Panama Papers Expose Another Way Our Trade Agreements Fail Us

Global Witness recently presented this TED talk on “how exposing anonymous companies could cut down on crime.”

Should our own government help oligarchs, billionaires and their corporations, criminals and terrorists hide their loot, launder their funds, and drain countries and their governments of needed revenue? Or should our government try to help stop this?

So far our government has too often been on the side of the bad guys.

Criminals, drug cartels, human traffickers, arms dealers, tax evaders, corrupt politicians, terrorists, oligarchs and plutocrats can use anonymous, secret shell corporations in tax-haven countries to stash, launder and hide their money. There are trillions of dollars of hidden wealth, much of it accumulated through crime and corruption. The secrecy is draining governments around the world of badly needed tax revenue, and it is enhancing and accelerating poverty and inequality.

Frederick E. Allen explains at Forbes, in “Super Rich Hide $21 Trillion Offshore, Study Says“:

A new report finds that around the world the extremely wealthy have accumulated at least $21 trillion in secretive offshore accounts. That’s a sum equal to the gross domestic products of the United States and Japan added together. The number may sound unbelievable, but the study was conducted by James Henry, former chief economist at the consultancy McKinsey, an expert on tax havens and offshoring. It was commissioned by Tax Justice Network, a British activist group.

The Panama Papers

The Panama Papers exposé by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has helped expose how certain countries enable the world’s plutocrats, outlaws, corrupt leaders, terrorists, warmongers, and the rest of the worst to use tax havens and anonymous shell corporations to hide their wealth, dodge taxes, dodge sanctions and even drain the wealth of countries. The reporting so far shows that just one Panama company had created up to 215,000 offshore shell companies for 14,153 clients. The reports link 143 politicians (or their families and close associates) to the use of tax havens to shield huge amounts of money. Again, this is from just one company in just one tax-haven, anonymous shell corporation-enabling country.

This also exposes how our own government is sometimes a party to enabling, even encouraging this activity. Our own government allows anonymous shell corporations here at home, and does not fight countries that enable them abroad when it negotiates so-called “trade” agreements that are supposed to lay down rules for financial interaction.

So-Called “Trade” Agreements, For Example

Our government negotiates what are called “trade” agreements with other countries. These negotiations are an opportunity to set up the rules for financial interactions between countries.

The 2012 U.S.- Panama Trade Promotion Agreement is promoted by our own U.S. Trade Representative’s office as “a comprehensive free trade agreement that provides elimination of tariffs and removes barriers to U.S. services, including financial services.” This agreement was an opportunity to fight global tax evasion, shell-corporation secrecy and other results of Panama’s bank and corporate secrecy. We could have negotiated to require an end to bank secrecy and shell corporations. But bank and corporate secrecy were not even part of the negotiations.

This demonstrates how the warped priorities of our “trade” process are hurting not just U.S. citizens and government but all citizens and governments.

Repeated Warnings

Before the Panama trade agreement was approved, individuals, organizations and even politicians warned repeatedly that the agreement would enhance the ability of corporations and individuals to hide wealth and taxable income from governments and criminal investigators.

In 2011, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, gave a speech on the Senate floor opposing the trade agreement, warning that Panama’s entire economic output at the time was obviously too low to be of any benefit to American workers. “Then why would we be considering a stand-alone free-trade agreement with Panama?” Sanders said the real reason for the agreement is that “Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade taxes.” He said it “will make this bad situation much worse.”

To show how Panama enables people and corporations to hide behind corporate secrecy, an intern at Public Citizens set up her own personal Panama shell corporation. Here’s what The Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney wrote about this:

It’s so easy for U.S. corporations to set up an offshore tax haven in Panama, an intern could do it. Really! To make this point, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division had one of its interns call up some Panamanian law firms for advice on starting up a shell company.

“Panamanian corporations basically pay no taxes on foreign-derived income,” one man explained to the intern, Jessica. Another said: “You’re protected by the strictest banking secrecy laws in the world,” thereby “totally removing you from the legal trail.”

Public Citizen was warning that the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) did not fight and in fact further enabled the secrecy:

“It would give investors registered in Panama new rights to challenge U.S. anti-tax haven regulations and other initiatives for taxpayer-funded compensation,” said Todd Tucker, research director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, in an interview with The Huffington Post.

