According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, an oligarchy is a government in which power is in the hands of a few. Its second definition is a government where policy serves a small group of wealth holders with primacy.
Two significant changes in government are occurring that will alter our citizens’ lives and the access that they have to the internet. Furthermore, it is arguable that the magnitude of these changes are moving our government toward becoming an oligarchy.
The GOP Tax Reform Bill will undoubtedly become law, along with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote that ended Net Neutrality, and both will result in long lasting effects on the lives of millions.
More and more out of the innocuous confusion that has defined the first year of the Trump administration is an emerging direction reflective of the president himself.
As has been simply stated often by his critics, Donald Trump cares about wealth and himself. He respects those who are affluent and/or powerful, and has little regard for those struggling to survive. He has uttered many a complimentary word about well-known oligarch and President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Similarly, he has praised strongman oligarch President Recep Erdogan of Turkey. Within the Washington Beltway, he respects career military officers and not many others. He rails against otherwise respected agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and refuses to adequately staff several essential positions, such as in the State Department. Thus, he replaces sound diplomacy for his gut in decision making.
Trump stupidly seeks to run the executive branch of government as he did his private family’s corporation. Apparently he was deafly unaware of the prudent checks and balances that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison set as the foundation of our coequal government, which Mr. Trump wishes to circumvent with unilateralism.
To that end, the president made Verizon executive Ajit Pai chairman of the FCC. This move was made to effectuate the goal of restraining the freedoms of the internet and giving monopolists carte blanche abilities to control speeds and levy higher user fees. Super Corporations can now use capacities called “throttling”, “filtering”, and “fast lanes” to control and restrict participation on the internet.
Similarly, the passing of a final version of the tax reform law will further concentrate wealth in hands of a shrinking upper echelon of oligarchs. Although the tax package has been marketed as a plan truly benefiting the middle class, the opposite is accurate.
Many GOP politicos have supported changes in the tax law, which grant a special largess to the donor class that fund campaigns. Other Republicans have been coyly wayward in their support to gain special allowances written into the final draft of the bill in trade for their vote. Democrats have been vehemently against many aspects of the bill, although some believe corporate rate reform will help with the repatriation of capital to America.
So, the question remains – are these grand changes in law and regulation a service to the majority of our citizens or are they a furtherance of the concentration of wealth in fewer hands? Do Donald Trump and his counterparts seek to become the puppet-masters and are we now the marionettes?
Broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have been emancipated from restrictions in order to extract much higher profits without returning better service with the end of Net Neutrality. The custom that became a hard regulation during the presidency of Barak Obama has been abrogated by 3-2 vote by the FCC board along political party lines.
Net Neutrality was essentially the guiding principle that the right to communicate freely online was as sanctified as the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had to provide open networks and not block content, interfere with what one posts online, and not discriminate against any applications or created websites.
Now, without these assurances of computer freedom, monopoly ISPs can decide which websites or content or applications succeed. Giant ISPs can control speeds, change buffering protocols, and therefore access. Simply, they can pick winners and losers by controlling operating facets of the internet. Also, if they do not care for certain political content, or commercial content, they can easily thwart it. No governing body will come to the aid of the shunned to ensure fairness. Without our government regulation assuring the egalitarian access to the internet, the FCC has opened a porthole to oligarchy.
Our local delegation to the United States Congress have aptly expressed their misgivings. U.S. Representative James Langevin was incensed. “Despite the overwhelming opposition of my Rhode Island constituents and Americans across the country, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has sided with cable companies and other Internet providers, putting profits above public interest.” And “The rules adopted today will give companies and not consumers, the final say in what is accessible online, and that is a tragedy.”
The congressman was too soft in his depiction. This move is a direct restriction of freedom of speech. This basic tenet of our democracy is being directly usurped through this move by the FCC.
Senator Jack Reed was more adamant in his umbrage. He said that “…Congress must not let this happen,” and “Congress has the power to overturn this decision and ensure the internet remains open and free for the American people”. Even though most of us who value the Bill of Rights earnestly hope that the legislature can invalidate the FCC ruling, there is speculation from the legal realm whether or not they can in practice.
After a wrangling within the Republican caucus that saw last minute accommodations yield affirmative votes, it is likely the wealthy-indulgent tax reform law will come to fruition. Former opposing stalwart Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) traded a promise for later consideration regarding health care legislation for a supportive vote. Florida Senator Marc Rubio (R-FL) traded his acquiescence for an adjustment on the child tax credit which amounted to a mere six hundred dollar benefit in middle class taxpayer’s pockets.
Equally vexing to the horse trading that was required to promote passage are the projected effects of the plan’s implementation. The benefits to the middle class taxpayer amounts to a range of a few hundred dollars if one makes under $75,000 a year and between $1100 and $1300 in tax savings if one makes between $75,000 and $110,000. However, if one makes several hundred thousand a year your tax breaks grow astronomically. The corporate tax rate will be reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent but, according to the Internal Revenue Service, during the decade of 2005 to 2015 U.S. Corporations paid an average rate of 13.8% with deductions and offsets.
So, with the new rate and the deductions and offsets, corporations will be sending a lot less tax revenue to the federal government. Finally, the diminutive middle class break sunsets in 2025. The higher wealth tax breaks are permanent. The Joint Committee on Taxation, the Congressional Budget Office, and several finance periodicals agree that, by 2027, 90 percent of the tax benefits from this tax reform will benefit the top 11 percent of wealth holders in America. Furthermore, every financial entity agrees that the national debt will dangerously increase an additional one to one and one half trillion dollars over the next decade.
Unquestionably, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” is a diagram in support of an oligarchy regarding the concentration of wealth. And their accommodation will further weaken the financial stability of the nation with increased debt.
President Trump tried to couch the effect of this plan positively. “The cynical voices that opposed tax cuts grow smaller and weaker, and the American people grow stronger.” Who are you fooling Mr. President? Overwhelmingly, the prospect of the implementation of this tax reform will benefit the people you value, the affluent, and you know it.
Mr. Trump you also know that restricting the internet and giving Super Corporations all the power to control access is undemocratic.
Our second President John Adams famously stated, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they can not alter the state of facts and evidence.” No matter how the administration positively describes the FCC decision or the tax package, the facts of the matter tell a very different story. Simply, the FCC decision restrains First Amendment rights and the tax reform mostly benefits the rich.
President Adams was right, facts are stubborn things. And the founding fathers did not intend an oligarchy.