Celebrate the Facts!
Hollywood has made a cottage industry producing films and documentaries about genocides of humans, but the incredible destruction of life that occurs in the United States each year creates nary a twinge of attention. That juicy steak once was part of an animal who loved her family, contemplated her future, recalled her past, and died alone and in incredible pain. History will remember this generation of people for the pain it caused in its desire, not for food, but the food they preferred, but didn't need, only for their pleasure.
The killing fields in the United States continue to create and destroy billions of lives a year for our entertainment. The USDA predicted that meat consumption would be 225 pounds per person in 2020, the most consumed meat in recorded history.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the United States food industry slaughtered about 9.6 billion land animals in 2018:
Humans spend a lot of money and time pondering the possible existence of intelligent life in the universe. Largely disregarded is the intelligent life humans eat every day, and not because humans need the meat, but because they like the way it tastes. However, the unsettling fact is that those animals are conscious, have emotions, and can feel pain.
A conscious being has subjective experiences of the world and its own body. Humans are conscious beings, but we are not alone on this planet. In 2012, the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness crystalized a scientific consensus that humans are not the only conscious beings and that ‘non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, possess complex neurology complex enough to support conscious experiences.
Neuroscientists conclude that neural circuits supporting attentiveness, sleep, and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks such as the octopus. The field of animal consciousness faces difficulties because animals cannot articulate their thoughts in human language. A foundational argument is hobbling the development of this area of science as the criteria for consciousness, and its definition is still undefined.
The carnivore-diet set likes to maintain that humans are meat-eaters by design and later agricultural products such as wheat or corn are ‘unnatural,’ but there is a lot more to that story. Humans have short, soft fingernails and small 'canine' teeth, while pure carnivores have sharp claws and large canine teeth to devour animal flesh. Carnivores’ jaws move only up and down, requiring them to tear chunks of meat from their prey and swallow them whole. Humans, like herbivores, move their jaws vertically and horizontally, so they can grind plants with their flat molars.
Carnivorous animals tend to swallow their food in large chunks, relying on highly acidic stomach juices to break down flesh and kill the dangerous bacteria in it, while human stomach acids are much weaker in comparison. Carnivores have short intestinal tracts and colons, while humans have much longer intestinal tracts to absorb nutrients from plant matter.
The evolutionary argument for meat-eating is specious. More likely, humans evolved as scavengers with limited hunting in areas of seasonal food shortages such as cold climates.
Discussions about animals possessing a lower level of consciousness justify consumption as food begins to sound disturbingly like rationales used for historical genocides. And one wonders if right-to-life zealots have the same consideration for animals who have a demonstrable ability to perceive pain.
In the United States, 36.5 percent of adults are obese, and another 32.5 percent of American adults are overweight. So even if the carnivore-crowd advocates are correct that humans need to eat flesh, many more animals die every year than need to simply for human pleasure.
Marketing has many ways to spin matters to sell products. In this case, the ‘humanely raised’ tag on meat is laughable. Factories create animal lives, raise them ‘humanely,’ then slaughter them to make juicy hamburgers, savory steaks, and yummy chicken ‘fingers’ for overfed American consumers. Regardless, 99% of farmed animals in the United States live in factory farms.
Countering the argument that meat is necessary to sustain human health are avalanches of authoritative studies animal demonstrating flesh-free diets are healthy:
One of the most significant issues confronting people is an all-or-nothing approach to vegetarianism, but other strategies can prove helpful in reducing the cruelty defining our society. ‘Reducetarian’ is a movement where people are intentionally consuming less meat and reducing cruelty by:
The recent revelations of documented encounters with alien aircraft by the United States military compel examination of the perceptions of our civilization by alien intelligence. Would such possible intelligence condemn us for our creation and destruction of human life?
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a mélange of creative destruction trends, including the profound change in movie production and distribution. Streaming services are booming but struggling to provide new, original content. The novel has provided a proven source of inspiration for years, and the demand for new creative content will usher in a new golden age for authors.
For a movie producer, it makes sense to use successful novels for screenplays, as the work has an audience who are somewhat pre-sold on it – who does not want to see the film version of a favorite piece? Movie production companies and distributors like to pander to broad audiences and mitigate risk by using market-tested books as creative content.
Movie producers typically buy movie rights options for a negotiated value and then purchase the work if they decided to produce the result. Purchase prices are usually in the two to three percent range of the cost of making the film or series, with a cap or maximum value, and the average cost to produce a major studio movie has been around $65 million. Multiply that value by two percent, and one comes to a healthy $1.3 million fee. There is a lot more to that if one digs into the details, however. There are thousands of movies made in the United States every year, but only a tiny percentage of those are feature films with big budgets. In other words, few authors hit it big with movie rights fees.