… Tucker said that the Panama FTA would compromise the Obama administration’s recently-announced crackdown on tax havens, which the president said would save $210 billion over the next decade. (A 2008 Senate report estimated that the U.S. loses $100 billion to tax havens every year.)

With so many groups and individuals warning that the Panama agreement would boost the ability of people and corporations to dodge U.S. taxes using subsidiary shell corporations and secret bank accounts, the Obama administration announced in 2010 a “Tax Information Exchange Agreement with Panama.” This agreement had a loophole letting Panama to set aside tax transparency provisions if Panama decides they are “contrary to the public policy” of Panama. Of course, Panama invoked the loophole because so much of Panama’s income comes from bank secrecy, tax-free status and the ability to set up anonymous Panama shell corporations.

This week Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach issued a statement on the revelations in The Panama Papers:

“Nearly five years after the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) vote, the Panama Paper leak proves once again how entirely cynical and meaningless are the American presidents’ and corporate boosters’ lavish promises of economic benefits and policy reforms from trade agreements. The top promise about the benefit of the U.S.-Panama FTA was that it would end Panama’s financial crime secrecy protections and tax haven and money laundering activities, but what this leak shows is that, if anything, Panama’s outrageous financial crime facilitation has intensified while the FTA’s investor protections and official U.S. stamp of approval have increased inflows of dirty money to Panama.

Our Isaiah J. Poole writes, in “Panama Papers Controversy Offers An Opportunity To Push For Transparency“:

The silver lining in the Panama Papers scandal is that the world’s attention is being focused on a global problem in which the wealthy and powerful act beyond the reach of law, playing by a different set of rules from the rest of us. The United States does not have to go it alone in addressing this problem. But our elected officials, and the people running to be our next president, should lead. Supporting legislation that supports more transparency would be a start.

Countries that allow banking secrecy, the formation of anonymous shell corporations and tax-haven status should be considered rogue, outlaw countries. There should be international sanctions against individuals and corporations that do any business with such countries. There certainly should not be “free trade” agreements with such countries.

Harmonizing international tax law and prohibiting anonymous shell corporations should be at the center of our trade negotiations. Unfortunately, our corporate/billionaire-dominated trade process appears to have worked toward just the opposite. We the People and all of trade’s stakeholders – labor, consumer, human rights, environmental, democracy and other such groups – need to have seats alongside our businesses and government representatives at the trade negotiating table.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Important Study Looks At Silicon Valley’s “Invisible” Low Wage Workers

“We knew the tech industry was booming, but we weren’t seeing that translate into an abundance of jobs for our communities – until we looked at the low-wage jobs in contracting industries. Those are growing fast, just like tech profits are. It’s no wonder that one in three working households in Silicon Valley can’t make ends meet when these growing industries pay wages that barely cover rent.”
– Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director of Working Partnerships, USA.

Working Partnerships USA and Silicon Valley Rising released a report Wednesday, Tech’s Invisible Workforce, that looks at the contract industry workers at Silicon Valley’s “booming” tech companies.

In the last two-and-a-half decades, the number of Silicon Valley “second-class” jobs in potential contract industries has grown three times faster than overall Silicon Valley employment. These contractors and subcontractors jobs are disproportionately filled by Black and Latino workers compared to direct tech employees, and these workers receive much lower wages. As a result, Silicon Valley’s inequality and occupation segregation is amplified, especially among people of color.

The report finds that direct tech employees earn $113,300. Contractor and subcontractor tech industry workers – workers employed indirectly rather than treated as legitimate employees – are paid much less. White-collar workers in contract industries average $53,200 and blue-collar workers in contract industries average $19,900.

Along with this wage differential, as income drops the proportion of the workforce that is comprised of Black and Latino workers goes up. According to the report, Black or Latino workers make up, on average:

● 10 percent of Silicon Valley’s direct tech workforce.
● An estimated 26 percent of the white-collar contract industry workforce.
● An estimated 58 percent of the blue-collar contract industry workforce.

Lydia DePillis writes about this report at The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, in “What we know about the people who clean the floors in Silicon Valley,”

Silicon Valley companies have gotten a lot of heat in recent years for failing to recruit people black and Hispanic people into their ranks. But if you factor in contractors and others whose jobs bring them inside those companies, the industry appears bit more inclusive — just perhaps not in the way one might hope.

