by Jeff Mackler, published on Socialist Action, July 18, 2021
Today the New York Times announced that the modified (gutted) bill had passed the Senate. The Biden administration is claiming success in bipartisan collaboration. [jb]
If we are to believe the almost daily front-page major media headlines, President Joseph Biden has embarked on an historic congressional battle to massively fund a broad range of needed social programs by taxing the rich as never before. Biden’s daily and ever-changing “social infrastructure” bill pronouncements aim at assuring a wary public that today’s Democrats are far different than yesterday’s. As we shall demonstrate, nothing could be farther from the truth!
Founding father Benjamin Franklin some 250 years ago was asked by a French diplomat whether the U.S. Constitution would guarantee the new nation’s freedom. Franklin wryly responded, “There are no certainties in this world other than death and taxes.” Leaving aside that the “new nation conceived in liberty” excluded from voting almost everyone except property owners – slaves, women, indentured servants, working people/artisans without property, native peoples, immigrant workers – Franklin proved wrong on another count: TAXES.
An errant Internal Revenue Service trove of documents released in a ProPublica whistle blower report revealed that four of the nation’s richest men, the approaching $trillionaires – Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and financiers Michael R. Bloomberg and Warren Buffett – “paid almost no federal taxes, and in some years paid no taxes at all.” No doubt, the tax dodgers’ deeds were in full compliance with the U.S. tax codes, written and re-written into law countless times by the ruling class’s elite lobbyists and congressional representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike. And if the richest four largely avoided taxes, not to mention getting tax rebates, one can assume with certainty, contrary to Ben Franklin, that their ruling class cohorts and their multi-national corporations, with tax havens from the Cayman Islands to Ireland, similarly operate to largely avoid taxes. The $trillion multi-national corporate entities’ “legal” tax avoidance schemes include the technical division of their behemoth enterprises into literally thousands of “small business partnerships” that qualify for tax exemptions galore.
Q.E. Near Zero Interest Rate Corporate Loans
Zero tax rates are not the only ruling class devise to enrich themselves. The Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” (Q.E.) near zero interest rate “loans” to the corporate elite has achieved unprecedented miracles. Since the beginning of 2021, the richest 1% owned 32% of the nation’s wealth, the highest level since record keeping began in 1989. The bottom 50% held just 2%. Since the start of 2020 the same richest 1% gained $10 trillion in wealth compared to the majority working class poor whose total wealth gain was less than 8% of that $10 trillion. The Federal Reserve “loans” were formally granted in the name of stimulating corporations to invest in new plants that would in turn – in accord with “trickle down economic theory” provide new jobs for workers. Little or nothing of that nature resulted. Instead the corporate elite poured the government’s $billions and $trillions in fictitious capital [bonds and other financial instruments that have no correspondence to the production of commodities] into stock market and related speculative ventures that boosted corporate speculative investments into fabulous near overnight fortunes, largely tax exempt to boot. The Fed’s most recent Q.E. expenditures to corporate America, at $8.1 trillion, amounted to a startling one-third of the country’s entire gross domestic product! Bailing out the super rich is what capitalist government is really about. Why invest in yet another round of essentially non-competitive state-of-the-art manufacturing plants with minimal, if any, profit expectations, when the government’s virtual free money would bring instant returns making the likes of Bezos, Musk and Co. instant near trillionaires? Further, why should any self-respecting capitalist build a U.S.-based plant when the same plant can be constructed in China or Mexico or any other low wage country where compliant governments guarantee near zero tax rates and other perks. [lower wages]
President Biden’s daily hyped proposals to significantly remedy corporate tax avoidance schemes by bumping the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, (It was 35% before Trump!) imposing a new minimum taxes on global profits and levying major penalties on corporations that move profits offshore, have zero credibility among those who have even the most minimal acquaintance with the operation of the capitalist system, not to mention the subterranean corporate professionals who are hired to insert tax avoidance loopholes to counter any efforts to undermine their employers’ profits.
No Tax Agents to Collect Corporate Taxes
A modest initial example is helpful. A July 14 NYT article entitled, “Nagging Detail Plagues Infrastructure Negotiations,” referred to the IRS’s inadequate “enforcement budget,” that is, its lack of tax agents to remedy corporate looting. This “absence” results in the ruling rich avoiding taxes to the tune of $700 billion over the course of ten years, a paltry sum in the scheme of things – just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Donald Trump’s administration was notorious for defunding the IRS, at least its big time corporate investigating experts. Needless to say the Democrats uttered few complaints.
