Those who cannot remember the past...
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
I have used that statement, originated by the Spanish American poet and philosopher, George Santayana, so often in past articles, I hesitated to use it again, but for the fact that it is particularly relevant to the following two articles that have appeared here in Viewpointe in the past. As you will read, the subjects dealt with then, reappeared recently in the news several years later. It is generally recognized that history repeats itself. The more crucial question, as posed by Santayana is this, “Is the populace capable of recognizing that the past provide a lesson for the present?” Is it human nature, sheer ignorance, or both that all too often provide a negative answer to that question? The date, title and a brief description of the past articles are provided in the event you might be interested in going to the archive section of my blog (listed below) to observe how the past often comes back to haunt the present––not always beneficially.
July 2005 and August 2007–– Pharmaceutical Follies:
In 2004 a veritable army of 6,000 lobbyists induced Congress to provide a tax incentive for corporations to bring back $312 billion in profits earned by their overseas subsidiaries. The rationale for the legislation (titled the “American Job Creation Act”), signed by President Bush appeared to be a worthy aspiration. The incentive sought by the companies was a one year amnesty that would allow the repatriation of overseas corporate profits by reducing the tax rate on those profits from 35 percent to a ridiculously low 5.2 percent––quite an incentive. In July 2005, an article in Viewpointe harshly criticized the legislation, suggesting the more appropriate and realistic title should have read, ‘The Foreign Tax Giveaway to Big Pharma Act.’”
By 2007, the true nature of the consequences of the legislation had been revealed and this was profiled that year in the August issue of Viewpointe. The legislation was promoted as a means by which the amnesty participants were to use the repatriated funds to create jobs, expand capital investments, and increase research and development, activities that the companies originally promised to implement.
What Really Happened
In fact just the opposite happened. A National Bureau of Economic Research study estimated that corporations brought back $312 billion, 92 percent of which was returned to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks. That same study reported that contrary to promises made, “For every dollar that was brought back, there was zero cents used for additional capital expenditures, research and development, or hiring and employee wages.”
Another study determined that 93 of the country’s biggest multinational firms pulled in tax savings of more than $62 billion — after spending just $283 million to lobby for the bill. The professors concluded that almost 500 companies got an average 22,000 percent return on their lobbying investments. Not too shabby.
One More Time
On June 20th this year, a headline from The New York Times read, “Companies Push For a Tax Break On Foreign Cash.” That’s right. Using the exact same specious promises that never materialized the first time, major corporations are lobbying once again for the same rules that allowed them to avoid paying their fair share as required by tax law. How much money is involved? The Wall Street Journal wrote, “One trillion dollars [more than three times the last amount] is roughly the extent of earnings that American companies have in their foreign operations—funds that they could repatriate to the United States. That money, in turn, could be invested in U.S. jobs, capital assets, research and development, and more.” (My bold). They have got to be kidding––but no. This is a typical example of where the news media chooses not to remember the past.
Talk about forgetting history (and the facts). Do you remember the classic example used to define the word “Chutzpah? It describes the child who murders his parents, and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he's an orphan. I think that any new effort to resurrect another tax amnesty act will replace that definition.
Business as Usual
The 2007 article recalled the phrase, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” I described the piper as Congressional politicians, and the “payers” (bribers would be the more accurate term), being the profit rich companies (who are already savoring the thought of another tax bonanza), with the lobbyists as their agents. With one trillion dollars as the prize, I don’t see how the magnitude of this potential tax giveaway could escape the efforts of the ever awaiting hordes of the lobbying community, and the usual suspects, our hands out, open pockets, take campaign funds at any cost, politicians.
We have to hope that the usual short memory of the American public does not demonstrate the accuracy of Mr. Santayana’s observation. What we can count on however is the validity of the end of my 2007 article wherein I quoted Mark Twain’s aphorism from 75 years ago, “We have the best Congress money can buy.”
