Occupy and the State of the Union


Have all of the Occupy actions made any difference? Gee -- I wonder.

I wonder if a president who acted a year ago as if economic justice wasn't even an issue in this country would have devoted a substantial part of his State of the Union speech to fairness in tax policy. I wonder if he would have said this:

Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else –- like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans?

Or this:

Tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule. If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You’re the ones who need relief.

Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.

or this:

No American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax.

Now: Not saying any of that is going to happen right away, or even that Obama will put tax reform at the top of the agenda. And changing the tax code to charge people like Mitt Romney 30 percent is nowhere near enough; in the 1960s, those people paid 80 percent of their marginal dollars in federal taxes. The Repubs in Congress won't let any of this happen anyway.

But all of the major newspapers (which a year ago didn't even know how to spell economic injustice) made his pitch for greater fairness in the economy the lead of their reports and all of the headlines talked about it. And when pollster Stan Greenberg tracked the responses of Democrats, Republicans and independents to the speech, the vast majority were pleased by and agreed with the commments that I cited above. That's not just 80 percent of the Dems but 70 percent of the GOP voters.

The other thing Obama said -- in indirectly -- is that government is important. Beyond the flag-waving salute to the troops and the talk about the Navy Seals (Yay! We killed a guy! No arrest, no trial, just summary execution!), Obama was setting the tone for a debate over the role of the public sector in America. He talked about building the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge and the interstate highway system. He talked about the importance of public support for research. That's a direct contradiction to what the Republicans are saying about making government much smaller and less significant in people's lives. I wonder what happens if the Republican candidate and Obama get out of the platitudes are actually have that discussion this fall.

Of course, he also said the solution to most business problems was tax cuts and incentives, which is not only GOP dogma but silly, since tax cuts for business almost never have the intendent effect. Tax penalties won't keep companies from moving offshore (although I still support the idea), and tax cuts won't bring them back.

It's notable that Obama didn't mention corporate personhood, which is going to be a huge part of the Occupy agenda this year. And that's something that could actually change business behavior. Corporate charters are granted by the government -- and with a few changes in law, could be revoked by the government, too. Screw your workers, cheat on taxes and move jobs to low-wage non-union areas where children work 14 hours a day making your products? Guess we'll have to revoke your corporate charter. No more protection for personal liability for the owners and shareholders. Too bad.

And while his populist stuff struck a chord, the energy and environmental policy suggestions were just horrible. Yeah, I'm for ending tax breaks for oil companies -- but opening up 75 percent of the potential offshore areas to drilling? Encouraging more natural gas drilling? Not much in the way of serious talk about investing a fraction of that money in renewables?

Oh, and I love this: Obama's going to force natural gas drillers to "disclose the chemicals they use." That's going to keep us safe, yesiree. Thank you, mister driller, for telling me how your poisoning my water. Not that I can do anything about it, of course; you can keep right on going. But now, thanks to our bold president, I know about it.

Occupy the natural gas wells. I'm ready to go.


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