Sanders $6 trillion Social Infrastructure Proposal Vanished
Let us begin unraveling the present hoopla attendant to today’s congressional debates over the Biden administration’s much-hyped and now much deflated “infrastructure” proposals. These began with Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders proposing a $6 trillion package over the course of ten years aimed at “human infrastructure not just roads and bridges.” Half of Sanders proposed $6 trillion was to be earmarked to cover government investments in childcare, health care, anti-climate-change programs, universal pre-kindergarten and community college access. Sanders proposed $2.5 trillion in taxes on the rich to pay for part of his proposal.
The liberal Senate Democrats on the Finance Committee followed suit with proposals to eliminate 44 separate tax breaks that had been on the books for years, most designed to have the government finance corporate oil and gas drilling and production. These were to be replaced with corporate tax breaks for clean electricity, clean transportation and energy efficiency.
In sharp contrast, President Biden’s initial $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan excluded most of Sanders’s “social infrastructure” proposals and the elimination of the corporate tax breaks proposed by Sanders and the Senate Finance Committee. During the ensuing weeks most of the media-hyped “progressive” proposals were disappeared, but not before posturing Democrats had taken to the airwaves to burnish their “green and working class” bonafides. Undoubtedly, their rapt audiences and media promoters had little or no idea that their proposals would ever see the light of day.
The same with Sanders’ previous $16 trillion Green New Deal election time climate proposals that were disappeared soon after his primary campaign was swamped by the billionaire elite who joined to make Biden the ruling class’ presidential pick. Sanders jump to the Biden camp was near instant, as was the leap of the assortment of his primary opponents, who entered the race mostly to cut into Sanders potential to run away with the Democratic Party nomination. Biden’s billionaire supporters, as well as his billionaire primary contenders instantly joined forces, financially and politically, to abruptly terminate his candidacy.
Biden’s Unprecedented Campaign War Chest
Biden’s campaign war chest, the largest in U.S. history, dwarfed and more than doubled Trump’s in the last months of the 2020 campaign, which saw the nation’s elite kicking in a record $13 billion to fund U.S. democracy’s periodic election charade. “‘Dark Money’ Helped Pave Joe Biden’s Path to the White House” read a January 23 NYT headline. “Anonymous “dark money” donors provided $145 million to pro-Biden groups in a type of fundraising that Democrats had decried for years. The funds augmented Biden’s $1.5 billion war chest, a record for a challenger to an incumbent president. In comparison, $28.4 million was spent by President Trump.”
Biden’s New Fossil Fuel Drilling Permits
Meanwhile, a July 13 Associated Press analysis, found that “Flying in the face of the White House’s reference to the climate crisis as an ‘existential threat’ and President Joe Biden’s campaign pledge, his administration has so far approved fossil fuel drilling permits on public and tribal lands at a faster rate than his two immediate predecessors.”
“We’re not only subsidizing the climate and ecological crisis,” climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted in response, “we’re speeding it up.”
Some 2,100 such permits were approved in the first six months of the year. If Biden’s current permit approval rate continues, the number approved by his Interior Department by the year’s end could hit near 6,000 – a figure not seen since fiscal year 2008 under the George W. Bush presidency.
Meanwhile, Biden’s touted infrastructure proposal, now gutted of “green energy” content, has been cut in recent weeks by two-thirds to $600 billion in a still to be approved “bi-partisan” bill that the president states aims at meeting his Republican Party colleagues’ objections. But Biden’s promise to later introduce a larger infrastructure bill via the so-called “budget reconciliation” process, that could negate a Republican filibuster and require only a Senate majority, was doomed beforehand when it became clear that it was not only a Republican filibuster/veto that stood in the way of taxing the rich and advancing clean climate measures, not to mention the myriad of previously promised social measures for working people, but his own Democratic Party. Simply put, most serious observers report that Biden’s second and promised “larger” bill cannot garner the 50 required votes of his own party.
“Sting Operation” Hits Democrat Manchin
“Lawmaker Threatens to Subpoena Exxon After Secret Video,” was the July 2, 2021 NYT headline that exposed the most recent Democratic Party scandal when “a secretive video recording was made public in which a senior Exxon lobbyist stated that the Exxon Mobile energy giant had fought climate science through ‘shadow groups’ and had targeted influential senators in an effort to weaken President Biden’s climate agenda.” The sting operation was conducted by Greenpeace UK, an environment group which set up a sham recruitment interview with Keith McCoy, Exxon’s lobbyist and senior director of its federal relations. McCoy bragged about the Senators who Exxon looked to to gut any infrastructure bill containing serious climate-related measures. To boost interest in his services during the sting “interview” McCoy named names, including Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, whose office, McCoy stated, Exxon was in touch with weekly because “Manchin’s not shy about staking his claim early and completely changing the debate,” McCoy was quoted as describing how Exxon targeted a number of influential senators with the aim of scaling back the climate provisions in Biden’s infrastructure bill by attacking the tax increases that would pay for it.
