Greatest Transfer of Wealth to the Super-Rich in Modern American History

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“If we are going to stop Republicans from taking healthcare from millions and slashing Medicare to give tax cuts to the wealthy and large corporations, now is the time to stand up and fight back.”

The tax plan passed today by the House of Representatives is a flat giveaway to America’s richest households and corporations,” argued Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute in a statement. (Photo: Tax March/Twitter)

With their passage of a deeply unpopular $1.5 trillion tax cut bill on Thursday, House Republicans did their part in “paving the way for the greatest transfer of wealth from regular people to the super-rich in modern American history,”—a move that sparked a flood of outrage from progressive activists and lawmakers who vowed to mobilize and do everything in their power to “kill the bill.”

“If we are going to stop Republicans from taking healthcare from millions and slashing Medicare to give tax cuts to the wealthy and large corporations, now is the time to stand up and fight back,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in a call to action that was echoed by many of the progressive groups that played a significant role in the fight against Trumpcare.

Now that the House bill has passed, “the fight now turns to the Senate, where the Trump tax scam has always faced much tougher odds,” noted CREDO political director Murshed Zaheed said in a statement.

As Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, Senate Republicans crammed a provision into their own tax bill that would strip healthcare from 13 million Americans—a fact opposition groups have used in recent days in an effort to galvanize grassroots forces.

“It is no surprise that Trump’s lapdogs in the Senate want to use the Trump tax scam to try to gut healthcare for millions of Americans,” Zaheed said, “but the grassroots resistance they’re about to experience will be just as intense as the tidal wave of opposition that repeatedly stopped the zombie Trumpcare bill. If the Senate manages to pass the Trump tax scam despite massive public opposition, we suspect many senators will come to regret it next year.”

Just ahead of the House vote on Thursday, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) released an analysis that dealt yet another blow to the GOP’s insistence that their plan is primarily focused on providing relief to middle- and working-class Americans.

The Senate GOP plan—expected to hit the floor for a vote before Thanksgiving next week—will raise taxes on low-income Americans beginning in 2021, JCT found. More broadly, the Senate plan would sharply hike taxes on millions of families that earn less than $75,000 a year beginning in 2027.

Citing these numbers, the Washington Post‘s Paul Waldman wrote, “If you’re one of those white working-class voters who propelled Donald Trump into the presidency and gave Republicans total control of Washington, the GOP has a message for you: Sucker!”

By contrast, the wealthiest Americans—including President Donald Trump and his family—stand to gain massively from both the House and Senate plans. According to an NBCanalysis published Thursday, Trump and his heirs would save more than a billion dollars if the House measure became law.

The tax plan passed today by the House of Representatives is a flat giveaway to America’s richest households and corporations,” argued Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute in a statement. “Most of the same people who cast this vote to deprive the government of tax revenue will now cynically pivot and start wringing their hands about the federal budget deficit, arguing that vital programs like Medicare and Medicaid must be slashed.”

“Disgusting,” concluded Fight for $15 on Twitter, “but the fight isn’t over. This is one of the worst pieces of legislation in history. Call your Senators and tell them to vote NO!”

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Tens of thousands being dropped from US student loan relief program

By J. Cooper
15 November 2017

October marked 10 years since the George W. Bush administration enacted the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program as an incentive to young college graduates to pursue careers as teachers, in government, or at non-profit institutions. The program was advertised as a way for some recent graduates to see an exit sign on their student loan debt.

In 2006, average student loan debt for undergraduates was just under $20,000. For graduate students it was nearly $40,000. For the class of 2016, average undergraduate debt had climbed to $37,172. For graduate students, the average is considerably higher. In that same period, college tuition has increased 63 percent.

Over the past 10 years over half a million graduates have signed up for PSLF. However, according to a recent article in Rolling Stone, more than half of those have been disqualified for myriad bureaucratic reasons. Last month a total of only 137 individuals were deemed eligible to have the balance of their student loans wiped clean. Thousands are just finding out that their years of paying on time won’t count under the federal forgiveness plan because they took out the wrong type of loan, their employer has been disqualified, or their original lender sold the loan to an unqualified institution. President Trump’s budget proposes eliminating the program entirely for borrowers after July 2018.

As many of these borrowers are now discovering, if your employer hasn’t provided the correct proof of employment in a qualifying position, if the loan you are carrying is not through the sole federal direct-loan program, if you have missed even one of the 120 payments required within the 10-year span, or if you paid extra in one payment and skipped the next, you can be disqualified.

New York Times article from October 27 profiles a 46-year-old teacher who enrolled in the PSLF plan the year it was announced, thinking he had done everything according to the rules, only to discover in 2015 that he had been enrolled in a “particular type of ineligible payment plan and would need to start his decade of payments all over again.” One of the online comments from November 5 announces that several class action suits have been launched on behalf of borrowers who were not informed their loans were out of compliance.

Another commenter says: “By the time I’d learned that [one of the loans did not qualify], my loans had ballooned to $90k because I was only paying interest on them with 8.5 percent. … that nonsense impacted my career choices (deciding to stay in nonprofits to secure the forgiveness), my retirement funds, and my sanity. I will end up paying more than $55K in interest on my $60k loan. Truly criminal.”

Among the thousands disqualified or affected are teachers, doctors, lawyers, even police. A lawsuit by the American Bar Association was filed earlier this year after the Department of Education (DoE) announced it had “rescinded without explanation the association’s status as a qualified employer under PSLF and notified ABA employees and others who had previously been approved for participation in the program that they no longer qualified,” according to the DoE website.

