Working towards peace and sustainability

What Does “Tax Reform” Mean to You? And What Would the Trump “Reform” Mean for All of Us?

President Trump and his allies in Congress are pressing for a revision of the tax code that will benefit the rich and powerful. Paraphrasing an old country song, “They’d get the gold mine and the rest of us would get the shaft.” We at Peaceworks urge our fellow citizens to speak in one voice against this heist and do so now.

“Reform.” That word has such a positive ring; improving on things; rooting out corruption. So, every time politicians want to change the tax code, they are always seeking “tax reform.” But, as you surely know, the devil is in the details.

If tax reform means coming up with a fairer way to raise revenues, we’re all for it. The current proposals Congress is considering, however, make the system less fair, by giving the overwhelming majority of the tax cuts to the very well to do and to large corporations, while giving at best very modest tax breaks to most of us, and actually raising taxes on millions of middle class families. The Tax Policy Center estimates that, after ten years, 45 million households will be paying more, including 36 million low and middle-income families.

Besides making the system less fair, the proposals before Congress are based upon flawed economic theories and are likely to do harm to the economy. Branded as “voodoo economics” in 1980 by George Bush senior, the trickle-down approach has failed repeatedly to produce the sort of economic growth or jobs that Trump is promising.

Even worse, these so-called “reform” measures are dangerous Trojan horses. They will not only make the rich richer, aggravating the inequality that already has ballooned dramatically over the past several decades. They provide such huge cuts to business and the wealthy that the proposed elimination of “loopholes” doesn’t come close to paying for them.

Thus, if enacted, the tax cuts would significantly exacerbate the deficit. This would, before long, be used as a rationale for cutting spending on programs that benefit the populace at large. Everything from environmental protection to education, infrastructure and bedrock programs like Social Security and Medicare are likely to be on the chopping block. It is also possible that, due to a 2010 Pay-As-You-Go statute, the “tax reform” would trigger mandatory spending reductions of up to $150 billion each year.

Today the Trump administration and the GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate are aiming to dramatically cut taxes for those who can most readily afford them, while penalizing many low-income workers, students and others. While their plans differ regarding some of the details—and some are still being negotiated—the big picture is clear. Here are a few examples:

Benefitting Mainly Corporations and Businesses:  According to figures from the Joint Committee on Taxation, fully 75 percent of net tax cuts will go to wealthy corporations and businesses passing through earnings to their owners at a reduced rate of taxation. Moreover, the proposals have been crafted to retain benefits for businesses, while allowing cuts to individuals to expire, so that middle income households will be hurt more as time goes by.

Trump and company aim to cut the highest corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent—a cut of $1.5 trillion over a decade—and offer a “one-time” repatriation of profits from overseas at a bargain-basement tax rate of just 12 percent, costing us hundreds of billions more (This would reduce tax obligations from $750 billion to $293 billion).

While they claim that lower taxes are essential to keep business here, the effective corporate tax rate in the U.S. is right about the same as the average for G-7 countries. With corporate profits in our country at an all-time high, they seem to be doing fine without needing these huge tax breaks. Corporate lobbyists have already succeeded in shifting most of the tax burden to households. Back in 1952 corporate income tax accounted for 32 percent of Federal revenue. By 2013 that had shrunk to just 10 percent.

Another major break for businesses is the reduction of the marginal tax rate on pass-through income from 39.4 percent to 25 percent. This would benefit partnerships, S corporations and sole proprietorships, including real estate businesses including those of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner.

The Rich Would Get Richer:  In ten years the Tax Policy Center estimates that nearly one-half (47%) of all tax cuts to households will be going to the top one percent, who will be benefiting, on average by approximately $62,000 a year per taxpayer.

Tax cuts primarily for the wealthy must be viewed in context, recognizing that for nearly four decades almost all of the economic gains have gone to those at the top, while the most workers’ real wages have been flat, or even shrinking. This trend, which started in the early ’80s under Reagan, has multiple causes, but the tax cuts of that era, as well as those that came during the first term of George W. Bush, overwhelmingly benefited the well-heeled and were major factors in increasing inequality.