The $11.4 billion in domestic theatrical revenues from North America in 2019 represents an immense amount of money, but overseas sales dwarf that value, which accounts for some exciting outcomes. Franchise action films such as Marvel, Transformers, Mission Impossible, and the like translate well to overseas audiences, so much of the major film studios' efforts go into those avenues. Over half of the anticipated revenues for classic feature films for 2021 fall into the action/adventure category as a result.
In 2017 there were 646 feature films released in the United States, but a closer look reveals a more profound truth. A 'feature film' must have a running time of 60 minutes or longer, includes works of fiction, animation, and documentaries, for cinema theaters. This calculation excludes movies produced exclusively for television broadcasting, newsreels, commercials, films in video format, and films intended for adults (rated X). No authoritative third-party source provides information about the total number of movies released in the United States each year, but independent producers account for many more films.
The well-capitalized streaming services need high-end content, albeit not at crazy production budgets that the next Tony Stark vehicle will require. Netflix plans to release at least one new original movie every week this year. In 2020, there were 499 straight-to-steaming films released to subscription services, up from 269 in 2019. That number will almost certainly increase for 2021. Streaming services such as Disney, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu are on the prowl for new creative content.
A glance at the Netflix top 10 for the week ending May 21 shows a platform struggling to provide original content. That list contains six television series and four movies, with the films being:
As evidence of platforms starving for content, Netflix purchased the rights to Knives Out 2 and Knives Out 3 for $450 million. Films slated to premiere at major festivals like Tribeca and Sundance instead made their way to streaming platforms.
The coronavirus will contribute to the creative destruction of traditional movie distribution, although the effects are difficult to define. Cinemas are no longer the first stop for new releases or even part of many distribution models. Warner Bros. made its entire 2021 movie premieres on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously.
The entertainment landscape has changed, and it is unlikely to revert entirely back to its baseline. And with streaming distribution in its infancy with many platforms competing and all loaded with cash, they likely will be pursuing fresh creative content. But production of dramas and mysteries is much less expensive than notable effects-rich action/adventure films, and they will undoubtedly be seeking new creative content.
Unlike commercial broadcasting, most streaming services derive their revenue through subscriptions rather than through advertising, further contributing to the creative destruction of the already-tottering conventional advertising industry. Streaming services will develop and provide content to attract and keep consumers and pleasing advertisers, resulting in a superior experience for the consumers.
Demographics of streaming services subscribers:
Streaming services have grown their library of feel-good, family-friendly movies and reduced genres like drama, crime, and horror. Empirical evidence indicates these companies continue to grow higher percentages of proprietary content in their libraries to attract and keep customers. Streaming services can procure exclusive rights and produce their original content meaning demand for creative content will continue to increase.
How does this relate to authors selling creative content? Here are some thoughts for consideration:
The recent insurrection on the United States Capitol, inspired by the populist former President Donald Trump, was a function of rising income inequality and the outsized influence of dark money in the political process. The political process was stressed to a breaking point, and absent the resolve of a few principled people democracy in the United States could have broken. Correction of such issues is a vital step toward stabilizing democratic institutions and ensuring the durability of the republic.
Tax policy think-tanks funded by corporations and wealthy individuals frame the taxation discussion as a matter of ‘fairness’ and point to the outsized contributions to the federal treasury by wealthy individuals. Framing the argument in the context of fairness dictates the outcome of the dispute but cleverly skirts the central principle that fairness is not the purpose of taxes. Taxes are a social construct and agreement as much as a means to provide the revenue necessary to fund the United States government.
A national wealth tax, a tax on individuals’ net worth, is one of the policy options under discussion to support vital infrastructure, social service, and other governmental functions. Tax policy provides a central context in which collective judgments, accrued as a democratic covenant about fundamental values, form a national credo.
Legislators could earmark wealth tax revenues strictly for use in infrastructure development thereby providing enduring sources of wealth creation for average Americans. Directing such funds to the general treasury is the general avenue of discussion.
Billionaires often spend their incredible wealth in outrageous excess. For instance, Jeff Bezos recently commissioned the construction of a $500 million yacht. Bezos is now worth around $200 billion, an increase of $75 billion in the last year alone, and his super-yacht that requires its support yacht was just beer money. Such staggering excess helps build class resentment and contributes to social instability.