Most of those applying for the PSLF program are those with postgraduate degrees. Currently there is no limit on the amount a graduate student can borrow, and it is not uncommon for a graduate student to embark on their first job out of school with $100,000 in debt. To discover, after 10 years working at a public service job, known for low salaries, that you don’t qualify for the program after all, not only impacts the financial wellbeing of the individual, but can have serious psychological effects.

Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, revealed that when the PSLF program was first created, it was intended to be small and unattractive. “Washington policymakers did not foresee the program growing to its current size. After all, 10 years is a long time to work in a qualifying job, so many experts thought people wouldn’t sign up,” he wrote in Politico in July. “They also thought borrowers were averse to making loan payments linked to their incomes, as hardly anyone enrolled in an earlier version of the government’s income-based repayment plan.”

In fact, Delisle speaks for that section of the ruling elite who are determined that not even a small segment of students in debt will get any relief. Delisle argues that the PSLF program should be eliminated because it encourages graduate students to maximize their debt load, since the larger amount will be forgiven after 10 years. It’s easy for him to ignore the dire consequences for those who get the reality check that they don’t qualify after they have made their regular payments and then face decades of additional payments when they thought they might be able to buy a house or start a family.

As of July this year, the interest rates for Direct Loans increased to 7 percent for graduate students, and 4.45 percent for undergraduates. Trump’s budget proposal includes a provision to eliminate entirely the federal Subsidized Stafford Loan, which has traditionally allowed students to defer payment while enrolled in a college or university, and had a somewhat lower interest rate upon graduation. Another provision proposed in the House version of the next budget would require that all tuition waived, either through a federal program, employer benefit or university tuition waiver, be counted as taxable income.

The overwhelming burden of student debt for borrowers at all levels is becoming worse every year. This past spring, total student loan debt surpassed $1.45 trillion, about $620 billion more than all US credit card debt. Among the 44 million borrowers, the average monthly payment is $351. Trump is proposing to abolish subsidized federal loans and institute a single program for all federal student lending as a single income-based repayment plan at 12.5 percent of adjusted gross income. Today’s recent graduate can look forward to at least half a lifetime of penury as the cost of an undergraduate degree. And for those who can’t afford more than the interest every month, it’s a lifetime.

Currently, 11.2 percent of student loan dollars are in default and another 11 percent are in forbearance (a temporary payment suspension granted at the discretion of the lender while interest continues to accrue). According to the September 28 Washington Post, “millions of people had not made a payment on about $144 billion in federal student loans for at least nine months as of June, a 12 percent increase in defaults from a year earlier.”

Although the default rate has declined slightly from its 14.7 percent peak in fiscal year 2010, it is still well above rates prior to the 2007-2008 mortgage collapse and Wall Street crash—from 8.8 percent in 2009 and 7 percent in 2007. The total number of borrowers in default is at an all-time high, with 1.1 million new borrowers defaulting in 2016.

According to the Department of Education’s latest figures, the third quarter of 2017 saw a major increase in loans going into default for at least a second time. Thirty-thousand borrowers defaulted on $64 million. This was a jump of 7,100 unique loans in just three months. The previous record was set in the first quarter of 2016, with 24,500 borrowers re-defaulting on $57 million.

College graduates face an increasingly bleak future, despite being told that a college education is a necessity to get a “decent” job today. As has been widely reported, Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are more likely to be living with their parents, rather than a spouse or partner. Employer-paid health care and pension plans are a relic of the past, forcing millions of college graduates to foot the bill for thousands of dollars in expenses in addition to the student loans. The average net worth of the 2016 college graduate is a negative $33,984.

This crushing debt provides fertile hunting grounds for rapacious debt collectors. For the fiscal quarter ending in March 2017, more than $2 billion had been “successfully” recouped for the lenders by 30 national collection agencies. Of this, $182 million was the result of wage garnishment. It should come as no surprise that feelings of despair and suicidal thoughts are so prevalent today.

As the teacher interviewed by Rolling Stone explained, the debt collectors “called day and night.” Calculating his “rehabilitated” debt at over $100,000, he said, “Not one dollar goes toward principal. I will never be able to pay it off. My only hope to escape from this crushing debt is to die.”

Significantly, a recent report by Experian, the consumer credit reporting agency, notes that of the generation of borrowers now making payments, aside from students currently enrolled and thus just beginning to accrue loans, millennials have the highest percentage of past due amounts on loans in repayment (not deferred). Millennials also have the highest number of loans, 4.4 on average. This is also the generation that indicated, by a majority (51 percent) in a recent poll, that they would rather live in a socialist or communist society than under capitalism.

The legacy of Obamacare: A five percent increase in heart patient deaths

15 November 2017

When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet  murder it remains. (Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1845)

* * *

A US government program supposedly devised both to improve medical care and cut costs has, predictably, succeeded in the latter while undermining the former. Research published Sunday in JAMA Cardiology (Journal of the American Medical Association) shows that an initiative introduced five years ago under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to induce hospitals to reduce Medicare readmissions for heart patients has resulted in an increase in mortality rates among those studied.

Under the ACA’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), hospitals were penalized financially when heart failure patients were readmitted within a month. While the program has succeeded in reducing the number of 30-day readmissions, the number of patients who died within a year rose by 5 percentage points. According to one of the study’s senior authors, these findings could account for an additional 5,000 to 10,000 deaths annually across the US due directly to the program.

For the American ruling elite, HRRP and other schemes devised by bureaucrats at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are part of an agenda that is as deliberate as it is ruthless: Men and women in the US are living too long into old age and measures must be taken to cut costs associated with their medical care and shorten their life expectancy. This is the deadly price that must be paid to prop up a society that is one of the most socially unequal both in terms of income and the delivery of health care.

