Peter Pappas is not a left-leaning blogger. His "tax lawyer blog" tends to serve as a booster for the right-wing rants about how the rich are paying more taxes than the poor (as though that's any surprise--the rich are the ones with the staggeringly large incomes and the uber-rich are the ones garnering the gains from productivity, while the rest of us stagnate or decline). He also tends to engage in ad hominem attacks on left-wing bloggers--yours truly being a frequent honoree.
Here's the most recent one--a rant that left wing bloggers complain about the misleading tax rhetoric of the right and "never" complain about the misleading tax rhetoric of the left. Pappas, Tax Lies Some Left Wing Bloggers Ignore, Sept. 13, 2011.
Let's unpack this. Bernie Sanders, in Congress, makes a speech and in it he states that Exxon Mobil didn't pay any taxes on its $19 billion in income. Pappas thinks I should have complained about how this rhetoric was misrepresenting the facts and misleading the public, since the company didn't pay any federal income taxes but did pay a piddling amount of other (state, local, excise) taxes. But Sanders' next sentence in the blurb that Pappas excerpts mentions the company's $157 million refund from the IRS: that sentence fairly clearly sets the context as a discussion of what the companies pay in federal income taxes, don't you think? Yeah, Sanders should have spoken perfectly articulately and made absolutely clear that he was talking about federal income taxes. After all, Exxon did pay a piddling sum in overall taxes on their $19 billion of income (they claim $500 million on $19 billion, which is about 2.5%, counting all state, local and excise taxes). But that de minimis error of lack of specificity or ambiguity is very very small potatoes compared to what the right-wing rhetoric chain does.
Pappas gives a link to his earlier post, which shows a 'guide' that Sanders' office prepared about corporate freeloaders. Note that the first item in that guide states the following: " Exxon Mobil's 2009 profits totaled $19 billion but according to the company's SEC filing it received a $156 million rebate from the IRS PLUS it didn't pay any federal taxes."
However, Pappas doesn't give a link to the particular speech that he's quoting, which always makes me think that there is something in the speech that he doesn't like because he knows it is telling about the state of America today. By not giving a link (or any other direct information about the speech), Pappas avoids providing any context. What was the context of the speech? Sanders was addressing the question of whether Congress should extend yet again the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. (Now I didn't say "federal income tax cuts passed in the Bush administration" but I believe all you readers know that when we talk about the Bush tax cuts we are talking about federal income taxes, don't you?)
Instead, Pappas just links to Politifact.com--a reader might think it is just a link to the website home page, since he doesn't provide the title in the link, but it is actually a link to PoliltiFact's "rating" of the statement about Exxon Mobil in Sanders speech on the Bush tax cut extension decision. if you pursue that link you find a link to the Nov. 30, 2010 Sanders speech (which I've also linked here). Here are a few excerpts from that speech:
It is very clear to anyone who spends 2 minutes studying the issue that the people on top are doing extraordinarily well at the same time as the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. ***
If you can believe this, since between 1980 and 2005, 80 percent of all new income created in this country went to the top 1 percent--80 percent of all new income. That is why people are wondering and asking: What is going on in my life? How come I am working longer hours for lower wages? ***
After we bailed them out, those [Wall Street] CEOs today are now earning more money than they did before the bailout. And while the middle class of this country collapses and the rich become much richer, the United States now has by far the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country on Earth. ***
In the midst of all of this growing income and wealth inequality in this country, we are now faced with the issue of what we do with the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. And if you can believe it, we have people here--many of my Republican colleagues--who tell us: Oh, I am so concerned about our recordbreaking deficit. I am terribly concerned about a $13.7 trillion national debt. I am terribly concerned about the debt we are going to be leaving to our kids and our grandchildren. But wait a minute. It is very important that we give, over a 10-year period, $700 billion in tax breaks to the top 2 percent. ***
[in the penultimate paragraph, Sanders referred to the oil companies and their demand for even more tax breaks--(federal income tax breaks, I'm sure he meant to say). That's where the quoted sentences discussed by Pappas are embedded.]
These people want to cut back on the powers of the EPA and the Department of Energy so that ExxonMobil can remain the most profitable corporation in world history while oil and coal companies continue to pollute our air and our water. Last year, ExxonMobil made $19 billion in profit. Guess what. They paid zero in taxes. They got a $156 million refund from the IRS. I guess that is not good enough. We have to give the oil companies even more tax breaks
All in all, Pappas' chagrin at the "misleading" nature of Sanders' talk seems manufactured. Anybody reading the speech would have been quite clear that this was a discussion of federal income taxes.
And let's put Pappas' choice of doing this posting (and claiming that I in particular am somehow derelict in my duty as a blogger for not pointing out the "lie" in Bernie Sanders' speech) in context. Let's look, for example, at one of the "related posts" on Pappas' own blog. Pappas, 51% of Americans Pay Zero Tax; Share of Government Funded by the Rich Increases, May 9, 2011. Now, of course you all know that the title by itself is an outright lie. It is very hard for any American who buys various items necessary for existence (gas, food, clothing, necessaries, an occasional splurge) to manage not to pay any state or local sales taxes, and of course many states have income taxes as well and even poor Americans who have jobs will also pay payroll taxes (for Social Security and Medicare). It simply isn't true that 51% of Americans pay "zero tax". Now, in the body of the post itself, Pappas does state that the 51% figure is a number in a congressional study suggesting the percentage of Americans that owe no federal income tax in 2009. Does that make up for the headline? It's an attention grabber--and a terribly misleading one.
I doubt if anyone thinks that anybody who talks frequently about tax gets it right all the time--we are human, after all, and we make mistakes. But there is a big difference between an ambiguity that is clarified by context and the type of misleading tax rhetoric that the right indulges in regularly in order to push a corporatist and pro-elite, anti-tax, anti-government agenda. You know those false claims about taxation-- that poor people don't pay taxes and they really "need" to so that they will have some "skin in the game", that family businesses and farms are lost due to the estate tax (no, there's only anecdotal evidence about some very few being slightly impacted and none about "loss" due to the piddling estate tax), or that capital gains preferential rates for stock sales reward investment in corporations (no--they primarily reward gains from secondary trades between investors), or that Social Security is insolvent (no, it is not ), or that the investor-class merits preferentially low taxes because they are the job-creation engine of America (no--jobs are created by entrepreneurs and by mom-and-pop business and by big corporations, not the secondary market investors in those corporations and certainly not by the private equity funds that routinely buy so that they can fire), or that the active financing exception to subpart F is merited because big banks otherwise would be taxed to death (no--it is merely a way to give a special subsidy to foreign banking operations that results in very low tax rates for such financial institutions), and on and on..... Most Americans are so ill-informed that they do not understand that the "taxable income" that may be reported by the elite is already a figure far removed from (and generally much less than) the economic income of that same elite--because of the exclusion for muni-bond interest, the tax preferences for retirement income and the elite's access to incredibly generous benefits even while those of the vast majorithy of Americans are being reduced, etc. Nor do they understand that many of the deductions that the middle class also enjoys --for example, the mortgage interest deduction--give special benefits to the elite.
There is a reason that vast numbers of Americans are misinformed about tax matters, the role of the debt ceiling, the solvency of Social Security, the relative distribution of incomes, the relative rates of taxation, and the share of government funding paid by major corporations and similar points. It is due to a conscious campaign by the radical right to discredit government and protect the elite from taxation. And as we saw in the recent manufactured 'debt ceiling crisis', the radical right today is wililng to commit economic terrorism in order to get its way and protect the elite at all costs.