Reporter’s Alert: Part III

By Ralph Nader

Reporters at major newspapers and magazines are hard to reach by telephone. Today it is increasingly hard to converse with them about timely scoops, leads, gaps in coverage, and corrections to published articles.

We just started an online webpage: Reporter’s Alert. From time to time, we will use Reporter’s Alert to present suggestions for important reporting on topics that are either not covered or not covered thoroughly. Reporting that just nibbles on the periphery won’t attract much public attention or be noticed by decision-makers. Here is the third installment of suggestions:

1. Over the past decade the subordination, on a grand scale, of revenue-based spending to debt-incurring spending, has steadily evolved. In recent months, the pace has quickened. This kind of spending has become an increasingly bipartisan practice. Since the Covid-19 pandemic started the federal government has approved spending nearly five trillion dollars relating to pandemic rescues and stimuli expenditures. This outlay was entirely deficit-financed.

The Republicans primarily objected to the amount of spending, while the Democrats avoided any serious effort to restore the immense Trump tax cuts for the super-wealthy and mega-corporations – notwithstanding Joe Biden’s rhetoric in a major pre-inauguration address. This kind of spending imposes grotesque economic burdens on future generations. The children and grandchildren will pay later for deficit-financing of the $300 per month being granted to children today. Shame on today’s Congressional “adults”!

Has increasing or restoring revenues become a taboo for both Parties? The more Members of Congress get away with such spending, the more they’ll keep increasing the red ink numbers. Reporters should be alert to history, logic, and arithmetic. Spotlight the sugar-daddy consequences now and later.

2. Why are all those lawsuits against Trump – tort and criminal cases – taking so long to mature? Obviously, Trump’s lawyers are stonewalling and delaying; but the judges who control these adjudications need to keep the legal process moving. Trial lawyers shake their heads at how long it is taking for the legal challenges to Trump to move forward.

James D. Zirin has written a book on the 3500 lawsuits brought by and against Trump in his long career (Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits). Even, he is having some difficulty explaining the extraordinary delays. Reporters – dig in and help us understand. If Trump could delay all cases for at least four years or more, what does this say about rule of law?

3. New York State is grappling with large deficits due to reduced revenues from the pandemic’s effects. There is nothing especially new here. What is unique about the Empire State is that it has, since 1982, collected and rebated approximately $350 billion in “stock transfer taxes.” The money rebated just last year is about what this year’s state deficit is expected to be. This minuscule sales tax on stocks, bonds, and derivatives transactions amounts to about, on average, 5 cents per $100 in sales – a tiny fraction of one percent. Compare this to the 8% sales tax New Yorkers have to pay on their purchases of necessities and wants. This stock transfer tax is a “progressive” sales tax since the upper-income rapid traders would pay the bulk of it.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been asked about this obvious need to keep, not rebate, the tax (which NY State kept from early 1900 to 1982). Cuomo shrugs it off. Opponents of the stock tax make the ridiculous claim that Wall Street would move to New Jersey to escape a tax, the likes of which Japan, the UK, Kenya, and other countries were or are collecting.

Why isn’t there yet serious reporting on this timely and important issue in The New York Times? Other major media covering New York (Tom Precious of The Buffalo News, Michael Gormley of Newsday, and Rachel Silberstein and Claire Bryan of the Albany Times Union, have at least made an effort to alert the public about this debate).

This is more than a one-day story, far from it. A new Zogby Poll just out shows strong majorities of New Yorkers favoring this stock sales tax and provides additional positive results when questions suggest infrastructure uses for the money. For more information, you can contact Jim Henry (globalhavenindustry.com), Assemblyman Phil Steck (nyassembly.gov), and NYPIRG’s Blair Horner (nypirg.org).

4. On a lighter side, what’s happening to comedy in the time of sudden politically correct terminations? It would be interesting to hear from the writers, performers, artists, and others about their views, experiences, and positions on obliterating past “infractions” throughout comedic history. What are the writers and performers self-censoring within a free medium where “anything goes?” What does the creative class think about the attacks on provocative cartoons, comic strips, stand-up comedy, ethnic joke books (which used to be wildly popular), and even political satire? What about “Saturday Night Live” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”?

Reporters could pursue this story in many surprising directions and uncover surprising dissenting views from the conventional sanctions which presently are in the ascendancy. Remember, some dictators have been known to go into their greatest rages against the “cartoon” part of the media. Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” made Hitler squirm. Do you wonder why? “In humor there is truth.” Satire has a long history of exposing the flaws of political leaders with less censorship than other forms of criticism.

5. Government guarantees are regularly used to prop up corporate capitalism. Government guarantees for corporations go beyond the usual corporate welfare of direct subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts. Many hundreds of billions of dollars in outstanding loan guarantees expand a stealth form of “corporate socialism” where the privatization of profit and the socialization of risks and misconduct displaces capitalist canons. Normally, but not always, authorized by Congress without clear standards or open administrative processes, these loan guarantees from Uncle Sam are granted for everything from huge cost overruns in nuclear power plant construction (e.g., Georgia and South Carolina) to the customers of U.S. exporters (e.g., Boeing).

Many federal departments and agencies participate in this cushy guaranteed-loan racket that has had bipartisan support and almost no Congressional oversight. Whether corporations are too big to fail, corrupt, or mismanaged, but politically connected, or too averse to traditional acceptance of business risk and market verdicts, their CEOs and their banks are happy to take loan guarantees and still complain about the federal government.

This arena offers options for enormous multidirectional media pursuits. The secrecy here needs to be subjected to FOIAs, exposed by whistleblowers, and examined through rigorous Congressional hearings. (See: goodjobsfirst.org).

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