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COLUMN EIGHTY-SIX, MARCH 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
BY MOLLY IVANS
OH, THE STATE OF THE UNION...
Posted on Thu, Jan. 30, 2003
Oh, the state of the union ...
The state of the union is that money talks and public
policy is sold to the highest bidder. Those who give money in political
contributions---less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. population gave 83 percent of
all campaign contributions in the 2002 elections---get back billions in tax
breaks, subsidies and the right to exploit public land at ridiculously low
This system in turn costs ordinary Americans billions of
dollars, not to mention the costs to health, safety and the environment, and the
cost of not having enough money for good schools.
Public Campaign, the group working for public financing of
political campaigns, has put together some of the salient information in the
form of a poster, available at www.publiccampaign.org
And perhaps the most depressing thing about it is the size
of the payoffs for relatively small investments in political campaigns.
For example, the top corporations that paid zero taxes from
1996 to 1998---including AT&T, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Chase Manhattan, Enron,
ExxonMobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Pfizer and Phillip Morris---gave $150.1
million to campaigns from 1991 to 2001. Public Campaign reports that they got
$55 billion in tax breaks from '96 to '98 alone, perennial legislation to gut
the alternative minimum tax and billions in rebates to select corporations.
Public Campaign also notes that we paid with a huge shift
in who pays more into the federal treasuries: Three times as much money now
comes from working people's payroll taxes as from corporate tax payments.
The entire system of taxation is regressive. The only way
that the spinners of damn lies and statistics can get away with claiming that
the rich pay more in taxes is because they count only the income tax, which is
progressive. (That's why it's called the progressive income tax.) But sales
taxes, excise taxes, import tariffs, payroll taxes and the whole burden of state
taxes (which are notoriously regressive in states like Texas) give an entirely
The Consumer Expenditure Survey prepared by the Bureau of
Labor Statistics, which I found in the Jan. 21 New York Times, shows that the
burden from nearly all forms of taxation---income, excise, sales, property and
payroll---is spread fairly evenly up and down the scale.
The poorest fifth, with an average income of $7,946, have a
cumulative tax rate of 18 percent. (Those are the folks so memorably referred to
by The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers as "lucky duckies.")
The richest fifth, with an average income of $116,666, now pay 19 percent in
cumulative taxes---and that of course goes down under the Bush plan. The
percentages for the three middle quintiles are 14, 16 and 17.
There is double taxation throughout the system, yet
President Bush is concerned only about the "double taxation" of
dividends. The poorest fifth of Americans have an average of $25 in dividend
income; the richest fifth have $1,188. Yet $364 billion out of a $674 billion
"economic stimulus" plan is for ending taxes on dividends.
The big winners in our cash-and-carry system of government
are corporate special interests. Public Campaign finds that for a mere $48.9
million in campaign contributions, from 1989 to the present, the managed health
care and health insurance companies got protection from lawsuits by patients who
have been denied medical care, and the defeat of proposed laws that would make
it easier for patients to choose their own doctor and would get their emergency
room visits reimbursed.
We pay with more than 41 million Americans lacking health
insurance, billions in wasted premiums spent on advertising, duplicative
paperwork and insurance company bureaucracies---and with unnecessary death and
suffering when HMOs overrule doctors.
For a lousy $318.7 million in contributions, the
resource-extracting industries (oil and gas, mining, electric utilities,
chemical manufacturers and timber) got $33 billion in tax breaks in pending
energy legislation; a weakened Superfund toxic cleanup law; the freedom to
remove the tops of mountains and dump the waste in valleys and streams; lax
regulation of energy markets; and other regulatory relief, such as not having to
close high-pollution smokestacks.
Public Campaign points out we pay with dirtier air and
water; despoiled national parks, forests and wilderness; high rates of childhood
asthma; millions in price-gouging; and heavily polluted toxic waste sites whose
cleanup has been put in jeopardy.
As Kevin Phillips reports in Wealth and Democracy, the
entire top 1 percent, more than 1 million families, in-creased their average net
worth by 75 percent during the 1990s.
The net worth of the middle quintile, adjusted for
inflation, declined 10 percent between 1983 and 1995 and rose briefly in 1998
and 1999, only to slide back after 2000.
"Wage earners in the United States collectively ended
the decade with less pension and health coverage, as well as with the Industrial
West's least amount of vacation time, shortest maternity leaves and shortest
average notice of termination," says Phillips.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the typical American
worked 350 more hours per year than the typical European, the equivalent of nine
That's the state of the union.
Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate. 5777 W.
Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045
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