The U.S. has one of the most skewed wealth distributions of any developed nation. The top one percent holds more than 40 percent of our combined wealth, and the top 10 percent of the population holds nearly three-quarters. Meanwhile, the bottom 60 percent—likely including most reading this—owns less than five percent of all assets. Such inequality is a hardship for those barely making ends meet, and it also leads to a weakened macro-economy; drowning in debt and without sufficient aggregate demand.

Estate Tax Repeal:  Only the richest among us pay this tax. It only kicks in for inheritances greater than $11 million for a couple or $5.5 million for an individual, which means 99.8 percent of estates are exempt. Trump’s children, and those of his wealthy cabinet members, would benefit from this handsomely. Retaining the estate tax is important, because it puts on the brakes, at least somewhat, on the creation of vast, intergenerational fortunes.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Repeal:  The AMT keeps high income individuals from taking so many deductions they get away nearly tax free. While Trump has refused to release any of his tax returns, a partial tax return from 2005 was leaked to the media. Based upon this we know that, if not for the AMT, Trump would have paid 85 percent less that year ($5.3 million rather than $36.5 million). If the wealthy don’t pay the AMT, the rest of us will have to pay more.

Impact on Students: There are dozens of other changes that would be made in the code if some version of the bills currently before Congress passes. One of the more egregious set of changes is those that will affect college students and former students who have outstanding student loans. These include the elimination of the deduction—up to $2,500 per year—for interest paid on student loans. Over the term of these loans this will likely cost the borrowers many thousands of dollars.

Other provisions would adversely impact primarily graduate students. This includes the elimination of the exclusion from taxation of income received while working as a graduate teaching assistant when the teaching is considered an educational requirement. Another is the proposal to treat as taxable income tuition that is waived for graduate students. This same provision would hurt families whose children of faculty and staff who are presently allowed to attend school for free or at a reduced charge at many schools, including Mizzou.

Additional Concerns:  There are many other concerns, from changes in tax brackets that benefit the wealthy to the elimination of the personal exemption, to the elimination of numerous current deductions (medical expense, moving, etc.), that will hurt working families, while benefits go to corporations and other businesses.

It seems that the administration and their Congressional allies are counting on much of the population not looking closely at what’s in these bills and accepting their big lie—repeated over and over—that this is primarily a “middle class tax cut.” It’s up to us to make it clear just what is in these bills and how they would impact all of us.

We need to help our fellow citizens to see that, while these bills are complex, the bottom line is that we are staring down a massive give-away to the wealthy, who least need “tax relief.” Moreover, increasing the deficit by cutting taxes leads inexorably to further cuts in essential programs, doing grievous harm to middle and low-income citizens.

We encourage all Peaceworks members and supporters to please learn more and, whatever your perspective on this is, to please make your voice heard, including communicating your concerns to Congress.

Dissidents Rising to the Challenge

We are dissidents. For nearly 36 years Peaceworks has challenged the status quo. We’ve questioned the logic of a nuclear arms race. We’ve opposed wars—popular and unpopular alike; waged by both Republicans and Democrats. We’ve advocated phasing out fossil fuels and nuclear power. We’ve opposed the undue influence of powerful corporations and the wealthy people who own them.

Peaceworks has raised our collective voice in opposition to the race-to-the-bottom sort of globalization exemplified by the WTO and TPP. We’ve defended civil liberties and privacy, while promoting inclusion and equal rights for all. We’ve questioned the irrational belief of infinite growth in a finite system and worked to promote a vision of a livable, peaceful, egalitarian and sustainable future.

We’ve praised elected officials when they’ve taken actions we agree with. But, more often than not, we’ve spoken out regarding the misdirected policies and actions they’ve pursued. The need to question, while it’s always been present, has never been as great as it is today in the era of Trump. And the same goes for the need to propose and promote real solutions.

