Notebook, 9 December 2010: Vindictiveness and the fight I look for. . .

Big questions today, and one which we haven’t discussed much (I’m serious about this), even in these days under the shadow of The Compromise. Well we should. I’m not an economist, though I have some game and I’ll try taking a stab at it today.

Let me get a few things off my chest first.

The Last Word

First of all: Lawrence O’Donnell tore into Alan Grayson last night in a particularly nasty way, because Lawrence O’Donnell is trying to paint a picture. Dividend income is income, and while we can argue whether the notion of taxing dividends constitutes double taxation or not, we can’t evade the fact that when owners (a legal fiction, or else why limited liability?) shareholders receive a distribution of profits, it’s a transaction which generates income for those people. Just because it may be taxed outside the normal structure of tax brackets applied to other forms of earned income makes little difference and in the context of your question with its bullsh*t parameters, no difference at all. And yes, dividend income is the province of the investor class, in other words, the wealthy. (Just what distribution of dividends winds up in whose hands throughout this system on a national and global basis is something worth quantifying, btw) Alan Grayson’s point that the biggest tax break in this proposal goes to the wealthy, on a percentage basis, is therefore well taken. Not the lowest tax bracket as you wrongly tried to claim.

What’s more, you love to sit there and burnish your credentials about being “the only one here who has actually written tax law.” So? While you sit there and paint Representative Grayson as a loser because of the last elction’s results, you failed to grasp conveniently forgot to mention that incumbents on both sides of the aisle were booted out. It was a brutal year for incumbents in case you hadn’t heard. Your pride at having been part of a corrupt system is frankly, something I wouldn’t exactly brag about. You express the Villager point of view, which the electorate just recently rejected. Though your point of view is real, it isn’t the only one, nor even the most important one.

Mr Insider, you acted like a dickhead and owe Mr. Grayson an apology.

Primary Sources Matter

Is the dividend tax cut that Representative Grayson referred to actually in the proposal? I don’t know. I’ve hunted for a hard copy of it and I’ve been unable to find one, which is eerily reminiscent of the HIR debate when people weren’t sure what version of the legislation was being referred to in the back and forth. As I said yesterday, what a cockup. Until I see a certified copy of the proposal, I’m withholding judgement. If it is a good proposal, I’ll say so. If it is a crappy deal, then all bets are off. However, if we’re going to see multiple versions of documents of ANY legislation then it behooves those posting these online to update earlier versions to indicate clearly that they’ve been superceded. Just a thought.

The Founders Argument

Finally. To the tea party and the free market jihadists like Larry Kudlow (and his bevy of attack dogs) and Rick Santelli, who believe in defunding government, and to those who say that we need to “return to the principles of the founders” let me just point out that the founders already attempted exactly the kind of thing you propose – and rejected it. They were called “The Articles of Confederation.” After which, the federal government was explicitly given permission to levy taxes as well as regulate commerce, right there n the Constitution of the United States of America. In fact, the capacity to levy taxes was the most immediate and biggest reason we have the constitution today. The principles of the founders argument is a lie, and always has been. (You should read what Jefferson had to say about it’s failings, and the intransigence of states, whom he said needed to be “shown the rod” when they refused to meet their obligations even under the mild, toothless provisions of the Articles.)

In other words, when anyone hears the founders argument, we can justly tell them to go blow it out their a$$.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, etiam contentio . . .

One more thing. I’ve gone overboard in my anger a few times lately to various kossacks. I’ve offered apoligies on each occasion and offer them again. I hope they will be accepted.

Having said that, I’ve also gone on record as favoring the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, if we intend to undertake comprehensive tax overhaul in the next session, and make the republicans fight to screw ordinary people in favor of their wealthy paymasters. In public. In the bright light of day. Because the rethugs are winning the battle to defund government and they have always won using the tactic of attaching their wish-list proposals to measures which provide temporary relief to those most in need or other measures we all agree need to be enacted. Like funding government, for instance. This is exactly the same tactic Jesse Helms used to destroy USIA.

