Since the question of Donald Trump's taxes -- or his ability to avoid paying them -- is much with us today, here is an excerpt from my post #157 of December 14, 2014, "Taxes: Who Pays Them and Who Doesn't?" The facts probably need updating, but the main point is just as valid today, if not more so. And at the end of the excerpt is a note about the giant octopus that dragged a Staten Island ferry and all its passengers down to a watery doom.
It’s fashionable to complain about our broken tax system, and there is merit to many of the criticisms. Loopholes and special dispensations abound, sometimes through Congress’s negligence and sometimes through its subservience to special interests, who often seem to write the laws. Recently it was reported by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) that 26 of the biggest U.S. corporations quite legally paid no federal income tax from 2008 to 2012, and 93 out of the 288 analyzed companies paid below 10%. Critics often decry the high U.S. corporate tax rate of 35%, but many companies exploit tax breaks, loopholes, and accounting schemes to their advantage. And who are some of the companies that paid no federal tax whatsoever? Here are a few:
· General Electric
· Consolidated Edison
· Duke Energy
· PG&E Corporation
And many other utilities. The report is of course disputed by the companies named, who point out that it ignores other taxes that they pay, such as state and local taxes. True enough, but the report is still pretty damning. One online article on the subject includes a photo of a white-haired lady holding up a sign in bold print:
MAKE DEADBEAT CORPORATIONS PAY.
And people? Here are some who have been prosecuted for tax evasion and related charges, starting with the most recent:
· 2013: Accounting firm Ernst & Young paid $123 million.
· 2008: Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Arkansas, convicted on 7 counts of bribery and tax evasion. He ran for re-election but lost.
· 2008: Representative Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, paid $11,000 in back taxes and – a truly rare event -- was censured by the House.
· 2006: Lobbyist Jack Abramoff was fined $24.7 million and is now serving 70 months.
· 2006: Representative Duke Cunningham, Republican of California, was fined $1.8 million and sentenced to 8 years, 4 months.
· 2002: Six members of the Christian Patriot Association, a white supremacist organization based in Oregon, were convicted of tax fraud and tax evasion and faced up to 5 years each in prison plus a $250,000 fine.
But why go on? The list is endless, includes both major parties, and usually involves those in or close to government. But often there is more to the story. Ernst & Young had advised 200 wealthy clients who then avoided $2 billion in unpaid taxes. Ted Stevens got off when his indictment was dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Duke Cunningham was still entitled to a pension for his years of service in the Navy and Congress. The Christian Patriot Association, which had helped 900 people evade taxes on $186 million over 14 years, believed that white people were the chosen people of God and therefore entitled, apparently, to not pay taxes.
But these are the ones who got caught. What about all those others with money stashed in offshore accounts maintained by Swiss banks, whose legendary secrecy is now under attack by the U.S. and the European Union? Not to mention such tax havens as Luxembourg, Andorra, and Liechtenstein, tiny European countries thriving on their tax-haven status, and such exotic locales as the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Monaco, Panama, Singapore, and numerous others. In the 2012 Presidential campaign Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, had trouble explaining why he had millions stashed away in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Though not illegal, it looked fishy, and demolished any chance he had (and it wasn’t much) of appearing to voters as an ordinary guy just like you and me. Obama could be a bit distant and dispassionate, but at least he didn’t have a fortune offshore.
Everyone agrees that our tax system needs to be drastically reformed, but few agree on how to do it. Some want to tax the rich more, some want to tax them less. And since Congress is a pack of millionaires who, with some exceptions, think the present system is just dandy – or at least have reasons not to meddle with it – meaningful reform is not likely to come very soon. Meaningful reform may require a groundswell of opinion from below, and there’s little sign of that at this time.
Here’s a novel solution proposed by nutritionist and WBAI commentator Gary Null and some others: tax both individuals and corporations a flat 10%, with absolutely no loopholes or exceptions. Doing this, Null insists, would let us abolish the Internal Revenue Service altogether. An enticing prospect, though I’m not sure how various income groups would fare. And in the present circumstances there’s no chance of it being enacted or even seriously discussed.
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Here is a note on the report in the previous post (#258) about the giant octopus attacking a Staten Island ferry and dragging it down into the depths of the harbor. Of course it never happened; it's a hoax. The hoaxer is Joseph Reginella, the artist responsible for the cast-bronze sculpture memorializing the fake tragedy, now on display in Battery Park. By all means go to Staten Island, but not to see the museum about the event, since that museum too is an invention of the artist; it doesn't exist. Go to Staten Island to see Sailors Snug Harbor (see post #251) and other sights well worth seeing, but not that one.
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My poems: For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down. To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here. For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.
My books: No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016. For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here. As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Coming soon: As previously announced, the Sufis and me, and how I swayed and chanted, but didn't whirl.
© 2016 Clifford Browder