At a time when every day brings a new outrage, we are consistently speaking out, contacting elected officials, demonstrating, petitioning and more. A big part of what we do, however, is to educate. This allows us to not only respond to what’s immediately in front of us, but also to help create a society that is better informed; one that includes more people in the know and ready to act on that knowledge.

Put another way, we are working to transform the social order by creating a society of well-informed dissidents.

We encourage you to learn more and engage in informed discussion on the issues with fellow citizens. In the near future we will be hosting three important informational events. Please join us for:

The Climate Crisis remains right up at the top of our list, given the existential threat it presents. The ascendance of deniers and delayers under Trump has only increased the urgency of our work. On Thursday, Nov. 2 we will be hosting a free screening of the excellent Naomi Klein documentary “This Changes Everything.” The film will be shown at 7 p.m. in Rm. 1 of MU’s Arts and Science Building. For more info CLICK HERE.

The nuclear threat is also right up there along with climate change in our list of concerns exacerbated by the rise of Trump. On the evening of Thursday, Nov. 9. Steven Starr, an internationally recognized expert, will be speaking on the subject “The Increasing Danger of Nuclear War and its Consequences”. This will be held at 7 p.m. in Rm. 210 of MU’s Strickland Hall. For more info CLICK HERE.

And, while individual action alone is not sufficient to address the Climate Crisis, it is necessary.  For that reason, on Thursday, Nov. 30 we will be hosting a talk on “Living a Low-Carbon Lifestyle,” presented by Peaceworks Director Mark Haim. This will be held at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room of the Columbia Public Library. For more info CLICK HERE.

Finally, in addition to education, we need to put a little celebration into our activist lives and thus we are holding Peaceworks’ 31st Annual Dinner on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Missouri United Methodist Church. All details for this are available if you CLICK HERE.

Your engaged participation will help us all to, in the words of Naomi Klein, “win the world we need.”

Finding Our Bearings in a Turbulent Time—Finding Meaningful Engagement & Making a Difference.

Are you finding it difficult to tune in to the news? If so, you’re not alone.

Each day we are assaulted: saber-rattling with nuclear swords, complete with name-calling in the mode of junior high school bullies; repeated attempts to sabotage healthcare, throwing tens of millions off their insurance; proposals to dramatically cut the taxes of the one percent, clumsily disguised as “middle class tax cuts;” escalations of wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, along with one deal after another to sell billions of dollars in weapons to U.S. proxies including Saudi Arabia (currently involved in a near-genocidal war in Yemen); attacks on immigrants, including the suspension of DACA and renewed push for a scantly disguised Muslim travel ban; attacks on voting rights, neo-Nazis marching in our streets and the dismantling of programs designed to reform police departments; attacks on the transgender community; the push to end all efforts to address the Climate Crisis and dramatically expand fossil fuel production; and, of course, the list goes on and on.

It seems that there is each day a new distraction. This week it’s been the attacks on athletes taking a stand (or a knee) to demonstrate concerns about racism. And, right on the heels of this, attacks on major media outlets. Instead of being concerned about illegal election ads on Facebook, Trump wants us to believe that Facebook is “anti-Trump,” along with the “fake news” outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times. And they seem to think that by telling us they doing a “great job” in Puerto Rico that it will make it so, despite the fact that millions of people are without power, food, fuel, healthcare or potable water.

So, yes, if you’re finding it difficult, you’re certainly not alone. And yet, tuning out and shutting down is no answer; or perhaps it’s the “answer” Donald Trump hopes you will choose.

We, on the other hand, urge you to redouble your efforts and to do so in ways that will allow your sustained engagement.

“Easier said than done,” you say?

Well, we didn’t say this is easy, but we do recognize it as essential. So, if you’re getting pulled in a dozen different directions, all at once, perhaps it’s time to step back, get perspective and decide what to prioritize.