The statistics do not lie. Study researchers analyzed 115,245 patients at 416 hospitals in the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines-Heart Failure registry from January 2006 to December 2014. They examined readmission and death rates before and after the program began in 2012.

* Readmission rates within one month fell from 20 percent before HRRP penalties to 18.4 percent after HRRP (down 1.6 percent). Mortality rates, however, rose by almost the same rate, from 7.2 percent before HRRP to 8.6 percent after (up 1.4 percent).

* Statistics for readmission and mortality within one year were even more damning. Readmission within one year fell by only about 1 percent, from 57.2 percent before HRRP to 56.3 percent after. But the mortality rate within one year rose from 31.3 percent before HRRP to 36.3 percent after—a shocking 5 percent increase. These figures show that there is a direct correlation between implementation of the Obamacare policy and preventable deaths.

HRRP penalizes hospitals up to 3 percent of every Medicare dollar for “excessive” repeat hospital stays. That is 15 times more than the 0.2 percent penalty levied against hospitals with high mortality rates. In other words, while hospitals with higher rates of mortality face a minimal fine, hospitals are being substantially penalized for failure to comply with a program that is resulting in increased deaths.

Compounding the misery, financial penalties from HRRP have been shown to fall disproportionately on academic medical centers and “safety-net” hospitals where “higher readmission rates are associated with the higher case-mix complexity and lower socioeconomic status,” according to the study, i.e., those treating poorer and sicker patients. In such settings, hospitals are incentivized to “game” the system by delaying admissions, increasing observation stays or shifting inpatient-type care to emergency departments, to the detriment of patient welfare.

The US mortality rate rose in 2015 in the first year-over-year increase since 2005, with life expectancy falling between 2014 and 2015 from 85.8 years to 85.6 years for men, and from 87.8 years to 87.6 years for women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this decline was due to an increase in eight of the 10 leading causes of death in the US, including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide.

With heart disease rising, there is no other way to interpret the penalties imposed by the ACA for early readmission of heart patients than a deliberate effort to see more men and women die. US corporations are already reaping a grim dividend from this downward trend, with at least 12 major corporations reporting this summer that they have reduced their estimates for how much they could owe in pension and other retirement obligations by a combined $9.7 billion due to shorter life spans.

It is fitting that the health care overhaul known as Obamacare was the instigator of HRRP, an irrefutable demonstration that the ACA was the first major volley in the bipartisan drive to restrict access to affordable health care and sharply reduce the length of workers’ lives.

As the World Socialist Web Site explained as early at 2009, the Obama administration’s health care “reform” established a framework for the insurers, the corporations and the government to drastically reduce the health benefits available to low- and middle-income individuals and families. The aim is to limit the amount that the government must pay out for health care and Social Security payments, as well as what corporations must pay in pensions and other retirement benefits.

Health care in the Obamacare era has nothing in common with quality, near-universal health care, as Obama initially pledged. It is based entirely on the for-profit health care system in America, including the insurance companies, giant hospitals, health care chains and pharmaceutical companies. Any repeal of the ACA—and its replacement with “Trumpcare” or any other legislation—will maintain the class-based delivery of health care and undoubtedly worsen it for the majority of Americans.

The empirical proof provided by research published in JAMA Cardiology that an ACA program has predictably caused increased deaths should serve as a stark warning to the working class. This Obamacare program is of a piece with the bipartisan attack on jobs and living standards, the attack on immigrants and democratic rights, and the drive to war.

This assault will inevitably provoke enormous social opposition among workers and young people. This opposition must be channeled into the fight for a progressive overhaul of the health care system that takes as its starting point an end to privately owned health care corporations and medicine-for-profit and the establishment of socialized medicine, democratically administered by a workers’ government, providing free, high-quality health care for all.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/15/pers-n15.html

Fight the disease of globalized corporate capitalism

Fight the Disease, Not the Symptoms

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The disease of globalized corporate capitalism has the same effects across the planet. It weakens or destroys democratic institutions, making them subservient to corporate and oligarchic power. It forces domestic governments to give up control over their economies, which operate under policies dictated by global corporations, banks, the World Trade Organizationand the International Monetary Fund. It casts aside hundreds of millions of workers now classified as “redundant” or “surplus” labor. It disempowers underpaid and unprotected workers, many toiling in global sweatshops, keeping them cowed, anxious and compliant. It financializes the economy, creating predatory global institutions that extract money from individuals, institutions and states through punishing forms of debt peonage. It shuts down genuine debate on corporate-owned media platforms, especially in regard to vast income disparities and social inequality. And the destruction empowers proto-fascist movements and governments.

These proto-fascist forces discredit verifiable fact and history and replace them with myth. They peddle nostalgia for lost glory. They attack the spiritual bankruptcy of the modern, technocratic world. They are xenophobic. They champion the “virtues” of a hyper-masculinity and the warrior cult. They preach regeneration through violence. They rally around demagogues who absolve followers of moral choice and promise strength and protection. They marginalize and destroy all individuals and institutions, including schools, that make possible self-criticism, self-reflection and transcendence and that nurture empathy, especially for the demonized. This is why artists and intellectuals are ridiculed and silenced. This is why dissent is attacked as an act of treason.

These movements are also deeply misogynistic. They disempower girls and women to hand a perverted power to men who feel powerless in the global economy. They blame ethnic and religious minorities for the national decline. They foster bizarre conspiracy theories. And they communicate in the Orwellian newspeak of alternative facts. They claim the sole right to represent and use indigenous patriotic and religious symbols.