Facts about economic inequality in the United States:
In a republic originally formed as a breakaway from a totalitarian kingdom, the billionaire class has become the new royalty, forming a leadership because of only their wealth, as if the skills required to accumulate and hoard immense amounts of money translate into effective societal leadership.
Advocates for the super-wealthy claim they give back to charity and so whitewash their lavish lifestyles. For every dollar a billionaire donates to charity, taxpayers chip in anywhere from 37 to 57 cents in the form of lost tax revenue, depending on the status of the donor’s tax avoidance strategies. Taxpayers effectively provide matching funds for the donation priorities of these super-wealthy individuals, with no input from a democratic process.
Boosters for the super-wealthy continue to play the fairness tune and there is no doubt the United States tax code is progressive. Effective tax rates – calculated as the total income tax owed divided by adjusted gross income – rise with income. Taxpayers making less than $30,000 paid an effective rate of 4.9% in 2015, compared with 9.2% for those making between $50,000 and under $100,000, and 27.5% for those with incomes of $2 million or more.
But the system starts to lose its progressivity at the very highest levels. In 2015, the effective rate peaked at 29.3% for taxpayers in the $2 million-to-under-$5 million groups, then fell to 28.8% for the $5 million-to-under-$10 million groups and 25.9% for those making $10 million or more.
The basic facts about a wealth tax:
The Tax Policy Center (TPC) modeled three theoretical wealth taxes:
The TPC estimated these three versions would raise $1.1 trillion, $1.6 trillion, and $800 billion in revenues, respectively, in the first 10 years. For comparison, the federal budget for the 2020 fiscal year was originally set at $4.79 trillion. While the hypothetical values raised by the wealth tax would be considerable, they are not large enough in terms of contribution to the federal treasury relative to the wealth, and the marginal rates considered should be higher.
While cheerleaders for the super-rich imply a wealth tax would affect many ‘regular folks’ the numbers lead one to a different conclusion. Regardless of commonly proposed plans (Bernie Sanders’ or Elizabeth Warren’s), the number of Americans subject to such tax would be less than 200,000. Those 200,000 people comprise less than 0.06% of the population of the United States. These proposed taxes would not affect family farmers, small business owners, and highly compensated professionals.
Under most normal circumstances taxing the wealthy at higher rates and particularly taxing the incredibly wealthy through an annual wealth tax would seem to be a politically viable fix for a lot of problems. While explicitly ruling out a conspiracy theory, the ultra-rich must delight in the predominant debate about transgender athletes, gun control, abortion restriction, and other similar divisive issues.
Legislators in more than 20 states have introduced bills this year that would ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams in public high schools. Yet in almost every case, sponsors cannot cite a single instance in their state or region where such participation has caused problems. In the few states that do collect empirical data, the numbers of high school transgender athletes are minimal. There are five transgender high school athletes currently in Kansas and nine in Ohio in the past five years.
Hired guns plead the case on behalf of the uber-rich that a tax on the assets of the super-wealthy create administrative complexity and result in several unanticipated consequences. There are some issues but solutions are evident. Tax collectors could derive the valuation of land and buildings from state and local property taxes. Templates are provided by private companies that provide estimates of market values for real estate. Valuation of land and property held abroad may be more difficult from an administrative and verification perspective.
One consideration is not all assets have a readily available market value. Most United States businesses are partnerships, sole proprietorships, S corporations, LLCs, are privately held, and so it is very difficult to assess their value. For items such as fine art, wine, antique cars, jewelry, and other collectibles, there is often not a referenceable liquid market for valuation purposes. Valuing intangible assets such as patents, or copyrights could be one of the more difficult aspects of levying a wealth tax.
The wealthy would challenge the imposition of such a wealth tax in court. There is considerable discussion among legal experts about a federal wealth tax is permissible under the U.S. Constitution, which requires that a “direct tax”—which some legal scholars contend a wealth tax is— requires apportionment among states according to population. Given the current composition of the United States Supreme Court, the outcome of such a challenge would be a coin toss and perhaps render consideration at this time moot.
Regardless serious consideration of the growing disparity of wealth distribution in the United States is necessary otherwise the future of the republic will remain in jeopardy. Given the composition of the United States Supreme Court and its anticipated hyper-conservative rulings, a more effective strategy would be raising marginal tax rates to their pre-Reagan values. This would reverse wealth accumulation and restore some societal stability.