This is a discernment process in which we each evaluate various variables including the potential impact of, and the likelihood of, success or failure on a given front. We each must also combine rational analysis with visceral or emotional concern we hold regarding various issues. There is likewise a matter of evaluating tactics and strategies. Some of us are more drawn to lobbying, others to demonstrating, some to doing educational outreach, still others to the electoral arena, etc. Not that these are mutually exclusive, of course.

And we each must figure out which organization or organizations are best to work with and support. Having colleagues or comrades in the work is, for most of us, essential. And group efforts generally have greater impact than we would see from the same people each working on their own.

Recognizing that “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something,” we hope you’ll find a niche and apply your time and talents to making a difference.

We, at Peaceworks are highly conscious of the connections between all the issues, and we avoid ranking the work we’re doing as top issues, more urgent than any others. We understand there are lives and basic human rights, as well as the health of our environment, which are at stake. We are all struggling, on so many fronts. We urge our members and supporters to act in solidarity with all progressive struggles. At the same time, we also recognize the need to concentrate attention in a focused way, on a particular piece, or set of pieces, of the overall jigsaw puzzle, so as to maximize our impact.

This said, Peaceworks is focusing primarily on the existential threats. We’d like to urge you to consider making Climate Action and/or peace advocacy top tier issues and here are some of the reasons why:

Where the Climate Crisis Fits in This

If you are considering options for involvement, we would like to suggest you consider actively engaging as part of the movement to address the Climate Crisis. There are several reasons for this. First of all, is the unique timeline we face on this front. While whenever there is suffering and dislocation there is a sense of urgency, the climate crisis is different in that, when certain lines are crossed, and tipping points reached, it will become humanly impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

The scientific consensus is that this is the decade to turn things around on climate, to avoid shooting way past the absolute target of a global temperature rise of no more than two degrees Celsius (many scientists now say, and the Paris Accord acknowledges, that we’d be on much safer ground with this being no more than 1.5C). And, as an existential threat, Climate Change, if not arrested, holds the potential to make our other concerns moot points.

So, we need to be reducing emissions right now and big time. However, we’ve got a climate change denier in the White House, denier officials all around him and a denier Congress. There is, therefore both a real urgency in reaching our elected officials with enough pressure to bring them around, and also to work around them, to press forward for climate action at local and state levels.

We continue to do what we can to keep the big picture climate issue front and center, generate political pressure, as we can, and to simultaneously focus on getting our local governments, including the City of Columbia, to move forward. We have urged the City Council to press for a city Climate Action Plan, which they have agreed to do, and urged that it commits to ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reductions, including the goal of zero emissions by 2050. We are still working to get the latter adopted.

Another aspect to consider, while many of our fellow citizens have embraced either doubter or denier positions, it seems likely that the recent incredible string of extreme weather events might be opening the eyes of these folks to at least considering that the climate needs our attention. This, therefore, is an excellent time to be reaching out to our neighbors. To do this successfully, however, requires more people power.

Summing it up, when it comes to the climate, we’re on deadline, folks, and we’re also operating at a moment when we have a real shot at turning public opinion in our favor.

The Challenge of Peace Advocacy

When it comes to the war and peace front, “challenge” is an appropriate term to use. Our economy has been on a wartime footing since World War II, our nation has been involved in hot wars continuously since 9/11, yet most of our fellow citizens seem unconcerned. Unlike Vietnam, it’s not them, or their kids, who are facing a draft or being sent abroad to kill and possibly die. Much of the populace has also been cowed into a profound fear of the so-called “evildoers”—the terrorists—who are out to get us, because they “hate our freedom.” Most of our fellow citizens are unaware of the role that U.S. has played in making enemies around the world.

The Afghan War, which, in about a week, will have dragged on for fully 16 years, and the struggle against ISIS—a group that traces its origins directly to the illegal 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq—are getting relatively little media attention. Likewise, most citizens seem only vaguely aware of the huge price we all pay to have a Permanent War Economy. Few know that, when it comes to the military, U.S. taxpayers are spending as much as those of the next seven biggest spending nations, combined. Or, that most of these are U.S. allies.