India, built on the foundations of caste slavery, has become one of many new neofeudal states, among them Turkey, Poland, Russia and the United States. Its neofeudal structure continues to carry out atrocities against Dalits—the former “untouchables”—and now increasingly against Muslims. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who as the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat oversaw a vicious anti-Muslim pogrom, has defended sectarian discrimination and violence even though this year he made a tepid declaration that “[w]e will not tolerate violence in the name of faith” and issued other unconvincing appeals for religious peace. As prime minister he has employed threats, harassment and force to silence those who decry human rights abuses and atrocities carried out in India. He attacks his critics as “anti-national”—the equivalent of “unpatriotic” in the United States.

Modi, like his fellow demagogues in other parts of the world, including Donald Trump, speaks in the language of moral purity and promotes self-serving historical myth. Indians who eat beef—a huge number—are targeted, school history books are being rewritten to conform to right-wing Hindu ideology and its open admiration for fascism, and entertainers considered too political or too salacious are under attack.

There are within America’s corporate power structures individuals, parties and groups that find the hysterical, imbecilic and irrational rants of demagogues such as Trump repugnant. They seek a return to the polished mendacity of politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They hope to promote the interests of global capitalism by maintaining the fiction of a functioning democracy and an open society. These “moderates” or “liberals,” however, are also the architects of the global corporate pillage. They created the political vacuum that the demagogues and proto-fascist movements have filled. They blind themselves to their own complicity. They embrace their own myths—such as the belief that former FBI Director James Comey and the Russians were responsible for the election of Trump—to avoid examining the social inequality that is behind the global crisis and their defeat.

The 400 richest individuals in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population, and the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the U.S. population. This social inequality will only get worse as the weak controls that once regulated the economy and the tax code are abolished or rewritten to further increase the concentration of wealth among the ruling oligarchs. Social inequality at this level, history has shown, always results in these types of pathologies and political distortions. It also, potentially, presages revolution.

The short-term political and economic gains made by the Democratic Party and liberal class in the last few decades came at the expense of the working class. The liberal class, because of its complicity in globalization, has destroyed its credibility as well as the credibility of the “liberal” democratic values it claims to represent. Enraged workers, lied to for decades by “liberal” politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Obama, delight in Trump’s crude taunts and insults directed at the power structure and elites they loath. Many Americans are perhaps aware that Trump is a con artist, but he at least appears to share their disdain for the “liberal” elites who abandoned them.

It will eventually become apparent to some, perhaps many, of Trump’s supporters that he is cravenly in the service of the 1 percent and has turbocharged the corporate kleptocracy. The Democratic Party, busy purging Bernie Sanders supporters from its ranks, is banking on this epiphany to revive its political fortunes. The Democratic leadership has no real political strategy, other than to hope that Trump implodes. They are backing and funding opposition movements such as Indivisible and the women’s marches, as well as the witch hunt about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, all of which have as their sole focus removing Trump and restoring the Democratic Party to power. This form of resistance is sterile and useless.

But there are other resistance movements—the most prominent being the battle by the water protectors at Standing Rock to block the Dakota Access pipeline—that attack the disease. It is easy to tell the resistance from the faux resistance by the response of the state. During the women’s marches, Democrats, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were honored participants. The police were usually courteous and helped facilitate the marches; arrests were few and coverage by the corporate press was sympathetic. In contrast, during the long encampment at Standing Rock, which took place under the Obama administration, the nonviolent resisters were physically attacked by police, the National Guard and private security contractors. These forces used dogs, pepper spray, water cannons in subzero temperatures, sound machines, drones, armored vehicles and hundreds of arrests in their efforts to destroy the resistance.

Attack the symptoms and the state will be passive. Attack the disease and the state will be ruthless.

Once Trump’s base begins to abandon him—the repression in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a good example of what will happen—the political landscape will turn very ugly. Trump and his allies, in a desperate bid to cling to power, will openly stoke hate crimes and violence against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, progressives, intellectuals, feminists and dissidents. He and his allies on the “alt-right” and the Christian right will move to silence all organs of dissent, including corporate media outlets fighting to restore the patina of civility that is the window dressing to corporate pillage. They will harness the power of the nation’s substantial internal security apparatus to crush public protests and to jail opponents, even those who are part of the faux resistance.

Time is not on our side. If we can build counter-capitalist movements that include the working class we have a chance. If we can, like the water protectors at Standing Rock, mount sustained acts of defiance in the face of severe state repression, we have a chance. If we can organize nationwide campaigns of noncooperation we have a chance. We cannot be distracted by the symptoms. We must cure the disease.

Chris Hedges
Columnist
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books,…
Mr. Fish
Cartoonist
Mr. Fish, also known as Dwayne Booth, is a cartoonist who primarily creates for Truthdig.com and Harpers.com. Mr. Fish’s work has also appeared nationally in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity…

The GOP Is Proposing a 250 Percent Tax Hike on Millions of Americans

NEWS & POLITICS
Traditional Republican voters could get hit the hardest.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

The GOP just declared war on the strivers who start their own businesses.

Or to put it another way: The nice young couple who just opened their own independent coffee shop around the corner will likely be hit with a huge tax increase—as much as 250%—while the corporation that operates thousands of coffee shops all around the world is getting its taxes cut 43%.

The complicated new bill (remember when the GOP promised tax simplicity?) also lavishes federal tax favors on rich individuals and on those who live in low tax states.