At one time in history, the janitors, bus drivers, food service workers, and security guards who staff corporate campuses might have been employed directly by the businesses where they cooked lunches and cleaned floors. That’s become less and less true in recent decades, according to a new analysis of labor data by researchers at the University of California – Santa Cruz — especially in Silicon Valley.

The Road to Responsible Contracting

The report concludes with a section on how companies could contract out jobs responsibly.

Silicon Valley Rising calls on our region’s leading businesses to commit to the following principles:

Responsibility: Ensure that their subcontracted workers are paid a livable wage, receive equitable benefits, have the right to a voice at work without fear of discrimination or retaliation, do not suffer mass layoffs when contracts change hands, and are protected from misclassification and other forms of wage theft.

Transparency: Release public data on their subcontracted workforces, including diversity, pay, and benefit data for each subcontractor.

Inclusion: Invest in building a community where janitors, security officers, cafeteria workers, teachers, nurses, firefighters and other non-tech workers can afford to live. Support access to full-time work, affordable housing, an accessible, world-class public transit system, and high-quality education for low-wage workers and their children.

Opportunity: Work with advocates to explore new approaches to create education and career pathways for contract workers and their families to move into core tech jobs.

The technology industry faces a clear choice. It can continue the status quo of exclusive jobs and exclusionary growth, widening the existing racial, gender and income gaps and accelerating the race to the bottom. Or it can wield its enormous economic influence combined with its capacity for innovative solutions to become a true global pioneer – to not just disrupt markets and technology, but to disrupt inequality.

Click to read the report, Tech’s Invisible Workforce.

See Also

Campaign for America’s Future has been covering Silicon Valley Rising’s fight to improve conditions for this “invisible” workforce.

The Silicon Valley Rising launch: “Silicon Valley Rising Fights for Worker Justice

The fight: “Silicon Valley Rising Fights To Give Part-Timers “Opportunity to Work”

Related: “Tax Scams, Google Buses Mean Silicon Valley Is #StuckInTraffic

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

A Corporate/Billionaire Austerity Budget Or A People’s Prosperity Budget

You’ve heard people ask, “How come they can come up with a couple trillion dollars to invade Iraq, or hundreds of billions for corporate tax cuts, but say we’re broke when we need to fix our infrastructure so pipes don’t contaminate children with lead poisoning?”

The answer is that the priorities of our current rigged “system” lead to choices like these by our current Congress. The taxing and spending in our government’s budgets reflect those priorities. As we all know, these priorities more and more often reflect the values and wishes of the “donor class” and less and less often reflect the values and wishes of the rest of us.

There Is An Alternative Budget

You might not know there is an alternative budget proposal that is much more in line with the priorities and values of “We the People.” That budget is the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ (CPC) Budget for Fiscal Year 2017, also known as “The People’s Budget”. The People’s Budget is in front of Congress right now.

The CPC People’s Budget deals with the real needs of Americans and our economy. It makes major job-creating investments in our country through clean energy, infrastructure, housing, and education, which will increase opportunity for all and boost wages for working Americans. It financially supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans, supports women’s reproductive health, supports voting rights, makes debt-free college a reality for all students, provides a plan to halve poverty and more. It pays for this by eliminating corporate tax dodges and breaks.

Priority: Austerity Or Prosperity

Choose your priority:

Austerity – the current “donor class” budgeting that benefits billionaires, Wall Street and giant corporations through cuts in things government does to make our lives and economy better, combined with cuts in taxes for billionaires and giant corporations. Austerity literally takes money out of the economy and “eats the seed corn.” When there are fewer jobs and people really need to find work, employers can pay as little as they can legally get away with, and pit the employees against each other. Meanwhile tax cuts defund our government’s ability to regulate what corporations and Wall Street do.

Prosperity – a “People’s” budget that creates millions of jobs (resulting in higher pay for everyone) through investment in maintaining and modernizing infrastructure, launching green energy projects, making preschool and higher education freely available for anyone who wants to attend and supports a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans. This investment in our people and our economy’s future creates fertile soil in which people and businesses can prosper. When there are lots of jobs, companies will “bid up” wages and benefits to attract people to work for them.

The People’s Budget will:

● Provide a $1 trillion investment to repair roads and bridges and ensure the restoration of our crumbling infrastructure.