Present and past wars, and the preparation for more war are costing us in the range of a trillion dollars a year, and it’s hard to see how we can right our economy and get it on a path to sustainability unless we stop dumping hundreds of billions down the military rat-hole are begin a process of negotiating mutual, verifiable and incremental disarmament.

The one area, in the realm of war and peace that has been generating headlines of late is the issue that our organization was founded upon back in 1982: the threat posed by nuclear weapons. Specifically, at the moment, all eyes are on North Korea.

While the emergence of N. Korea as the world’s ninth nuclear weapons state is concerning, we, at Peaceworks, believe that we have to “get the log our of our own eye.” The U.S. for decades has flouted its commitments under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty to work for universal nuclear disarmament. Most Americans haven’t even heard about the Ban Treaty, negotiated by 123 nations earlier this year at the United Nations, this new treaty calls for a universal ban on these doomsday devices, but the U.S. refused to even participate in the negotiations.

Peace education and advocacy are, indeed, difficult, but they are necessary. This is especially true because support for the Military-Industrial-Complex and the project of U.S. global hegemony is largely bipartisan. Every Democratic president since FDR has embraced militarism and war-making. While there are some dovish Dems, most establishment figures in the party, including their 2016 presidential nominee and our senior U.S. Senator are very hawkish.

Efforts like our weekly Rush Hour Peace Demos, seen by thousands of our fellow citizens each week, are a reminder to many that the wars drag on, and that they are not unopposed. We bear witness to the immorality of Endless War, and of the fact that these costly attempts at global domination are actually making us less secure.

And, given the existential threat that nuclear weapons present, activism on this front really does need to be ramped up and taken seriously. The “unthinkable” is clearly, under Trump, who threatens to “destroy North Korea,” a country of 25 million human beings, thinkable again. We think it is time for opposition to this insanity to be visible and vocal again.

You Can Make a Difference

If you are interested in checking out opportunities to work with us on either the climate or the war and peace fronts, please contact us. You can do this by e-mail at mail@midmopeaceworks.org or by calling us at 573-875-0539 and asking for Mark. As Joan Baez wrote in a lyric penned back in 1972:

"And we're still marching in the streets with little victories and big defeats
But there is joy and there is hope and there's a place for you."

Get Ready to Walk for the Climate!

This lovely Walk logo will appear on our 2017 Walk T-shirts. Get yours by raising, or contributing $50 or more.

 Peaceworks invites you to rally and walk with us on Sunday, Sept. 24. Walk for the Climate is both a community awareness-raiser and a fundraiser. We will be walking five kilometers (approximately three miles) and urge you to walk the whole distance or whatever portion works for you.

We also encourage you to walk with us whether or not you raise funds. This said, our goal this year is to have at least 100 people raise at least $50 each to reach our goal of raising an additional $5K needed for Peaceworks’ climate action efforts. So, if you can help raise some of these funds it would be super.

All are invited to participate. Invite friends to walk. You can sponsor yourself. You can ask friends and family to sponsor you. There will be prizes for those who raise the most money and those who get the most donations. All contributions are tax-deductible. Checks should be made to Peaceworks. You can access a sponsor sheet by clicking HERE. Or you can pick one up at the Peace Nook.

All participants who come to the walk on Sept. 24 with at least $50 in contributions will receive a free “Walk for the Climate” T-shirt (see design above). The shirts will be printed ASAP after the walk, when we know how many we need, and in what sizes.

We will gather at Courthouse Plaza (8th & Walnut) for sign-in between 1:00-1:45. Excellent music during the gathering time provided by Pippa and the Straw Men. We rally at 1:45. The Walk begins at 2 p.m. Event is rain or shine. Bring raingear if needed. In the event of rain, sign-in will be in the Commission Chambers of the Boone Government Ctr. We’ll have some signs and banners, but more are welcome.

Walk 5K. Help us raise $5K!