the past decade, as the CBO put it, capital gains “accounted for about four-fifths of the total increase in [income] concentration.” The Right, however, remains undeterred in its push for zero capital gains taxes.

The Lee-Rubio proposal is the culmination of anti-capital gains tax arguments honed by conservatives since the 1970s. Echoing the “capital formation” claims of that decade, Lee and Rubio have touted their plan as eliminating the “bias against capital investment,” while the business-backed Tax Foundation has predicted that Lee-Rubio would super-charge growth and even pay for itself in the long run, despite the fact that more traditional estimates have found that it will cost the government trillions of dollars over the next decade.

What is certain, though, is that Lee-Rubio will tilt its benefits toward the richest taxpayers, just like the 1978 Steiger bill did. If it became law, Lee-Rubio would eliminate taxes on capital gains for the first time in the history of the modern US tax code. This would be not only a sweeping conservative policy victory, but also a redefinition the very meaning of “tax reform.”

The tides haven’t turned against taxing capital because there’s overwhelming evidence of its fairness or efficacy, but because the Right has gained more political power. The task for the Left is to organize to revive the older vision of “reform” as ending the preferential treatment of capital gains, shifting political power away from the wealthy and making at least some inroads against income inequality.

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Storytellers Of Tall Trickle Down Tales.

by Jerry Alatalo

FedAlphabet How many have watched the credit card advertisements which promise “2% cash back” on all purchases without considering interest rates on the cards of 10%, 20% – or more if payments are late? According to those appearing in the short documentary film “Tales From the City”, these types of advertisements are analogous to tales told by corporate “storytellers” – lobbyists, marketers, and public relations firms – working for pharmaceutical, banking/financial services, auto, etc. corporations.

Those who earn their living promoting wealthy individuals/business entities’ interests have a strong propensity to, like messengers of inspirational thinking, “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”. Before the global economic crisis of 2007-8, they were the ones who repeated the mantra of “light touch regulation”, while Britain’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) and America’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) almost completely relaxed carrying out their authorities to regulate and prevent the crisis.

The “storytellers” somehow became successful in convincing a lot of people wealth inequality was a good thing and “the right thing to do”. Of course, “greasing the skids” with campaign contributions doesn’t hurt the efforts of the storytellers in getting legislation passed which benefits their wealthy employers. As one man in the film plainly points out: “money is not given to politicians without expectation of something in return”.

This simple process, turbo-charged with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United allowing unlimited spending on campaigns, explains how a few weeks ago Citigroup bankers dealing in derivatives slipped in their language to repeal important Dodd-Frank legislation; in effect putting American taxpayers back on the hook for certain potentially enormous derivatives bets/transactions losses. Despite strong objection and calls to consider the Citigroup provision separately led by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and others, the derivatives provision passed along with the must-pass ‘Cromnibus” spending bill to which it became attached.

While hundreds of top banking managers/executives became prosecuted and sentenced to prison after the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980’s – a scandal which cost taxpayers 1/70th the losses in 2007-8, exactly zero executives are in jail. This despite overwhelming evidence of massive fraud safely described as “epidemic”. HSBC, the current poster boy for white-collar crime in the financial sector, is now surrounded by one more in a line of scandals resulting in nobody going to jail.

The disturbing thing about HSBC’s current scandal resulting from the release of leaked information about the bank’s facilitating large-scale tax evasion for its wealthy clients is that it took investigative journalists, not government tax authorities, to blow open the case/story. The woman nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Eric Holder as United States Attorney General – Loretta Lynch – has gotten into hot water for her earlier legal efforts in New York to protect HSBC top managers from doing time; settling for fines instead.

The fines never come from the pockets of accountable executives but from the banking institutions who come out far ahead when comparing illegal profits to penalties levied/paid. Often executives of financial institutions which have paid billions in fines end up with increased pay. Eric Holder’s time as head of the Department of Justice has seen zero banking executives convicted and jailed for financial fraud.

Instead of directing trillions of dollars of “quantitative easing” to American citizens to stimulate the economy, the Federal Reserve “bailed out” financial institutions by buying their toxic mortgage-backed securities/derivatives, the cause of the crisis in 2007-8, and executives used that money to buy-back their corporation’s own stock, thereby raising the price on the stock and increasing bonuses and pay for themselves. This explains the record-setting levels on the stock exchange, but the quantitative easing funds rarely become loaned to “main street” businesses for expansion, startups, or continuing operations which grow the real economy and create jobs. Europe is close to emulating America’s quantitative easing model.

So, politicians have become “bought and paid for” then push legislation with actions toward benefitting the corporations and individuals who provide campaign donations. If those actions and laws come in the form of “structural adjustment”, “sequestration” or the commonly known term austerity, so be it. If austerity results in downward-spiraling economic contraction, lower tax revenues, public employee layoffs, higher unemployment, poverty, desperation and suicide, public service cutbacks, privatization and selling off of public utilities/assets, and intensification of those economic problems as time passes, so be it.

If it means inaction on the decades-old, global, trillion-dollar per year tax evasion industry, facilitated by the world’s largest accounting and legal firms, so be it. On the other hand, the people of Greece may leave the Euro zone, take back monetary power through creation of a public utility central bank issuing pre-euro Greek drachma currency, and arrange their economy to serve the people instead of elites who use “storytellers” to advance their interests at the expense of the 99%.

Perhaps soon a completely new, inspirational meaning will come to mind when a man or woman anywhere on Earth uses the term “so be it”.

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(Thank you to Press TV Documentaries at YouTube)