We don’t need no !@&%#$! budget cuts – We just need our richest tax dodgers to pay their fair share

Chelsea Green Publishing

In this winter of worldwide discontent, a powerful moral and political spirit has arisen in the Middle East. There are already uprisings of ordinary people all over the world: nobodies dumping Somebodies off their thrones, as the world watches.  It’s happening so fast our heads are spinning.  But it’s clear that we will turn that moral spirit loose here at home: the next Egypt – or England — will be the United States.

It is maddening and insulting to hear our president and our lawmakers simply accept the idea that we must cut social services, education, Medicaid and Medicare, Social Security and other parts of our social safety nets – while the General Accounting Office has estimated that 83 of our top 100 corporations pay no taxes.  There’s no good reason we should accept that, because it isn’t fair.  It goes against the wishes of a large majority of our citizens.  Many of our laws were bought by corporations whose lobbyists seduced many of our elected officials into selling out their country for private gain.  If our government can’t or won’t see how unfair and morally reprehensible it is to use taxpayer money to bail out those who don’t even pay taxes, then it is up to us.  And the ongoing protests in Arab countries show that we can do it.

There Is No Terrorism and We Are Not at War

As a Google search for “Americans killed by terrorists” shows, terrorism is a red herring:  a bogus threat.  We’re much more likely to be killed by lightning, peanuts, handguns and a dozen more everyday dangers than by terrorists.  We’re being misled by propaganda used to take trillions of dollars of our tax money to deter a terrorist threat that isn’t there.  “Terrorism” is used to frighten us, and as a blank check to cover any military expenditures or assaults on our civil liberties that our leaders choose.

Our tax dollars go to swell the coffers of the military-industrial complex, which alienates all Arab countries and much of the rest of the world.  This is losing us both respect and allies.  It also gives our elected leaders this red herring to keep us stirred up by the untrue claim that terrorists are everywhere and the sky is falling.  They aren’t and it isn’t.

There is no terrorism and we are not at war.  We have illegally invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, stolen money and oil, and lost the lives of thousands of our soldiers in killing perhaps a million of their soldiers and civilians.  Some of their citizens have even been willing to give their lives to strike out at us.  It’s what we hope some of our own citizens would do if we were invaded by a foreign army intending to loot us, sell off our national resources, and build the largest embassy in the world (as we have done in Iraq), signaling that they intend to stay for a very long time.  But there is no terrorism, and we are not at war.

In spite of the majority of our elected officials and public servants who are a blessing to us, our entire political system has been bought. Just seeing the great distance between our politicians’ rhetoric and their actions tells us that we can not go through established political channels, which are being used against us. Luckily, we have both moral and political options.

The recent dramatic wave of uprisings began in Tunisia, and what happened there in four weeks was miraculous.  The heroes were no-name citizens: poor, hungry, systematically abused, robbed and shoved ever deeper into abject poverty and starvation, while their rulers lived in opulence.  In just one month, Tunisia’s non-violent Jasmine Revolution achieved something no one expected: the removal of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali: a rich, powerful and brutal dictator who had mis-ruled their country since 1987.

Citizens are saying they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it any more.  And at the speed of Twitter, other ordinary people awakened all over the Middle East.  Then Egypt, the biggest country in the Arab and Muslim world came alive, and in just seventeen days, President Mubarak left the country, as Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had.

In the United States, we have a lot in common with these uprisings, as well as those in Libya, Jordan Syria, and about one new country a week:

1.         Tunisia:  The demonstrations were precipitated by high unemployment, rising food prices, corruption, no freedom of speech and poor living conditions.

2.         Egypt:  Grievances of Egyptian protesters focused on legal and political issues including police brutality, state of emergency laws, lack of free elections and freedom of speech, and widespread corruption, high unemployment, food price inflation, and low minimum wages.  The primary demands from protest organizers are the end of the Hosni Mubarak regime, the end of Emergency Law (martial law), freedom, justice, and a fair and responsive non-military government. Labor unions apparently played an important part in the protests.

3.         Libya:  A statement released by the National Front for Salvation of Libya described the frustration of the protesters at the lack of basic services, thousands of people without homes and the corrupt local authorities are corrupt, and only delivers services with bribes.

4.         JORDAN: Jordan’s economy has been hard-hit by the global economic downturn and rising commodity prices, and youth unemployment is high, as it has also been in Egypt.

5.         SYRIA:  As protests heated up around the region, the Syrian government pulled back from a plan to withdraw some subsidies that keep the cost of living down in the country.

The protestors cannot trust the established political channels and processes.  They say their country’s laws are unjust and morally bankrupt.  That’s what makes these revolutions rather than simply revolts.  They are angry because those who have been looting them for years had the laws changed while cutting the services that provide a social safety net for the vast majority of their citizens, thereby pushing them down into poverty with no way to get out, while the wealthy act like they’re entitled to the fruits of their crimes.