● Create 3.6 million good-paying jobs to push our economy back to genuine full employment by targeting a 4 percent unemployment rate.

● Make corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, cracking down on loopholes and avoidance schemes.

● Make debt-free college a reality for all students by overhauling the student loan system, which currently leaves college students saddled with unmanageable levels of debt.

● Take bold action to fight climate change and invest in a clean-energy economy that supports green jobs with good wages.

Our Isaiah J. Poole has been all over the People’s Budget this month. He outlines the People’s Budget in “Newly Released People’s Budget Doubles Down On Progressive Policies.” Later he contrasted the People’s Budget with the Republican budget proposal in “People’s Budget Formally Unveiled Amid GOP Dystopia and Dysfunction,” noting its…

… sharp contrast between the progressive vision of a government working to strengthen working families and make our economy and politics more fair, and a conservative vision of government all but abandoning struggling families while coddling the wealthy and powerful.

Also see Poole’s “Five (of Many) Ways This GOP Budget Would Do Real Harm,” “Why We Need The People’s Budget’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan” and “People’s Budget Puts Forward An Aggressive Plan To Green Our Economy.”

How To Help

It’s your choice: Choose the current priority of austerity that benefits billionaires, corporations and Wall Street or a prosperity People’s Budget that invests in our economy – and us.

The Progressive Caucus People’s Budget is a bill in front of our Congress. All it takes is enough votes and it becomes the budget of our country. If you choose prosperity, here are some things you can do to help push this budget through Congress:

Sign our petition in support of the People’s Budget. This will help send a message to Congress – and to the presidential candidates.

● Call your representative in Congress and let them know you want her or him to support it, and to declare that he or she supports it.

● Write an op-ed or letter to the editor of a national or local paper about why you support the People’s Budget. Tell the media why a bold progressive budget matters to you and your community.

● If you want to find or organize an event in your congressional district to promote the People’s Budget, use this page, courtesy of People Demanding Action.

● Post on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtags #CPCBudget, #PeoplesBudget and #Budget2017 to share your message. Follow Twitter handle @ProgCongress.

Here are some sample tweets:

● We need a #PeoplesBudget that works for everyone – join @USProgressives and support the CPC budget: http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong

● We need a progressive budget that invests in a clean, renewable future #Budget2017 #PeoplesBudget http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong

● Tell Congress to support a #PeoplesBudget that creates a sustainable future for all http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong

● The #PeoplesBudget has set aside $1 trillion to address and prevent crises like #Flint: http://p2a.co/ProgressiveCong

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

What’s The Problem With “Free Trade”?

Our country’s “free trade” agreements have followed a framework of trading away our democracy and middle-class prosperity in exchange for letting the biggest corporations dominate.

There are those who say any increase in trade is good. But if you close a factory here and lay off the workers, open the factory “there” to make the same things the factory here used to make, bring those things into the country to sell in the same outlets, you have just “increased trade” because now those goods cross a border. Supporters of free trade are having a harder and harder time convincing American workers this is good for them.

“Free Trade”

Free trade is when goods and services are bought and sold between countries without tariffs, duties and quotas. The idea is that some countries “do things better” than other countries, which these days basically means they offer lower labor and environmental-protection costs. Allowing other countries to do things in ways that cost less “frees up resources” which can theoretically be used for investment at home.

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Supreme Obstruction

A Supreme Court justice has died. Normally (and according to the Constitution) the process is that the president nominates a successor, the Senate holds hearings, and there is a vote on whether to confirm that nominee. According to the Constitution, that’s their job, and they took an oath to do that job.

President Obama has said that of course he will fulfill his constitutional duty to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia. But this time Republicans have announced that they will refuse to participate in the constitutional process and will not consider any nomination that the president brings them.

This is part of an ongoing Republican attack on our form of government.

Ongoing Attack On Government And Rights

The country has been through years and years of Republican obstruction of everything government does. Why is that?

The architect of the modern conservative movement was corporate and tobacco attorney Lewis Powell, and his blueprint was “the 1971 Powell Memo,” titled, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” The memo claimed that “the American economic system” (capitalism) and “business” were “under broad attack” from “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries.” It complained of “the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to ‘consumerism’ or to the “environment.” It called on business as a class to “conduct guerrilla warfare” against this on “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences” as well as politicians the public and the courts. The goal was for business to “consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.”

