Interview with corporate tax-dodging expert Richard Eskow

This is the third interview of the seven I did this year at Netroots Nation. Here I speak with Richard (RJ) Eskow, a writer with a career that goes back to the founding days of the Huffington Post (as you’ll hear). He’s also a Senior Fellow at Campaign For America’s Future.

Richard has a unique place in our world. As a former IT person for AIG — the actual insurance company and not its scam-shop subsidiary in London — Richard is numbers-friendly and data-driven. His writing is clear, yet filled with excellent data analysis. The bio here gives a good sense of his breadth.

For example, I invite you to check out this piece, a Fourth of July exposé of tax-dodging by corporations — “13 facts about tax-dodging corporations that will blow your mind“. Reading it you’ll learn this, for example (my emphasis):

1. We’re told we can’t “afford” full Social Security benefits, even though closing corporate tax-haven loopholes would pay for Obama’s “chained CPI” benefit cut more than 10 times over!

Abusive offshore tax havens cost the U.S. $150 billion in lost tax revenue every year (via FACT Coalition). That’s $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

The “chained CPI” cut, proposed by President Obama and supported by Republicans, is projected to “save” a total of $122 billion to $130 billion over the same time period by denying benefits to seniors and disabled people.

It’s true. “Serious” politicians and pundits are demanding that ordinary people sacrifice earned benefits, while at the same time allowing corporations to avoid more than 10 times as much in taxes.

That’s using data analysis to great effect and great framing. In essence, over the next 10 years:

Closing offshore tax havens — Gains $1.5 trillion of their money
Chained CPI — Gains $130 billion of your money
Pick one.

Ask any voter the question that way, and you’ll never see a pro-corporate (pro-CEO, pro-billionaire) answer. The whole piece is filled with these well-researched goodies.

I spoke with Richard in the pre-coffee morning of one of the final days of the conference. We found an empty hallway in one of the hotels and had an excellent chat. You’ll hear the pre-coffee in my voice — I generally have a morning voice and a rest-of-the-day voice — and you’ll hear the bright echo-y sound of that empty hallway, with its hard walls and large windows. Good place for a chat though.

Five Questions with Richard Eskow

As I mentioned above, Eskow is a data person, but he also has a systems-analysis mind, which means he also sees the big picture. Put the two together and you have someone who is led to big-picture analysis by looking at the facts themselves. This comes out in the interview.

Writer Richard (RJ) Eskow

Writer Richard (RJ) Eskow

I began by asking him the same first three questions I asked everyone this year — Is the U.S. approaching deadlines? Which deadlines will hit first? How will climate play out in the next few years? — and like every other interviewee, he mentioned climate before I did.

But note especially (at 10:15 in the interview) the answers to my fourth and fifth questions — about his personal journey to his current career (it’s fascinating; quite similar in some ways to Dave Johnson‘s) — and also about his intellectual journey, how his analysis has changed. Eskow, like many, has come to a “Chomsky-esque” view of our political and economic system, but he came to it differently than many, by simply viewing the data.

The discussion is fascinating. Listen:

The somewhat abrupt ending is a function of editing to remove bad sound at the very end of the tape. The article Eskow mentioned in the interview, “Bigger,” can be found here.

On optimism and the future (at 2:40):

“We have to make a Pascal’s wager with the future. … Even if the odds are against us, we have to act as if we can change them and turn them around, and that gives our lives meaning and purpose, and we have a shot at succeeding.”

And near the end, after noting that Hillary Clinton’s people attacked him in 2008 for criticizing their denigration of the optimism of the Obama voters:

“The great battle of our time is against the culture of cynicism, the culture of learned helplessness … [Being cynical and acting helpless] is essentially what we’re being told to do, by Clintons, by Obamas, by Republicans … Who says we can’t expand Social Security? … Who says? … The rules of the game as they define it are wrong.”

Like me, he fears the approaching deadlines — he calls them “cascading processes” and a “black hole” whose event horizon we’re clearly approaching. The banking system especially concerns him, as does climate. But as he notes, most of these problems are interconnected. I couldn’t agree more.

All Five Questions interviews

Here’s the complete list of this year’s Five Questions interviews. These will be published over the next few weeks in this order:

■ Sam Seder of Majority.fm
■ Dave Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future and SeeingTheForest.com
■ Richard (RJ) Eskow of Campaign for America’s Future and Huffington Post (this interview)
■ digby of Hullabaloo
■ Marcy Wheeler of Emptywheel.net
■ Joel Silbermanactor and media trainer — almost every good congressperson on our side, Joel has worked with them
GottaLaff, actress, writer, director and co-proprietress of ThePoliticalCarnival.net

I’ll update this list with links as the interviews are published. Thanks for listening.

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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  • Kim_Kaufman

    Richard also doesn’t take crap from anyone.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “take to the streets and that will never happen” And be willing to die trying. The age of sabotage will begin soon.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I couldn’t agree more!

  • Bill_Perdue

    I agree, except that I think that the solution is the struggle for socialism. As economic chaos and the radicalization deepen that struggle will win because most workers will want it to happen.

    We’re a ways from that but it’s no less inevitable.

  • lynchie

    We are bred as consumers. Xmas starts at Thanksgiving. BirthDay, Valentines, Mothers day, Fathers day, the list is endless of days to give gifts so we feel compelled to spend and put it on the old credit card. We buy shit at an inflated price, made offshore by people paid pennies an hour, have incredible interest rates and late fees added every month and are asked to work longer hours, be more productive and told to respect the 1%, the job creators, the wall street boys who create nothing and get paid obscene amounts. We are told we must bail out wall steet and the banks and that bonuses and perks are necessary for this group so we don’t lose the talent. Hell I could have lost those trillions of dollars for $100K a year.We live in a world where up is down, where filthy rich are given tax breaks and write offs, where the poor and elderly are asked to “have skin in the game”, where the health plan fines you if you can’t afford the fees, where companies want to opt out of SS and Medicare, where no one goes to jail for corporate stealing, where congressmen fight to cut food stamps and school lunches but argue for more subsidies for their own farms, where we live in a continual state of war that is unwinable but good for profits, where we can’t pass background checks to see which lunatic is buying up guns, where 70 people die in Chicago on the 4th from gun related crimes, where women are being herded back to the bedroom and kitchen, where new trade deals are negotiated in private, where our government has determined they can spy on us without limits or oversight, where we are fed a daily dose of America exceptionalism, liberty and justice and told to kiss the ring of our elected officials and there is nothing we can do to change it except take to the streets and that will never happen.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Chomsky, Eskow and other radicals have an incomplete view of the situation facing workers. The problem isn’t so much corruption and greediness by the boss class – those are endemic in all their dealings.

    The problem is that they’re driven to create conditions that pauperize us, that impose increasingly harsh and untenable levels of austerity, that creates a police state to deal with the rage of working people and that they pursue endless, lethal, often genocidal, wars of aggression to win new arenas to enlarge their profits at a terrible cost.

    That lack of understanding to the fundamental problem leads to a misunderstanding of how to correct it. There are no – zero, zilch, nada, not one – chances or reforming a capitalist system in it’s death agony.

    Try to solve the problem without fundamental change based on building the kind of workers parties that can create a workers government is an exercise in futility. Nothing will be changed until we have economic democracy and real political democracy.

  • cole3244

    our system is upside down, the intellectuals are persecuted and the white collar criminal class are worshiped, sounds like germany of the 30′s to me, don’t laugh you might be next.

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