Policing America’s Plutocracy

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Law enforcement officers should enforce the law. America’s hardliners on immigration really believe that, and so does President Trump. They want local police out looking for illegal immigrants and actively helping “the feds” deport them.

Local police officials – in many communities – would much rather not. Kansas City chief of police Terry Zeigler, for one, doesn’t see deporting immigrants as part of his job description.

“Everybody wants to live the American Dream, that’s why they come here,” Zeigler just observed, “and as long as they’re not committing crimes, we’re okay with that.”

Zeigler’s perspective – which is shared by many big-city police chiefs – frustrates the officials that President Donald Trump now has running U.S. immigration policy. And new polling shows that hefty swatches of the public share that frustration.

The law’s the law, many Americans clearly feel. Local police shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose which laws they enforce. And hence, they should start coming down hard on the dirt-poor people who violate federal immigration law.

But why? Especially when no one’s clamoring for local police to enforce the federal laws rich people break.

And rich people do break federal laws – most notably on taxes – all the time. America’s mega-rich regularly park their assets in offshore tax havens, where their wealth can earn income that federal tax collectors can’t touch or even see.

This illegal tax evasion has been going on for some time. Alarm bells were ringing back in the late 1930s when Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau briefed President Franklin Roosevelt about the dummy offshore corporations wealthy Americans were starting to set up.

Those bells are ringing even louder today.

“The schemes to evade taxes have become more numerous and complex, the number of offshore jurisdictions with little or no taxes or responsible government supervision has increased, and the amount of taxes now evaded has grown in proportion,” as Morgenthau’s son, New York prosecutor Robert Morgenthau, put the matter a few years ago.

The economist Gabriel Zucman estimates that the global rich have hidden away 8 percent of the world’s wealth, about $7.6 trillion. They’re illegally saving themselves at least $200 billion a year in taxes.

Rich Americans figure to be doing a good bit of that saving – the United States hosts more $100-million fortunes than the world’s next nine richest nations combined – but we don’t know exactly how much.

The IRS does try to estimate how much in overall federal taxes owed goes unpaid. One academic analysis of the IRS data concludes that Americans reporting between $500,000 and $1 million of income are underplaying their real incomes by a whopping 21 percent, triple the “misreport” rate of taxpayers making between $30,000 and $50,000.

What could local law enforcement in the United States do to get at this chronic law-breaking by the rich on federal taxes?

A few years back, officials in Italy, a country notorious for tax evasion, had law enforcement personnel swoop down on luxury ski reports and seaside spas to ferret out evidence of tax evasion. At one resort, police found 42 super-luxury cars — average price, over $250,000 — registered to owners reporting less than $25,000 in income.

Local police in the United States could conceivably do likewise. On the highways, for instance, they could keep a special eye out for speeding high-priced luxury cars, then pass the driver data to the IRS for special audit attention.

America’s rich – and their benefactors in the new Trump administration – would almost certainly erupt in immediate outrage at a crackdown along those lines. And we can well understand why. After all, to paraphrase the late tax-evading billionaire Leona Helmsley, everybody who’s anybody knows that “only the little people” should ever face crackdowns.

***

Reposted from Our Future.

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Campaign for America's Future

Union Matters

Saving the Nation’s Parks

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

The wildfires ravaging the West Coast not only pose imminent danger to iconic national parks like Crater Lake in Oregon and the Redwoods in California, but threaten the future of all of America’s beloved scenic places.

As climate change fuels the federal government’s need to spend more of National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Forest Service budgets on wildfire suppression, massive maintenance backlogs and decrepit infrastructure threaten the entire system of national parks and forests.

A long-overdue infusion of funds into the roads, bridges, tunnels, dams and marinas in these treasured spaces would generate jobs and preserve landmark sites for generations to come.

The infrastructure networks in the nation’s parks long have failed to meet modern-day demand. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave parks a D+ rating in its 2017 infrastructure report card, citing chronic underfunding and deferred maintenance.

Just this year, a large portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is owned and managed by the NPS, collapsed due to heavy rains and slope failures. Projects to prevent disasters like this one get pushed further down the road as wildfire management squeezes agency budgets more each year.

Congress recently passed the Great American Outdoors Act,  allocating billions in new funding for the NPS.

But that’s just a first step in a long yet vital process to bring parks and forests to 21st-century standards. America’s big, open spaces cannot afford to suffer additional neglect.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work