December-January 2005, June 2005: The Invisible Man
Six and a half years ago, in the December and January issues of Viewpointe, I identified an individual I dubbed as “The Invisible Man” (“The Man”). At the time, he was very well known within the confines of the Washington Beltway, but was totally unknown to the vast American public. That series detailed how this person insinuated himself into the Muslim community for political purposes in order to develop a voting bloc for his political party. This actually was a brilliant move on his part, except for the fact that several of his closest associates were ultimately discovered to be, or to have associated with Muslim extremists.
One of those Muslim Americans, Abdurahman Alamoudi, was a business partner and co-founder of the Islamic Free Market Institute with “The Man.” He is presently serving a 23-year sentence for fundraising for foreign terrorist groups, including the Libyans. But that wasn’t “The Man’s” only experience with jihadists.
In the late 1990’s, while trying to induce Muslims to join his political party, “The Man” befriended professor Sami al-Arian of Florida State University where al-Arian had established the Islamic Academy of Florida. “The Man,” availing his very close relationships within the Bush administration used his influence to do favors for several of his Muslim “friends.” So much so that in 2001, he was honored at a July 2001 event held by Sami Al-Arian’s National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (NCPPF), where he received an award for being a “champion of the abolishment movement against secret evidence.”
In 2003 an indictment was issued against al-Arian stating the school was used as a base of support for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Called "a master manipulator" by a federal judge, al-Arian pleaded guilty to one count of "Conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially Designated Terrorist Organization.” al-Arian was sentenced on May 1, 2006, to 57 months in prison (which included 38 months time served). After his release, al-Arian was imprisoned twice more for refusing to testify before two grand juries.
“The Man” was involved with several more Muslims with suspicious backgrounds. However, in June, 2006, a headline in the Washington Post revealed even more questions about “The Man’s” judgment, and perhaps character. The headline read, ” Nonprofit Groups Funneled Money For Abramoff.” The lead paragraph read, “Newly released documents in the Jack Abramoff investigation shed light on how the lobbyist [Abramoff] secretly routed his clients' funds through tax-exempt organizations with the acquiescence of those in charge, including a prominent conservative activist [“The Man”].”
The article continued, “Among the organizations used by Abramoff was [“The Man’s”] Americans for Tax Reform. According to an investigative report on Abramoff's lobbying released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Americans for Tax Reform served as a "conduit" for funds that flowed from Abramoff's clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns. As the money passed through, [“The Man’s”] organization kept a small cut, e-mails show. The federal probe has brought a string of bribery-related charges and plea deals. The possible misuse of tax-exempt groups is also receiving investigators' attention, sources familiar with the matter said.”
So who is the mysterious “Invisible Man”? In early June, Bloomberg Business Week named him “The Enforcer.” In late July, Time magazine termed him, “The Power Broker.” He has been called “perhaps the most influential individual in Washington, other than the president”––and no wonder. He single handedly induced 230 Republican representatives and 40 senators to sign the “No tax pledge.”
Does that ring a bell?” Yes, “The Invisible Man” you might have read about in Viewpointe more than six years ago when the scandals above first came to light is Grover Norquist.
The two page Time article cites Norquist’s famous statement (as did the Viewpointe article), that he’d like to shrink the size of government to the size “where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Time points out that. “Grover Norquist has no real precedent in American politics. A single unelected actor with a single issue, he holds immense power over the Republican Party's fiscal platform, and, through it, the national policy debate.” It continues, "I don't know of anyone outside of government who has had this kind of influence on politics before," writes Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley in an e-mail. "He's sui generis [unique], I think, not a politician, not visible very often in the media, but remarkably powerful."
And that is exactly the point of this article. This is not about Norrquist’s ideology or the correctness of his tax pledge. What is interesting is that despite all of the notoriety and publicity surrounding him today, none of the past information about Norquist’s ties to Islamists or to Jack Abramoff has resurfaced. I can find no current references to the scandals in any of the major media, nor is there any in either of the two magazine articles mentioned above.
How can the past be remembered if it is completely ignored?