No wonder the GOP developed the nearly 500-page tax bill in secret. Had the public’s business been conducted in public, this bill simply would not exist. But it may become law because, if there is anything we know about Washington in the age of Trump, it is that our elected leaders don’t listen to us, they listen to the political donor class, and in Trump’s case, to those advisers he says reside in his head.

The Republican tax plan targets a class of voters who have formed the core of the GOP constituency since the age of Lincoln: entrepreneurs and small business owners. The party used to promote tax favors for those who start new enterprises.

But now Trump has turned Washington into a federally protected wetland for big established business and comfortable billionaires, stocking the swamp with the most voracious predators on Wall Street. The GOP bill shows it is on the side of Wall Street, at the expense of Main Street.

The tax plan would dramatically raise taxes on many entrepreneurs, in some cases more than doubling the tax rate they pay on their profits. That explains why groups like the National Federation of Independent Business attacked the bill, saying in a statement that the bill “does not help most small businesses.”

Currently, freelancers, small-business owners and others pay taxes at rates of 10% and then 15% on their profits if their total income puts them below about $125,000 annually. The GOP would tax these same businesses at 25% on about one-third of their profits and at 10% to 15% rates on the rest.

So, if your small business made a profit of $1,000, you would pay 10% rate on the first $700 and a 25% rate on the other $300.  Your total tax would rise by $5.

This completely contradicts the oft-stated GOP claim that what matters are marginal tax rates, the rate paid on the next dollar of income. And, of course, it makes the federal income tax system even more complicated.

Meanwhile, big corporations—known as C Corps to tax policy wonks—would pay a 20% rate.

Ponder that for a moment. The nearly 3,000 companies that own nearly all the business assets would be taxed at a lower rate than the guy who fixes your shoes.

Raising taxes on the smallest businesses while giving the Big Boys a tax rate cut from 35% to 20% only makes sense if you negotiate in secret and you only allow into the room lobbyists hired by those who can afford to buy high-priced influence peddlers.

David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist specializing in tax matters and the author of The Making of Donald Trump. Follow him @DavidCayJ.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/gop-proposing-250-percent-tax-hike-millions-americans?akid=16333.265072.1fP8kF&rd=1&src=newsletter1084983&t=6

On the Centenary of the October Revolution

7 November 2017

One hundred years ago today, on the morning of November 7, 1917, the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, chaired by Leon Trotsky, issued a proclamation to the citizens of Russia. It stated:

The Provisional Government has been overthrown. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison.

The cause for which the people have struggled—the immediate offer of a democratic peace, the abolition of landlord ownership of land, workers’ control over industry, the creation of a Soviet government—this has been assured!

Long live the revolution of workers, soldiers and peasants!

Vladimir Lenin

Later that afternoon, Lenin—who had been denounced just three months earlier as a state criminal by the bourgeois Provisional Government—received a thunderous ovation as he emerged from hiding and entered the hall where the Soviet delegates were assembled. Witnessing the extraordinary events of that day, the American socialist journalist John Reed left behind a memorable description of the Bolshevik leader, “loved and revered as perhaps few leaders in history have been.” Lenin, he wrote, was a “strange popular leader—a leader purely by virtue of intellect,” possessed “with the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analyzing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity.”

After he had made his way to the speaker’s lectern, Lenin began his address to the delegates with the following words: “Comrades, the workers’ and peasants’ revolution, about the necessity of which the Bolsheviks have always spoken, has been accomplished.”

As Russia still adhered to the old Julian calendar, the overthrow of the Provisional government entered into history as the October Revolution. But though the Russian calendar lagged 13 days behind that of Western Europe and North America, the Bolshevik seizure of power catapulted Russia, in political terms, to the forefront of world history. The insurrection led by the Bolsheviks was the culmination of a political struggle that had begun eight months earlier, in February 1917, with the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy, which had ruled Russia for more than 300 years.

Women’s march during the February Revolution

The uprising in February-March 1917 unleashed a protracted struggle over the political perspective and historical significance of the revolution that had erupted in Russia. The bourgeois Cadet party, the reformist Mensheviks, and the peasant-based Socialist Revolutionaries viewed the revolution in primarily national terms. The overthrow of the tsarist regime, they insisted, was no more than a national-democratic revolution. The tasks of the revolution were confined to replacing the tsarist regime with some sort of parliamentary republic, modeled on that of France or Britain, dedicated to promoting the development of the Russian economy on a capitalist basis.

In actual practice, the bourgeois Cadet party, fearful of the revolutionary upheaval and despising the masses, opposed any changes in the existing social structure that threatened their wealth. As for the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, their reformist programs excluded any significant encroachment on capitalist property. Russia, they insisted, was not ripe for a socialist revolution. Decades of capitalist development would be required before a transition to socialism could be considered a realistic possibility.

Within the framework of this perspective, the political overthrow of the capitalist class and the assumption of power by the working class were absolutely rejected. The political subordination of the working class to bourgeois rule meant continued support for Russia’s participation in the bloodbath of the imperialist world war that had begun in 1914.

Prior to Lenin’s return from exile in April 1917, the main Bolshevik leaders in Petrograd—Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin—had accepted the Menshevik subordination of the working-class soviet (council) to the Provisional Government. Flowing from this, Kamenev and Stalin accepted the Menshevik argument that, with the overthrow of the tsarist regime, Russia’s participation in the imperialist war had been transformed into a democratic struggle against autocratic Germany, which should be supported by the working class. The blatantly imperialist interests of the Russian bourgeoisie were sugarcoated with hypocritical phrases about a “democratic peace.”