China is now the world’s largest creditor — surpassing the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the combination of all the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) governments. Like any powerful affluent government China uses debt to its strategic advantage. The media is good at providing statistics and hyperbolic claims of an imminent collapse of Western neoliberal hegemony with replacement by China, but the situation is of course much more complex.
Most Chinese loans have helped finance large-scale investments in infrastructure, energy, and mining with the countries often using revenues from commodity exports as collateral. The Chinese government’s combined loans to the rest of the world surpassed $5 trillion through the year 2017, more than 6% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). Chinese loans have helped to finance large investments in more than 100 developing countries, with potentially large positive effects for growth and prosperity. At the same time, the large lending streams have resulted in the build-up of debt servicing burdens.
‘America First’ promoters such as former Vice President Mike Pence assumed the term ‘debt trap diplomacy’ as a pejorative to describe China allegedly using predatory loan tactics to saddle developing countries with staggering debt loads, then using that debt as leverage to obtain concessions. Arguably the United States pioneered such adventurism, encumbering developing nations with crushing debt by financing dubious or unsustainable projects and then using the debt itself as leverage to establish military bases, access to supply lines and markets, and support at the United Nations.
China copied the United States playbook and may also be replicating the problems that came with it. Subscribing to debt is a two-way street and every venture should go through appropriate levels of analysis on economic feasibility, sustainability, and environmental impact. Failures of large development projects usually occur because of errors in one or more respects of these analyses.
The fact that poorer countries struggle with debt is nothing new. After years of unsuccessful efforts in 2000 the Group of Seven (G7) major industrial nations, initiated a plan to wipe out $90 billion of debt, reducing the total to about $37 billion (both 2000 dollars).
For the 50 main developing country recipients, the debt owed to China has increased from less than 1% of debtor country GDP in 2005 to more than 15% in 2017. A dozen of these countries owe a debt of at least 20% of their GDP to China (Djibouti, Tonga, Maldives, the Republic of the Congo, Kyrgyzstan, Cambodia, Niger, Laos, Zambia, Samoa, Vanuatu, and Mongolia).
China does not report lending to developing countries to the IMF or World Bank and so the full values of the debt are difficult to discern. A methodical underreporting of Chinese loans has created a ‘hidden debt’ problem – meaning that both debtor countries and international institutions have an incomplete picture of how much countries around the world owe to China and under which conditions. These ‘hidden debts’ distort risk pricing and debt sustainability analyses by other lending entities.
The recent global economic decline will put pressure on the ability to service this stunning Chinese debt, perhaps misrepresented as a strength by the bombastic ‘America First’ crowd, which could very quickly turn into an avalanche of liabilities.
There are some signs of this occurring, and several African countries are struggling to pay back their debt to Chinese lenders. Zambia defaulted on its debt during 2020 then reached a deal in October 2020 to defer repayments to the China Development Bank. Kenya declared the termination of its contract with the Chinese-owned Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), a company that was supposed to operate passenger and freight operations for 10 years, and Kenya owes Afristar $380 million in unpaid payments.
Balancing China's debt portfolio China owns a substantial amount of the stable United States and Europe securities:
China has accumulated U.S. Treasury securities over the last few decades, but there is more than meets the eye with this statistic. China’s purchases of United States Treasury securities (and other US fixed income assets) reached a peak in 2011 at $1.6 trillion or 10% of the United States GDP.
China faces its internal debt issues which make its towering economy seem not invulnerable. China’s high debt levels have brought about systemic risks. The Chinese government’s overall debt declined after 2015, but rose again in 2019, reaching 285 percent of GDP by the third quarter of 2020. State-owned enterprise and local government debt comprise the great majority of this debt, which threatens to throttle internal investment and overall economic growth.
China faces some of the same social problems as the United States including an aging population and wide disparities of wealth and so a thriving economy will be necessary to stave off civil unrest.
One of the main areas of international focus by China has been annexing Taiwan. Rival governments in Taiwan and Beijing both view themselves as the legal leadership of China, with much of the international community aligned with the latter in the decades since its communist forces won a civil war in 1949. Taiwan operates as an independent country today but has never formally declared independence, representing itself as the ‘Republic of China’ (ROC), under the constitution brought there by the remnants of the former mainland government.
Only 15 countries in the world (about 8%) still have formal diplomatic relations with the Taiwan-based ROC government, including 16 UN member countries plus the United Nations observer state Vatican City, and that has been steadily declining because of Chinese diplomatic pressure.