In every country, the people were angry that the governments charged with serving them had systematically destroyed the social safety nets every society must have.  These were citizens with the courage to say that unfair laws must be changed, along with the dictators who had sold out their people for personal wealth and power. In many painful ways, their situation is mirrored in our own plutocracy.

In short, people in the Middle East are rising to say they’re mad as hell and won’t take it any more.  In all these countries, the huge disparity between the rich and the rest has been used to remove civil rights and social securities from their “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”  Our own U.S. masses – that’s most of us — have the same needs, and for the same reasons.

The Economic Game Plan

The similarities between the various countries’ protests are not coincidental.  Variations on the same economic themes lie beneath the violence and poverty of the majorities in each country. This is the economic game plan explained so well by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine.  Its guiding economic theorist was Milton Friedman, who provided rationalization for the massive thefts we have brought to countries all over the world.  As Friedman explained:

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.  When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.  That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Once a crisis has struck, Friedman was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the “tyranny of the status quo.”

While Friedman’s economic model is capable of being partially imposed under democracy, violent authoritarian conditions are required for the implementation of its true vision.  Some sort of major collective trauma has always been required, one that either temporarily or permanently suspended democratic practices.  The ultimate goal is to sell off the government to the rich, who will run it for profit to serve those who can pay, and to disempower the rest, who form the vast majority, says Klein.  From Chile to Russia to Iraq, torture has been a silent partner in the global free-market crusade.  (The Shock Doctrine, p. 15)

In December 1994 at the height of Russia’s economic meltdown, Boris Yeltsin did what so many desperate leaders have done to hold on to power: he started a war with Chechnya.  Yeltsin’s privatization minister, Anatoly Chubais became one of the most outspoken proponents of the “Pinochet option” of brutal violence, torture and murder.  “In order to have a democracy in society there must be a dictatorship in power,” he said, channeling George Orwell.  The violence was not an unfortunate but accidental accompaniment of the wholesale looting.  The process was better seen as an extraordinarily violent armed robbery.

As a means of extracting information during interrogations, torture is notoriously unreliable, but as a means of terrorizing and controlling populations, nothing is quite as effective.

The reason the majority of Americans can identify with the issues and conditions driving citizens of so many other countries to protest is because all have had variations on the same themes of a fundamentalist and cannibalistic form of capitalism.  But while Friedman was the guru behind the economic robberies of the past forty years, the plan is much older.  In his 2007 book Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Stephen Kinzer shows another three-step we’ve used:

1.         Well-connected corporations tell their legislators that a certain country’s policies are forbidding or restricting their ability to exploit the country’s natural resources (fruit, sugar, oil, etc.).
2.         Their legislators translate this into a threat that is inimical to “America’s interests.”
3.         The public is ramped up for the planned invasion by our military by defining it as a war of good against evil.

Sound familiar?  Feel duped?

Can It Happen Here?

What could we possibly do against a government as large as ours, that is, in spite of the vast majority of honest and trustworthy elected officials, shot through at every level with corruption?  Is there any chance that US citizens might find the sustained courage to revolt?  I think so.  In Illinois, Gov. Patrick J. Quinn, a Democrat, pledged after renewing his oath of office simply to “stabilize our budget.” Three days later, he did the reverse of what so many governors are urging, and signed a 66 percent increase in the state’s income tax rate. In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton, another Democrat, has advocated for a tax increase on the wealthy, and spoke from a depth of common sense that has become rare among our leaders:

“To those who sincerely believe the state budget can be balanced with no tax increase — including no forced property tax increase — I say, if you can do so without destroying our schools, hospitals and public safety, please send me your bill, so I can sign it immediately.”

Otherwise, Mr. Dayton said, he hoped his colleagues would work with him on “this challenging, complicated and essential” budget process. (Monica Davey, “Budget worries push governors to same mind-set,” NY Times, January 17, 2011)

Having more money doesn’t mean you owe less.  It should be a point of shame for us to realize that the cab driver, security guard, school teacher, policeman and grocery clerk pay more tax – both in percentage of income and in actual dollars – than some of our multi-billion-dollar corporations.  The laws that allow such tax dodging are moral insults that serve only those who can afford to buy the worst lawmakers, at the expense of everyone else.  Greedy and immoral laws can’t be made respectable by a vote.  They offend the very soul of all but our sociopaths.  This is another thing we have in common with the Middle East protestors: we need to protest and demand change in unfair and immoral laws made to serve the rich at the expense of the rest.

The current state of affairs should embarrass corporations and those who’ve sold America and its people off to them (including the once-but-no-longer-Supreme Court).  It should embolden us all to seek out the spirit of life, of justice and of freedom that has lifted our brothers and sisters in the Arab world.  Like them, we deserve no less.

UK Uncut

As these protests begin to spread through our states, it’s interesting and timely that there is a new group in England that has refined the Arab uprisings and focused them on the tax dodgers in ways we can use.  It feels like synchronicity, the tipping point, or the “hundredth monkey,” for those who remember the 1970s.  The group is UK Uncut — as in, “We don’t need no !@&%#$! budget cuts — we just need our richest tax dodgers to pay their fair share.”  It is the latest evolution of the protests taking place all over the world at Twitter speed.