In addition to Manchin, whose office Exxon was in touch with weekly, McCoy asserted that Exxon “looked for the moderates” among Democrats for support, including Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Chris Coons of Delaware. Needless to say all of the above denied any fealty to Exxon’s entreaties. But Biden’s current package coincidentally eliminates the very corporate taxes needed to pay for “social infrastructure” improvements as well as any serious measures aimed at the fossil fuel industry.
“Undue Corporate Influence?”
“That was appalling,” said Congressman Ro Khanna after viewing the McCoy video. Khanna heads the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment. He called the McCoy revelations the latest evidence of the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to “engage in climate denialism to manipulate public opinion and to exert undue influence in shaping policy in Congress.”
“Undue influence” is the polite term that describes the daily relations of corporate America with the pre-selected politicians who carry out their wishes. Congressman Khanna is set to issue letters next week to top executives at Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and other oil and gas companies and trade groups. One major target of his inquiry, he asserts, will be “dark money groups that have been funded by fossil fuel companies to disseminate falsehoods about climate science and policy solutions.” Few doubt that Khanna’s “investigations,” scheduled for the fall, will result in anything other than a few headlines for this crusading politician, who will follow in a long line of self-appointed truth tellers full of sound and fury but signifying nothing that disturbs the reality that corporate America, by hook or by crook, really does rule the nation. With nearly zero exceptions every Biden cabinet-level appointee has his or her roots in or is beholden to corporate America. That any U.S. politician is seriously influenced by spurious science that denies fossil fuel-induced global warming is sheer nonsense. That these same politicians are largely in the pay of and/or beholden to corporate America is an established fact.
Exxon’s Rex Tillerson: Secretary of State
Need I remind readers that President Trump’s former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, assigned to represent U.S. interests in the oil-rich Middle East, among other places, was at the time of his appointment, Exxon Mobil’s CEO. Tillerson, who quickly wised up to the fact that Trump was a thinly-disguised, if not overtly corrupt gutter-level politician, resigned his Secretary of State post but not before expressing contempt for Trump’s mental/social incapacities. After Trump exited a National Security Council meeting where he blithely advocated a 100-fold increase in U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, Tillerson was quoted as referring to Trump as a “f*****g moron.” In sharp contrast, Joseph Biden’s “honest and forthright” demeanor is a product of multiple decades of experience in the art of publicly presenting and coating Washington’s base corruption with a veneer of polite and civilized discourse. Biden and his entourage are currently touring the nation touting his ever-gutted “bipartisan” infrastructure pact. “This is a generational investment — generational investment – to modernize our infrastructure,” says Biden, “creating millions of good-paying jobs.” Yesterday’s “evil” Republicans, Trumpists in the main, who for months rejected literally every Democratic Party initiative, were instantly turned into and praised as bi-partisans and valued partners! Campaign rhetoric aside, Biden’s first proposed bi-partisan infrastructure bill, still in the discussion stage, is largely limited to funding corporations to repair roads, bridges, tunnels and rail lines and undoubtedly inclusive of innumerable never-to-be-seen provisions that benefit the elite few. No doubt, if a final bill is ever agreed to, it will be devoid of any measures to mitigate the oncoming climate catastrophe disasters.
Biden’s escape value for the bill’s admitted deficiencies is his pledge for a second infrastructure bill replete with promises for $trillions to “reshape the economy, educate children and young adults, support workers and families, and fight climate change.” Yet, the passage of such a bill is a far cry from reality. Paying for these measures by imposing serious taxes or restrictive measures aimed at returning the $trillions of accumulated wealth that the system itself guarantees to the super rich and their corporations, is not in the ruling class playbook.
Capitalism has no Solutions
Today’s crisis-ridden world capitalist system, with zero exceptions, has sought to resolve its inherent contradictions at the expense of working people. Ever more ferocious worldwide competition and the introduction of ever more sophisticated technology has reduced average corporate profit rates everywhere. For the elite, their solutions inevitably include turning their unchallenged economic, political and military power to their advantage. Hence, capitalism’s endless bloated war budgets, wars of intervention and conquest, environmental destruction, deepening fossil fuel exploitation that threatens ever-deeper climate catastrophes, systemic racism, mass incarceration, sexism, LGBTQI discrimination, privatizing public education and social services and anti-labor policies are the norm not the exception. All are aimed at countering their capitalist competitors’ worldwide, whether in Europe or China, while relentlessly making working people pay.