Highlights of the recent deterioration of international recognition of Taiwan:
While United States nationalists and nativists ring alarm bells about China, their proposed simplistic solutions such as tariffs and increased military expenditures are unlikely to solve the systemic challenges posed by China:
Since the mid-1960s, United States corporate tax revenues have declined relative to the size of the economy. Corporate tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), 3.9% in 1965, has fallen to about 1.0% in 2020. The effect of the tax cuts has been to over-enrich the wealthy resulting in hoarding of wealth, reduced opportunities for the bulk of the citizenry, and resultant class resentment, discontent, and civil unrest. The Biden Administration’s unspoken goal is to roll back much of the benefits to the wealthy, attempt to raise prospects for the poor, and so quell civil unrest.
The decline in corporate tax revenue since 1965 is due to several factors:
The Trump Administration-sponsored corporate tax cuts, represented as initiating corporate reinvestment and increasing worker wages, did not achieve their stated objectives. Pertinent facts:
While U.S. corporate tax revenue has decreased, corporate tax revenues in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries have, on average, increased. Since 1965, typical corporate tax revenues collected by OECD countries have increased from 2.1% of GDP to 3.1% of GDP in 2018. OECD data show that United States corporate tax revenue (including corporate tax revenue collected by state and local governments) fell from 3.9% to 1.0% during the same time.
Modern neoliberal governance in the United States, initiated by the Reagan Administration, reduced marginal tax rates on the wealthy and corporations, while increasing global military presence and capabilities, resulting in a wider spread between the rich and poor. Since 1981, the first year of the Reagan Administration, corporate tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has been less than the OECD average (which includes the United States).
The increased military presence was necessary to do more than project global empire; it also protected supply lines and markets, and included clandestine support and intervention. The Reagan Administration initiated a conflict in Central America centered around toppling the Sandanista government in Nicaragua, covered in a previous investigation, and intervened to throttle a potential revolution in nearby El Salvador, among several few other actions.
Global hegemony and empire are debatable and debated widely and subject to democratic pressure. Elected Presidents are technically responsible for presenting a proposed budget to Congress, and elected representatives are responsible for approving it. However, the use of American’s taxes to support American corporations’ dependence on formal military and clandestine intelligence agency’s maintenance of supply lines and markets. Regardless, as corporations pay less of GDP in taxes and the United States defense budget rises, individuals pay more, reducing net disposable income.
One of the effects of taking citizens and turning them into soldiers includes the risk of later radicalization and possibly joining domestic terrorist organizations. United States active-duty military personnel and reservists have participated in a growing number of domestic terrorist plots and attacks. The percentage of all domestic terrorist incidents linked to active-duty and reserve personnel rose in 2020 to 6.4 percent, up from 1.5 percent in 2019 and none in 2018. In addition, a mounting number of current and former law enforcement officers have been involved in domestic terrorism in recent years.
White supremacists conducted two-thirds of the terrorist plots and attacks in the United States in 2020. Anarchists, anti-fascists, and other compatible extremists orchestrated 20 percent of the plots and attacks, though the number of incidents grew from previous years as these extremists targeted law enforcement, military, and government facilities and personnel. The United States government arrested more than 1,000 people in the insurrection at the United States capitol in January of 2021, and other protests related to police violence, gun violence, and environmental issues generated additional arrests.
Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) develops an annual Global Peace Index (GPI) that captures the absence of violence or the fear of violence across three domains: Safety and Security, Ongoing Conflict, and Militarization. The GPI ranks Djibouti, El Salvador, Thailand, Guatemala, Turkmenistan, Algeria, Mauritania, Honduras, Azerbaijan directly ahead of the United States at 121st. Oddly many of the listed countries ranking above the United States would fall into the Trump-created category of ‘shithole countries,’ raising the obvious question of whether the United States similarly falls into that classification. A direct corollary, Canada, ranked in the top ten most peaceful countries. The report indicated the United States economic cost of violence was an astonishing 8% of GDP.
The Biden Administration has proposed a wide range of tax modifications that could affect corporations. The corporate tax rate is currently 21%, levied as a flat rate, reduced from a top marginal rate of 35% before 2018 by the Trump Administration-sponsored tax cuts. President Joe Biden has proposed increasing the corporate tax rate to a flat 28% tax rate.
The Biden Administration has also proposed the following measures to revise aspects of the tax codes and so help counter the structural issues in the United States:
The Biden Administration-sponsored $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package provided several direct-transfer methods of enriching middle and low-income Americans:
The Biden Administration has several other proposals to put money into the hands of the lower classes in the United States. The question is whether it is too late?
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.