By James A. Kidney
America is in serious trouble. It is breaking apart at the seams. There is no consensus between the progressives and the conservatives on nearly any issue. Although the blue states contain more voters of a progressive or liberal bent than conservatives, and constitute a plurality of the population, the constitutional structure of the Senate insures that the red states, with an average of 80 people per square mile, will be able to block legislation favored by blue states, with five times the population per square mile and squarely different issues at stake. But no one will debate these issues.
Tuesday night’s Republican debate will contain no real surprises of substance, only the possibility of a gaffe here or there which probably will be treated by the GOP “base” as a one-finger salute to the political leadership. It doesn’t really matter if each WSJ/Fox News panelist is a model of Edward R. Murrow or Chris Rock (there have been both in the past). Good questioners grounded in facts will still lack the tools of corporal punishment required to make the candidates actually answer good questions. There oughta’ be a law at least permitting a cream pie in the face to candidates who just run to their prepared text or “answer” by attacking the questioner. Still, one hopes for better questions, so that at least those not part of the brainwashed base can more easily defend them in the inevitable finger-pointing aftermath of Wednesday morning.
In any event, the Big Lie is the foundation of the Republican Party philosophy, whether expressed by outliers such as Ted Cruz or Establishment figures such as Jeb Bush. That lie is that Business, including or especially Big Business, will be the nation’s savior if only Government would get out of the way and taxes were cut for everyone, but especially the wealthy. It is imperative to the GOP that the Lie not be exposed or even recognized as such.
Let’s see how just the events of the last couple of weeks have tended to show what happens when we rely on businessmen to be responsible for the future of the Republic.
- Pfizer Pharmaceutical, best known for the drugs Lipitor, Viagra and Zoloft, and non-prescription products Advil, Centrum and ChapStick, is trying for a third time to merge with a nominally “foreign” corporation, Allergan, to take advantage of Ireland’s corporate tax breaks. News of the proposed acquisition of Allergen for this purpose came on the heels of Pfizer’s announcement that third quarter 2015 revenues increased 4 percent on a standalone basis and totaled $12.1 billion, including a recent acquisition. Net income was $2.1 billion, or 17 percent of revenue. R&D expenses for the quarter were $1.7 billion, or 14 percent of total revenue. In other words, Pfizer is hugely profitable but still spends less on R&D than it receives in net revenue. But Pfizer is a leader in crying how unfairly it is taxed. The company estimated that its effective tax rate on adjusted income for 2015 would be “approximately 25%.” This is well under the top corporate tax rate of 35 percent in the U.S., but far less than the 12 percent Pfizer would pay in Ireland. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, Pfizer paid no U.S. income taxes from 2010 to 2012 while earning $43 billion worldwide. Instead, it received $2.2 billion in federal tax refunds. For some reason, Pfizer believes federal tax treatment is still unfair.
- The New York Times just completed a series of articles on how corporations have imposed on their customers a requirement that they arbitrate any dispute with them. This kills the possibility of a class action suit and often results in an extremely one-sided proceeding for wronged individuals. Guess whose side gets the extra protection from arbitrators beholding to their corporate retainers? The judicial system, often a handmaiden to the wealthy, is further hollowed out by this tactic.
- Meanwhile, the Koch brothers and other utility companies continue to battle in the name of destroying the environment. Undoubtedly it is their political clout which caused attorneys general from 17 states to challenge the latest EPA air quality rules in court, claiming the rules would impose millions in additional costs on rate payers.
- A pair of researchers, using Center for Disease Control data, concluded that the mortality rate for middle aged white guys is rising due to suicide, drugs and alcohol – basically, self-medicated depression. It is the only cohort in the national population for which the mortality rate is rising, and is directly related, analysts suggest, to the demise of the manufacturing base and the unwillingness of wealthy corporate chieftains to share the wealth with pay raises and benefits such as those the parents of this prematurely dying generation had.
As business weeks go, this was a relatively humdrum one. No corporate executives got charged with a criminal offense, at least not one that got much attention.
How many of these issues will be raised in the debate tomorrow is anyone’s guess. The last bullet point is likely to make the cut, but the only result will be to claim that President Obama is the cause of manufacturing loss, not American business, which has been exporting jobs for at least 40 years. To suggest business or the wealthy have a hand in the matter would be to bite that hand, which feeds the party sumptuously. For example:
Until October, Jeb Bush was considered the likely GOP presidential nominee with the greatest financial support from business and political leaders. According to the Center for Responsive Politics calculations, based on Federal Elections Commission data released August 17, 2015, before Bush’s steep popularity decline was recognized, the top industries contributing to Jeb Bush’s superpac, Right to Rise USA, were Wall Street (“securities and investment”) at over $26 million, the oil and gas industry at over $9 million and real estate at nearly $7 million.
Right to Rise had raised over $103 million and spent nearly $32 million to elect Bush as of August. The largest donor (over $3 million) as of August was “individuals” at MBF Healthcare Partners, a South Florida hedge fund specializing in acquisition of businesses in the healthcare sector. It is owned by Mike Fernandez, a Cuban immigrant who was called “Florida’s Newest Billionaire” in a profile by a Florida business publication this month. Not much doubt what “individual” made the huge donation.
The second largest donor (over $2 million) was Rooney Holdings, owned by Frank Rooney, who recently defected and now supports Marco Rubio.
Some candidates, like Carson, are getting much support from small individual donors – so far. When someone becomes a clear frontrunner, Big Business and the One Percenters will be quick to chip in. Yes, Clinton also has donors, especially Wall Street, but beyond finance and lawyers (very important exceptions), she has not attracted much from the corporate arena in other areas of commerce. Sanders, of course, is almost entirely supported by small contributions, including from the retired and academia (which Clinton also shares). No Democrat has yet attracted the extraordinary business and One Percenter contributions even approaching the Republicans, at least through organizations subject to reporting requirements.
So when issues of income inequality are raised, if they are raised, even tenderly by the debate questioners, you will not find a single candidate critical of the truly damaging actors in America’s overall economic decline, even as income inequality becomes literally lethal. Obama will not get an ounce of credit for saving the nation from a Depression or for beating Mitt Romney’s timetable to achieve five percent unemployment. The record is stuck for the GOP on Obama blame. Any other tune is off limits.
 Hillary Clinton has raised the largest amount of campaign funds through her campaign committee, Hillary for America. As of October 16, 2015, the Center reports she had raised $77 million through the committee. Retired persons were the number one category of contributors, who, unlike superpac donors, must comply with donation limits under federal law. The retired gave over $7 million, followed by lawyers at $6.7 million and “business services” at $2.2 million. Wall Street came in fourth at nearly $2 million.
Bernie Sanders also relies principally on his campaign committee, which has raised $41.5 million, mostly from small donors. His biggest contributor as of October 16 reporting released by the FEC was Google, with employees there donating over $64,000, followed by the University of California ($33,000), Microsoft ($20,102) and the University of Illinois and Apple at about $16,000 each. As with Clinton, retired persons were the largest “industry” contributing to Sanders, followed by education, lawyers and health professionals.
 Much campaign money cannot be tracked because it is spent by independent PACs that pose as social issue non-profits and do not have to report their donors. However, at this stage of the campaign, they are believed to principally be supporting Republican candidates in the hotly contested race. Sanders is unlikely to receive support from such PACs and Clinton does not yet need such support for “issues.”