In the U.S. the ruling rich are not always unanimous in their solutions, with the Donald Trump wing, in expectation of a significant future working class fightback, considering overt repressive measures, including looking to the military and other repressive agencies – the CIA and FBI – as well as the judiciary, to maintain capitalist rule.
Trump’s orientation was akin to the various rightwing populist governments that have come to power in Europe, Asia and Latin America. But his 2016 election victory was in significant part a working class and middle class reaction to previous Democratic Party policies that offshored or gutted millions of jobs to China and other low wage countries, gutted social programs at home and expended $trillions to bail out corporate America following the 2008 financial crisis. Today’s Democrats seek to pose themselves in less corporate-friendly terms. They seek to rule by deft maneuver, obfuscation via their corporate media, and guile rather than overt repression. They seek to distance themselves from Trump’s crudest rhetoric and policies, especially his election defeat denial and his crude and vulgar post-election moves aimed at retaining his presidency. The overwhelmingly majority of the U.S. ruling class rejected the January 6 Trump-instigated mob attack at the Capitol aimed at preventing the certification of Biden’s election victory. Not a single court in the country approved any of Trump’s 62 lawsuits aimed at challenging the election results. Trump found zero support in the military or in the CIA and FBI. Just the whiff of fascism emanating from Trump’s near hysteria was sufficient to unite corporate America, who saw no need, at least at this time, to maintain capitalist rule by brute force, if not terror. They had a better weapon at their disposal, namely the “graveyard of social movements,” the Democratic Party and its still existing capacity to deflect and absorb social discontent and channel it into capitalism’s rigged electoral system.
Today, we are witness to the superficial legislative tangles and manipulation of public opinion wherein wary Democrats, initially frightened at the 20 million Black Lives Matter activists in the streets, aim at posing themselves as friends of the working class and the communities of oppressed nationalities. In anticipation of the usual midterm electoral shift away from the sitting president’s party, the Democrats have assumed a campaign footing to thwart a reemergence of the Trumpist phenomena that galvanized his zealots in 2016. All wings of the Democratic Party are poised to hold on to their thin Congressional majority as the 2022 elections approach. Yet, not one has now, or ever, posed a single fundamental challenge to the cardinal question as to which class shall rule society.
Maintaining the Facade of Capitalist Democracy
The present congressional debates over Biden’s ever-changing, disappearing and/or modified infrastructure proposals, has the single objective of maintaining the Potemkin Village facade of a democratic nation honestly addressing the deeply-felt and ever-intensifying problems attendant to everyday working class life. Behind this facade stands a wounded capitalist beast ever in search of measures to maintain its power and profits at the expense of the vast majority.
Biden’s crude present cold war orientation against China and Russia, his party’s insistence on ever-increasing $billions for the military, his deadly embargo/blockade/sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Syria and 26 other nations, and his failure to effectively deal with the still deadly dangerous COVID-19 pandemic, are part and parcel of the ruling class agenda. His barely-disguised deference to the corporate climate polluters, his moves to increase funds for capitalism’s modern-day “slave patrol” police are barely disguised by the prettified benevolent, if not caring images manufactured by the kept corporate media. Biden’s history of subservience to the Democratic Party’s overt racism of a generation past is hardly masked by his present day “identity politics” deployment of a “diverse” array of corporate politicians to government posts, all pledged to uphold the capitalist status quo. And Biden’s unmistakable continuity with Obama and Trump-era attacks on immigrants and persecution of courageous whistle blowers Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and countless innocent political prisoners – Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier – informs us that U.S. capitalism’s latest billionaire-anointed head of state differs little from his predecessors.
Breaking with the media-created myth of a do-gooder Biden and his Democrats remains a central task for social justice fighters to advance the interests of working people. Building the COVID-era momentarily-backburnered social movements and re-organizing them independently of and against the twin parties of capitalism remains a critical starting point as is the construction of deeply-rooted revolutionary socialist alternative to capitalist rule. Join us!
*Featured Image:U.S. President Joe Biden stops at La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the United States, in January. ~Kevin Lemarque | Reuters
Jeff Mackler is the national secretary of Socialist Action. He is also Socialist Action’s candidate for U.S. President in the 2020 elections and he was the Socialist Action candidate for President in 2016. Mackler founded Northern California Climate Mobilization, is a longtime teacher and union activist with the American Federation of Teachers in Hayward, California and is director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.