England’s UK Uncut movement has spread via many thousands of Twitters.  In small and large cities through England, some citizens were suddenly angry enough at the structural injustice that they organized local movements to target the tax dodgers by blocking entrances to their stores, asking if they knew that the corporation that owned this chain of stores paid less in taxes than they did.  They also named some of the proposed budget cuts that could remain uncut if this tax dodger just paid its fair share.

Their protests have drawn many citizens – including police – into their cause.  In one case the police got there first, standing to block the entrances: doing the protestors’ work for them.  UK Uncut has now planned a country-wide series of protests on February 26.  So far, none of them has been murdered by their government, though that scale of violence and murder would now just strengthen their resolve and their solidarity with protestors all over the globe, because the world is watching.

The United States has the same three crucial factors that created UK Uncut:

1.         At the state level, Americans are facing severe budget cuts, causing the recession to worsen.

2.         Most of these cuts could be prevented simply by requiring the richest individuals and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) calculated in 2008 that eighty-three of the 100 biggest US corporations hide fortunes in tax havens. Even without these shelters, the rich have been virtually exempted from taxes across America. Billionaire Warren Buffet recently conducted a straw poll in his office and found he paid a lower proportion of his income in taxes than anybody else there—and considerably less than his secretary. Indeed, tax expert Nicholas Shaxson says that in many ways “America itself is a tax haven for many rich people.” WikiLeaks is poised to release the details of a whole raft of corporations and banks using tax havens in the Cayman Islands, laying out the dodging for all to see.  It could be a game-changer.

3.         Public opinion is firmly behind going after the rich and corporations.

So Americans are facing the same cuts as the Brits. They are being ripped off by corporations and rich people just like the Brits. They are as angry as the Brits. And there is now a group called US Uncut, bringing this energy and spirit home to the United States, where the recent collapse of the world’s economies began.

US Uncut

What should US Uncut target? “It’s important to go after brand names that exist in every city in America,” says Tom Purley, a UK Uncut participant. “The key to our success was that it was so easily replicated. People could do it anywhere. It took something that seems like a remote issue and connected it to a place they see every day.” Most of the companies that engage in the worst tax avoidance in the United States are Big Pharma and financial companies, which don’t have stores. But the GAO also named a number of major brands that are exploiting tax havens. They include Apple, Bank of America, Best Buy, ExxonMobil, FedEx (whose president, Frederick Smith, was named by Obama as the businessman he most admires), Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Safeway and Target. That’s a wealth of potential targets.

American citizens should ask themselves: I work hard and pay my taxes, so why don’t the richest people and the corporations? Why should I pick up the entire tab for keeping the nation running? Why should the people who can afford the most pay the least?

Yes, it will be a hard fight, because those like the infamous Koch brothers will buy or rent all the judges, lawmakers and unprincipled PR firms they can to mislead the public.  There will be police state tactics like those of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has threatened to call out the National Guard.  Perhaps other governors – or our President – will use bloody force to crush our protests.  But the world will be watching.  We have seen the world react with scorn, distancing themselves from Middle East leaders who kill their own citizens.  If our government murders protestors, or even makes them disappear, we may lose the respect – and allies — we have left, hastening the decline of America’s Empire.

Until now, polls have been one of the few places where anger at government policies that favor the rich while cutting service to the middle-class has been visible. But the crowds gathering in more and more states tell us that may be about to change.

As a statement on the US Uncut website puts it:

“We demand that before the hard-working, tax-paying families of this country are once again forced to sacrifice, the corporations who have so richly profited from our labor, our patronage, and our bailouts be compelled to pay their taxes and contribute their fair share to the continued prosperity of our nation. We will organize, we will mobilize, and we will NOT be quiet!”

We have more than just hope.  We have the moral imperative our Arab brothers and sisters have courageously shown – and what historical irony it is to find that Arabs have become our role models of protest and courage, on a scale seldom if ever seen in our lifetimes.  We have some courageous and principled state governors and other who have reminded us that education, health care and other social support systems are not commodities, but rights.  Those rights are included in the social contract between citizens and leaders whose first priority – whether they like it or not – is to serve us, not rule us….

We have citizen uprisings in several states now, which will be strengthened by citizens in other states….

Our brothers and sisters in Arab countries, in England, and here in the U.S. are saying what their government should have been saying: that all must be required to pay their fair share, and that those who gain the most must pay the most – not the least – to support the society where they do business.  Wikileaks will soon release thousands of documents showing the corruption and tax dodging of our largest banks and corporations.  Since they are followed by the whole planet, they may be game-changers.

In our country, the subtheme of every non-violent protest is saying things we have forgotten: that our own huddled masses yearning to breathe free can do it in this nation which was once — and can again become — a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.