My Turn: Elephants in the room: Tax day 2021



Published: 4/29/2021 1:17:06 PM

On Tax Day, there’s more than one elephant in the room, and they’re all in mansions.

   Elephants occupy the bulging mansions of 657 American billionaires, 43 of them new this past pandemic year. Their combined wealth soared to $4.2 trillion — up $1.3 trillion — between March 21, 2020 and February 6, 2021. During this same period, more than 78 million working people lost their jobs.

Someone has spotted these elephants in their mansions: Sen. Elizabeth Warren and colleagues in the House have proposed the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act. Millionaires would pay 2 cents on every dollar of wealth above $50 million; and billionaires, 3 cents on every dollar of wealth above a $1 billion. Would they even feel it? Couldn’t these mega-rich afford more like a nickel and 10 cents tax on a dollar respectively, given that most of the 2017 Trump-Republican tax cuts accrue to them?

But the biggest tax day elephant in the room resides in the five-sided military mansion, the Pentagon, with its criminally large budget — nearly a trillion dollars each year siphoned from our tax dollars. Why criminal? Consider these five facts.

Wars unwon, trillions spent, and millions of innocent dead: Since the early 1950s Korean War, the U.S. has waged both short, quick and long, largely unwinnable wars against non-Western and darker-skinned people and overturned governments “not in out national interest” (translate “we don’t like them”): from Iran, Vietnam, Granada, Libya and Panama, to Afghanistan and Iraq. Even the majority of recent U.S. war veterans do not support the wars they fought in.

Arming the world: In 2020 the U.S. supplied 37% of major weapons sold that year to 96 countries, thereby feeding war and starving people. Saudi Arabia received one-quarter of our arms, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in waging its war and blockade on Yemen, with our tax dollar weapons. What God blesses America for starving, maiming and killing the children of Yemen?

Climate crisis and pollution: The U.S. military is the largest institutional user of oil in the world, and thus, the largest institutional contributor to climate crisis. If the military were a country, the Department of Defense would rank 47th out of 197 countries for its greenhouse gas emission.

Ruse of “national security”: Our politicians never consult the public about what makes us feel secure in order to give us a voice defining national security. Were we polled, I would wager that a quick recovery from the pandemic; secure jobs with a living wage; quality education for children; safe roads and bridges; affordable housing, and investing in renewables to protect from climate crises would rank up there, above threats from China.

But inside the Pentagon mansion the reverse priorities rule. The Department of Defense and its weapons contractors want to increase defense spending annually by 3-5% to ready for war with China, which is now seen as our No. 1 national security threat for its economic and military power. And the Senate and Congress, with the exception of 50 House Democrats, buy into this Beltway obsession with national security through military superiority, even though we don’t win wars and our veterans have a higher rate of suicide than the rest of the population.

Defense industry coddled during pandemic; “weapons before citizens”: The chief pandemic profiteer Lockheed Martin received an estimated $450 million to keep its supply chain for weapons funded. So generous was the advance funding that the company advertised thousands of new jobs during the pandemic. Major weapons contractors Raytheon and Northrop Grumman reported being satisfied in meeting their customers’ needs throughout the pandemic.

Let’s take a look at how our tax money is being spent this year.

Fifty-five cents of each dollar we paid in our discretionary taxes went to support the military, our wars, weapons, and bases, including 800 military bases abroad and military operations in an estimated 150 countries.

A few pennies of each discretionary tax dollar went to support each of these essential human security needs: environmental protection, education, housing, public health, food and agriculture, research on renewable energy, road and bridges, public lands and parks, diplomacy and more.

We know where national priorities lie when the military weapons’ contractors were thrown a lifeline and every other sector was doled Band-Aids through whittled down temporary relief acts. This will only shift if the child social security becomes permanent, a living wage of $15 or more is mandated, we invest our tax dollars in an inspired, committed public sector and prize diplomacy in contexts of potential conflict.

Pat Hynes, a retired professor of environmental health, is a board member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Justice.


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