Members of the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations are looking into the tax-paying behaviors of large American corporations. They are coming to regret it. Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky, put it well. He said the senators’ attention is directed at corporate CEO’s when “we should be holding up a mirror.” He is right on target.
The most recent corporate executive to appear before the Committee is Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the committee, laid out Apple’s tax avoidance schemes. Apple bas managed to manipulate the tax laws between the U.S. and Ireland so that Apple Operation International literally exists nowhere geographically. Thus, it is beholden to no nation’s tax laws. As Senator Levin says, “Magically, it is neither here nor there.” In this way, it avoided paying taxes on $76 billion over the past four years. In 2012, this saved the firm about $12 billion in U.S. taxes.
Kevin Horrigan, in his column in this past Sunday’s Post-Dispatch, asks, “Why does this matter?” It matters because that $12 billion could have funded the entire Interior Department for a year; it could have paid for the entire FBI with $3.6 billion left over. And it matters because you and I, with our taxes, pay for these and a lot of other government activities.
But Tim Cook fired back with an angry edge. “We pay all the taxes we owe—every single dollar. We don’t depend on tax gimmicks.” Horrigan comments that Apple’s maneuvers look pretty gimmicky to him. He’s right but so is Cook. Technically, everything Apple has done with its tax practices is perfectly legal. That’s when Senator Paul made his mirror comment. The U.S. Congress created the tax code and passed every law creating every loophole through which Apple and most other large U.S. corporations slither.
Well, that’s not quite fair. Most of the loopholes are so big the tax lawyers can drive an SUV through them. They don’t have to slither.
How did that happen? Did the Congress just decide it would be good for the country for corporations to pay less and less taxes over time? Well, actually, no. It wasn’t really their idea. It was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s idea. It was Exxon-Mobil’s idea; Citi-Bank’s idea, and so on—and on. Corporate America has been on a campaign over the past forty years to shape the U.S. government in its own image. They have made excellent progress. The Congress rarely does anything that displeases Corporate America. As the old saying goes, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
A recent example: Depending on which survey you look at, either 85% or
90% of the American electorate favors universal background checks for gun buyers. Restrictions on sales of assault-type weapons and multi-shot ammunition clips are also favored by large majorities. But none of this, not even background checks, could make it through Congress. Even with the parents of kids killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school looking on from the Senate gallery, their elected representatives voted no.
How could this happen? How could members of Congress ignore these numbers and the public sentiment they reflect and still hope to stay in office?
Those are naive questions, of course, because they assume members of Congress represent the electorate. They don’t. They represent the rich and powerful who have bought them with campaign fund donations. By bloating the cost of getting elected/re-elected into the multi-millions, these wealthy donors have made it next to impossible to succeed without their patronage.
By the time one is elected, he/she has already sold him/herself into slavery to the agenda of those who pay his/her way into office.
Meanwhile, regular folks struggle along. Did any of you out there notice how the big bailout of 2008-09 turned out? All those home-owners out there whose houses went underwater got help, right? When they faced foreclosure, there were bailout funds at the ready, right? Not! The big financial institutions got most of the money, largely with no strings attached. They weren’t even required to help all those homeowners whose gimmicked up mortgages were largely responsible for the debacle in the first place.
In the face of this dismal picture, l am an enthusiastic subscriber to Yes! Magazine. Its very name tells its story. It is about all the good and hopeful stuff that is happening to change the world from the bottom up—to form our economy, our relationship to the earth, and more. The cover of the summer 2013 edition points to what’s inside: “Don’t Wait for the Revolution. Live It.” “What to Say When You Hear ‘It’s impossible.'” “Love and the Apocalypse: Why Radical Is the New Normal.” If Yes! is new to you, check it out at yesmagazine.org. Although it’s not explicitly religious, faith and hope ooze from every page.