Lenin’s return to Russia on April 16 led to a dramatic change in the orientation of the Bolshevik Party. In opposition to the allies of the Provisional Government in the Petrograd Soviet, as well as a substantial faction of the Bolshevik leadership, Lenin called for the transfer of power to the soviets. The basis of this revolutionary demand, which stunned not only the Mensheviks but also most of Lenin’s comrades in the Bolshevik leadership, was a profoundly different conception of the historical significance of the Russian Revolution.

Soldiers demonstration in February, 1917

Since its very beginning in August 1914, Lenin had insisted that the imperialist world war marked a new stage in world history. The bloody carnage unleashed by the war arose from the global contradictions of capitalist imperialism. The contradictions of the imperialist system, which the capitalist regimes sought to resolve through war, would necessarily evoke a revolutionary response from the international working class.

This understanding of the world historical context of the Russian Revolution formed the basis of the policies that were to guide the Bolshevik Party following Lenin’s return. Lenin insisted that the Russian Revolution had to be understood as the beginning of the world socialist revolution. Upon opening the Seventh Congress of the Bolshevik party in April 1917, he stated:

The great honor of beginning the revolution has fallen to the Russian proletariat. But the Russian proletariat must not forget that its movement and revolution are only part of the world revolutionary proletarian movement, which in Germany, for example, is gaining momentum with every passing day. Only from this angle can we define our tasks.

In the months between April and October, Lenin wrote scores of articles in which he imbued and elevated the consciousness of party members, and the tens of thousands of workers who read Bolshevik pamphlets, newspapers and leaflets, with an understanding of the international character of the revolution. Those who claim that the Bolshevik revolution was a “putsch” or coup d’état plotted in secret simply ignore the fact that Lenin’s appeals for a socialist revolution were being read, studied and debated in factories, in soldiers’ barracks and in the streets of all the major cities of Russia.

In September, just a month before the seizure of power, the Bolshevik Party published Lenin’s pamphlet, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution. There was nothing ambiguous, let alone surreptitious, in Lenin’s presentation of the Bolshevik Party’s program and intentions. With an astonishing level of historical consciousness, Lenin explained the objective necessity of which Bolshevik policies were an expression:

The war is not a product of the evil will of rapacious capitalists, although it is undoubtedly being fought only in their interests and they alone are being enriched by it. The war is a product of half a century of development of world capitalism and of its billions of threads and connections. It is impossible to slip out of the imperialist war and achieve a democratic non-coercive peace without overthrowing the power of capital and transferring state power to another class, the proletariat.

The Russian revolution of February-March 1917 was the beginning of the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war. This revolution took the first step towards ending the war; but it requires a second step, namely the transfer of state power to the proletariat, to make the end of the war a certainty. This will be the beginning of a “breakthrough” on a worldwide scale, a breakthrough in the front of capitalist interests; and only by breaking through this front can the proletariat save mankind from the horrors of war and endow it with the blessings of peace.

In the aftermath of the “July Days”—the brutal suppression of the working class by the Provisional Government—Lenin was forced into hiding. Leon Trotsky, who had returned to Russia in May and soon joined the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, had been imprisoned. But he was released in September, in the aftermath of the aborted counterrevolutionary coup of General Kornilov, and was elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. In the weeks that followed, Trotsky emerged as the greatest mass leader and orator of the Revolution. He played the decisive role in the strategic planning and organization of the Bolshevik insurrection.

Leon Trotsky

There was, without question, an element of genius in Trotsky’s leadership of the Bolshevik insurrection. But Trotsky’s role in the October Revolution was, no less than Lenin’s, prepared on the basis of his analysis of the place of the Russian Revolution in world history. In fact, Trotsky, in his elaboration of the theory of permanent revolution, had been the first to foresee, as far back as 1905, that the democratic revolution against tsarist autocracy in Russia would necessarily develop into a socialist revolution that would transfer power to the working class.

Trotsky’s analysis challenged claims that the political tasks of the working class were determined by the economic backwardness of Russia, which was supposedly “not ready” for a socialist revolution. “In an economically backward country,” he wrote in 1905, “the proletariat can come to power sooner than in a country of the most advanced capitalism.”

But how would the working class sustain its revolution? Trotsky, far in advance of the events of 1917, wrote that the working class

will have no alternative but to link the fate of its political rule, and, hence, the fate of the whole Russian revolution, with the fate of the socialist revolution in Europe. That colossal state-political power given it by a temporary conjuncture of circumstances in the Russian bourgeois revolution it will cast into the scales of the class struggle of the entire capitalist world. With state power in its hands, with counterrevolution behind it and European reaction in front of it, it will send forth to its comrades the world over the old rallying cry, which this time will be a call for the last attack: Workers of all countries, unite!

* * * * *

Amidst the nightmarish reality of the First World War, which by October 1917 had already cost the lives of millions of soldiers, the news of the Bolshevik insurrection passed like an electric shock through the consciousness of the masses. The February Revolution was a Russian event. But the October Revolution was a world-changing event. What had been merely a “specter” in 1847 now existed as a revolutionary government, which had come to power on the basis of a working class insurrection.

Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg, learning of the Revolution while still in prison, wrote to a friend of the impatience with which she awaited the morning newspapers in order to follow the developments in Russia. She expressed doubts as to whether the revolution could survive in the face of the armed opposition of world imperialism. But of the greatness of the revolutionary event she had no doubt, and she beheld with admiration what Lenin and Trotsky—comrades whom she had known for many years—had achieved. The Bolshevik-led insurrection, Luxemburg wrote, “is a world-historical act, whose example will live for eons.”