Just one of a variety of fights which should be undertaken, the fight for wealth redistribution through progressive taxation. Which kinds of deficits we want to accept, and why. The simple notion of economic justice. We’ve been shafted by Citizens United, but the freedom of organized labor has yet to be similarly liberated from the egregious provisions of Taft-Hartley and other laws restricting the freedom of action of labor.

But there’s more. I haven’t even searched, because I knew something would be reported to illustrate the point that markets need to be more than regulated:

Report attacks Canada’s exports of asbestos to poor nations

“Inhaling its fibers scars the lungs and can lead to respiratory diseases, including cancer.

The World Health Organization says all types of asbestos cause cancer. More than 50 countries have banned it.

About 100,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases, and 125 million people remain exposed to the deadly substance worldwide.

In the Lancet report, author Tony Kirby points out that unlike other rich nations, Canada remains a major exporter of chrysotile, or white asbestos.

Canada is the world’s fourth-biggest exporter of asbestos, after Russia, Kazakhstan, and Brazil. Last year, Canada shipped 150,000,000 kilograms to countries where few laws exist to protect people from asbestos, including India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.”

Asbestos isn’t the only toxin which rich nations ship abroad because its use is restricted at home, cigarette exports (up) being a prime example and including ultimately, the biggest insult, Smuggling Europe’s Waste to Poorer Countries (NYT, 29 September 2009), Is America Exporting a Huge Environmental Problem? and California’s #2 export to China – TRASH! (where US trash helps Zhang become richest in China). Sometimes, when a product is especially problematic, we’ve simply exported the industry in its entirety. Just one example how “free markets” are, in fact, harmful.

And beyond anyone’s control and beyond accountability, unless it makes the news and becomes a PR problem for companies like Union Carbide or BP.

One hardly needs to look for examples. They come and find you instead. The Canadian export of asbestos article in today’s Boston Globe was not the reason I write this diary. I didn’t even pick up the Globe today until I saw that headline. There it was, sitting there on the break-room table. Others come to mind without much effort, and because I saw a CSX commercial the other day (they are so green, you know), and because I happen to remember off the top of my head a few incidents where CSX was egregiously at fault I’ll go with them. Like the accident near Crescent City, FL in which an Amtrak train jumped the tracks owned and inadequately maintained by CSX, and in which four people died. Or the 1997 crash of an Amtrak train carrying 407 passengers which derailed after reaching an egregiously neglected switch own and mismanaged by CSX again near the town of Lugoff, SC (h/t to David Cay Johnston). And we find our government rather than protecting the people it ostensibly serves, goes out of its way to protect those who are at fault. In fact, when it comes to settling damage claims, the it’s the taxpayer who pays. (Hello Floridians who like to elect republicans. You’ve been lied to and then fleeced by those guys. Hope you like it. You’ve one of the highest unemployment rates in the US as well at 11.9%, so I guess you’re getting a good return for your support. You suckers). (And here.)

But somehow, even many in our own party are more concerned with the health and well being of our corporations than they are with either the federal fiscal issue or with our lives. Even the president’s own presser on The Compromise, he managed to sneak in a reassuring word for corpradems, the GOPers and business leaders buccaneers that he has their favorite codeword (for the union busting, labor breaking, enemies of ordinary Americans) in his vocabulary. To say the least.

Ok, we’re in a global economy. I get it. But should we be competing with regimes who like to imprison labor leaders? Anti-Sweatshop legislation was introduced in both the House (HR 1992) and Senate (S 367) for several years now. We can keep diddling around with taxes, jobs, the commoditization of people, economic, the environment, tort law, and everything else, but if we cannot, if we do not pull everything together under the umbrella of a unified progressive policy of economic and social justice, then we’ll wind up with more of The Compromise.

Be well out there.

UPDATE: I’ve just turned on the TV and I’m catching Rachel’s coverage of protests in London. I don’t know what to make of this yet. And O’Donnell opens up with another Villager. He really doesn’t get it and wait until 2012. He’ll take his show to some banana republic afterwards.

UPDATE 2: O’Donnell apologized to Grayson, but he still doesn’t hear what Grayson, Hamscher and Nader are telling him: Congress Needs To Wake Up!

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