Many years later, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the October Revolution, the American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon recalled the impact of 1917 on socialists throughout the world:

For the first time, concentrated in revolutionary action, we had a demonstration of the real meaning of Marxism. For the first time, we learned from the example and teachings of Lenin and Trotsky and the leaders of the Russian revolution the real meaning of a revolutionary party. Those who remember that time, whose lives became welded to the Russian revolution, must think of it today as the greatest inspiring and educational force that the oppressed class of the world has ever known.

The October Revolution ranks among the greatest and most progressive events in world history. It is part of the chain of world-historical events—such as the Reformation, the American Revolution and the French Revolution—that rank as great milestones in the development of human civilization.

The global impact of the October Revolution was incalculable. It was an event that ignited a worldwide movement of the working class and the oppressed masses against capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression. It is all but impossible to think of a significant political or social conquest of the working class in the twentieth century, anywhere in the world, which did not owe some substantial portion of its realization to the October Revolution. The establishment of the Soviet state was the first great achievement of the October Revolution. The victory of the Bolshevik Revolution demonstrated in practice the possibility of the working class conquering state power, ending the rule of the capitalist class, and organizing society on a non-capitalist and socialist basis.

However, while the establishment of the Soviet Union was the immediate product of the Bolshevik-led insurrection, the creation of this state does not encompass the full historical significance of the October Revolution. The establishment of the Soviet state in October 1917 was only the first episode in the new epoch of World Socialist Revolution.

This distinction between episode and epoch is critical to an understanding of the fate of both the Soviet Union and the contemporary world. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the end of the state founded in 1917. But it did not mark the end of the epoch of world socialist revolution. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the outcome of the abandonment, which began in the early 1920s, of the international socialist perspective upon which the October Revolution was based. The Stalinist program of socialism in one country, promulgated by Stalin and Bukharin in 1924, was a turning point in the nationalist degeneration of the Soviet Union. As Trotsky warned, Stalinist nationalism—which found political support in a rapidly growing bureaucratic elite—separated the fate of the Soviet Union from the fight for world socialism. The Communist International, which had been founded in 1919 as an instrument of world socialist revolution, was degraded into an appendage of the Soviet Union’s counterrevolutionary foreign policy. The treacherous and disorienting policies of Stalin led to devastating defeats of the working class in Germany, France, Spain and many other countries.

In 1936, Stalin launched the Great Terror, which during the next four years resulted in the physical extermination of virtually all of the leading representatives of revolutionary internationalism within the working class and socialist intelligentsia. Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico in 1940.

* * * * *

The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was hailed as a momentous victory for world capitalism. At long last the specter of communism and socialism had been eradicated. History had come to an end! The October Revolution had ended in ruins! Of course, such proclamations were not supported by a careful examination of what had occurred during the previous 74 years. No account was given of the enormous achievements of the Soviet Union, which included not only its central role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, but also the immense advances in the social and cultural conditions of the Soviet people. But aside from its efforts to obliterate from collective memory all recollection of Soviet achievements, the essential falsification of twentieth-century history has been the effort to define the fate of socialism on the basis of a nationalist narrative of the October Revolution, in which the Bolshevik seizure of power is presented as an aberrant, illegitimate and even criminal event in Russian history. The original Bolshevik conception of October must, in turn, be either ridiculed or ignored. No enduring historical and political relevance can be attributed to the October Revolution.

Red Guard unit at the Vulkan factory in Petrograd during the revolution

This reactionary narrative, aimed at divesting the October Revolution of all legitimacy, relevance and honor depends, however, on one small thing: that the world capitalist system has resolved and transcended the contradictions and crises that gave rise to war and revolution in the twentieth century.

It is precisely here that the efforts to discredit the October Revolution and all future efforts to realize socialism fall apart. The quarter-century that has passed since the dissolution of the USSR has been marked by relentless and intensifying social, political and economic crisis. We now live in an age of perpetual war. Since the initial US invasion of Iraq in 1991, the number of lives destroyed by American bombs and missiles easily surpasses one million. With geopolitical conflicts intensifying, the outbreak of a third world war is seen more and more as inevitable.

The economic crisis of 2008 exposed the fragility of the world capitalist system. Social tensions are mounting against the backdrop of levels of inequality that are the highest in a century. As the traditional institutions of bourgeois democracy are unable to bear the pressure of escalating social conflict, the ruling elites turn ever more openly to authoritarian forms of rule. The Trump administration is merely one disgusting manifestation of the universal breakdown of bourgeois democracy. The role of the military, police and intelligence agencies in the running of the capitalist state is becoming ever more open.

Throughout this centenary year, innumerable articles and books have been published whose aim is to discredit the October Revolution. But the declarations of the “irrelevance” of October are belied by the tone of hysteria that pervades so many of these denunciations. The October Revolution is treated not as a historical event, but as an enduring and dangerous contemporary threat.

The fear that underlies the denunciations of the October Revolution found expression in a recently published book by a leading academic specialist in historical falsification, Professor Sean McMeekin. He writes:

Like the nuclear weapons born of the ideological age inaugurated in 1917, the sad fact about Leninism is that, once invented, it cannot be uninvented. Social inequality will always be with us, along with the well-intentioned impulse of socialists to eradicate it… If the last hundred years teaches us anything, it is that we should stiffen our defenses and resist armed prophets promising social perfection.

In an essay published in the New York Times in October, columnist Bret Stephens warns:

Efforts to criminalize capitalism and financial services also have predictable results… A century on, the bacillus [of socialism] isn’t eradicated, and our immunity to it is still in doubt.

The anxiety expressed in these statements is not without foundation. A newly published poll shows that among American “Millennials” (people below the age of 28), a greater percentage would prefer to live in a socialist or communist society than in a capitalist one.

* * * * *

Throughout this centenary year, the International Committee of the Fourth International has celebrated the anniversary of the October Revolution by studying and explaining its origins and significance. It conducted this important historical work as the only political tendency in the world that represents the program of international socialism upon which the October Revolution was based. The defense of this program is rooted historically in the struggle waged by Trotsky—first as the leader of the Left Opposition and later as the founder of the Fourth International—against the nationalist betrayal and perversion of the program and principles of the October Revolution by the Stalinist bureaucracy. While defending all that was achieved within the Soviet Union as a consequence of the October Revolution, this never assumed the form of an adaptation, let alone capitulation, to the reactionary policies of the bureaucratic regime.

Thus, the Fourth International is the contemporary expression of the program of World Socialist Revolution. In the present period of insoluble capitalist crisis, this program once again is acquiring intense relevance. The October Revolution lives not only in history, but in the present.

We call on workers and youth throughout the world to join the fight for world socialism.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/07/pers-n07.html

Survivors of Northern California fires face new ordeal of recovery

By Therese Leclerc
6 November 2017

The fires are out in Northern California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has announced that all the wildfires that have ravaged the counties of Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano, north of San Francisco, since October 9 have been completely contained.

At the height of the blaze, 42 residents lost their lives as 10,000 firefighters, many of them volunteers, worked shifts of up to four days straight to battle the infernos. Crews were mobilized from throughout the state. Others came in from neighboring Nevada and Oregon and from as far away as Canada, Mexico and Australia.

With the extinguishing of the flames, however, the ordeal for the survivors has entered a new stage.

The fires are the most severe California has ever faced. Some 15,000 homes and 3,000 vehicles were destroyed or damaged.

Figures released by the state insurance commissioner’s office last week put the damage at over $3 billion. That figure is certain to rise.

For the first time, this year’s fires, driven by up-to-50-mph winds, engulfed urban areas, such as the city of Santa Rosa, where the Coffey Park neighborhood was reduced to ashes after the flames jumped six lanes of Highway 101.

Homeowners and renters, still in makeshift accommodation, are currently tackling the onerous task of cleaning up, attempting to retrieve any of their belongings that may have survived and applying for insurance and what federal assistance is available.

California has declared a public health emergency in the fire area. Mobile homes that were incinerated in Santa Rosa were found to have contained asbestos. Freon from air conditioners and heavy metals such as arsenic, copper and lead pose health risks throughout the area as well.

Recent rain—and the rainfall to come with the approach of winter—risks carrying the hazardous waste down into waterways, and even into water treatment plants, downstream of destroyed forests and charred neighborhoods.

Some homes have been designated toxic waste sites, further complicating the job for residents trying to salvage belongings.

There are residents who face even more obstacles to regaining their homes and jobs. These are the undocumented workers, who form the core workforce of the main industries in the region—hospitality, tourism and the wineries. It is estimated that some 28,000 undocumented adults and children lived in the region worst affected by the flames.

These workers do not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid. One of the many details required on the FEMA application forms is a social security number, denied to these residents, some of whom have lived in the area for up to 18 years. Children of these families who are American citizens do qualify for federal aid, but there is a fear that if the family seeks aid, other family members will be detained and deported.

This fear also kept many out of the shelters set up for residents who lost their homes or were ordered to evacuate endangered areas. Members of the National Guard were stationed at the shelters.

In the days following the outbreak of the fires, dozens of these families slept in cars and on beaches along the California coast.

Officials have said it will take years for the region to recover, socially and economically. Judging by the experience of residents in the wake of other recent disasters in the United States and its territories, that may be an understatement.

In Houston, recently flooded after the passage of Hurricane Harvey, the disaster is worsening the level of social inequality in the region.

NBC reported on October 23 that the poor in the Houston area are likely to fall further into poverty and homelessness while the wealthy are moving ahead with rebuilding.

Those who have been receiving temporary assistance from FEMA over the last two months now find themselves struggling to regain a foothold in their lives.

“Displaced renters have found themselves reliant on the whims of landlords or the generosity of friends,” the NBC report stated. “Homeowners without flood insurance are in a similar bind, while those who have it are waiting for their claims to go through. Some are maxing out their credit cards, or moving back into damaged houses.

“In some prosperous neighborhoods,” the report added, “certain homeowners aren’t bothering to wait for their insurance checks—if they had flood insurance at all—and are paying their contractors up front.”

An even more extreme situation exists in Puerto Rico, devastated by Hurricane Maria in late September. Most residents have been told they will be without power until January or February, with some of those in the outlying areas having to wait until spring or summer, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The hardship experienced by people in these situations can become permanent. In New Orleans, flooded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, residents were temporarily removed to neighboring states, far from their homes and jobs. Twelve years later, many are still displaced. While some have managed to start again in their new location, those who would prefer to return face expenses most people cannot meet. There is a lack of affordable housing in the city and new safety standards for elevating homes. Some people will never be able to return.

In Northern California, those who manage to overcome all the obstacles to rebuilding may encounter a further problem: insurance rate hikes.

In a press conference on Tuesday, state insurance commissioner Dave Jones warned that in the wake of the disaster insurers were likely to reevaluate the risk that wildfires pose to structures previously considered low-risk to such threats.

“I am concerned the fire we just experienced is not an anomaly and may represent a new normal,” Jones said.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/06/cali-n06.html