The memo led to the building of the massive corporation/billionaire-funded conservative “infrastructure” of ideological “think tanks,” activist organizations and media/propaganda “echo chambers” that constantly push corporate/conservative propaganda out to the public. Book after book, article after article, study after study has warned of this movement effort to alter our government away from democracy and toward a corporatocracy.

Once such conservative movement organization is the Federalist Society, established in 1982 and receiving funding since from conservative foundations including the Earhart, Bradley, Simon, and Olin Foundations, and the Carthage, Koch, and Scaife Foundations. Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito were all members of the Federalist Society.

For how long did the Republican majority on the Supreme Court give us one highly partisan 5-4 decision after another, reversing one hard-won civil right, environmental gain, consumer right, worker right after another? Fifteen years ago the Republican Five even forced on us a president who didn’t receive a majority of the vote.

Since Obama

After Barack Obama was elected president, the Republican minority filibustered more than 500 important bills (on issues ranging from infrastructure funding to ending tax breaks for offshoring jobs) before they took control of the Senate – an unprecedented number. But it has not just been legislation; they have blocked nominees to positions that keep government functioning. They have blocked appointments to judgeships: there are 35 Obama judge appointees who were waiting for a Senate confirmation vote long before Senate Republicans conjured up their no-appointees-during-an-election-year stance, one as far back as September 2014.

Republicans have also continually obstructed by starving government agencies of the funds they need to operate – the Internal Revenue Service is a case in point. They have even shut down the government when they could.

Republicans also dismantle government in the states, cutting taxes for the rich and corporations while cutting the things government does for the state’s citizens. Many of these governors and legislatures achieved majority status following the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of undisclosed corporate and billionaire money into the political process. Once in, they passed restrictive voting rights laws and extremely partisan redistricting plans to lock in their majorities.

After so many years of this, the public is, to say the least, disillusioned to the point of giving up on government – even our current pretense of democracy.

But this has only gotten worse. This year, President Obama submitted his budget to Congress and Republicans refused to even look at it. They refused to schedule hearings before the House and Senate budget committees. They won’t let the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) come to Congress to testify.

Now, to top it all, Republicans have said they will not even consider any presidential nominee to the Supreme Court. If they prevail, the court will operate with only eight members, and precedent assures us that important cases will receive a 4-4 tie.

This Makes No Sense, Unless…

Republicans won’t consider the President’s budget? Won’t consider a Supreme Court nominee – any nominee? Won’t allow important bills to pass? Won’t allow important governmental posts to be filled? Won’t allow important government functions to be adequately funded? Dismantle important state agencies? It’s like Republicans are saying, “No, we’re not going to let you have your constitutional government.”

What is going on?

Republicans are able to do these things to our government because the “framers” of our Constitution never anticipated that a (well-funded) ideology that opposes the very concept of democratic government would capture a political party, gain seats in the Congress and, as a strategy, simply refuse to participate in the processes of constitutional government.

The Founders did require an oath of office that assumes such participation, but they did not outline steps to take should obstruction be used to block operation of the government.

If you look at all of this from a perspective that Republicans are working within our form of government, it makes no sense at all. They have a constitutional duty to pass budgets, but instead allow the government to shut down. They have a constitutional duty to confirm (or not) appointments to government positions and judgeships, but they obstruct. They have a constitutional duty to consider Supreme Court nominees, but they refuse.

But if you consider that their purpose is to fundamentally change our form of government, it all makes more sense.

People who see much of the public as “takers,” who view taxes as “theft,” who view roads, schools and social services as “free stuff” are not people who prefer a democratic form of government. They (or at least those funding them) want a different form of government where the haves have the power and the don’t-haves don’t, instead of We the People sharing the power and the country.

At some point you have to take them at their word and accept that they mean what they say: “We want to get the government small enough to drown it in a bathtub.” We are not looking at a disagreement over how to run our government here, we are looking at a disagreement over our form of government.

But our Constitution is clear on the form of government We the People have. That is why they are intent on setting the Constitution aside. We must tell Republicans that they took an oath to support the Constitution and its processes – or step aside and let We the People have our government back.

What The President Should Do

President Obama should nominate a known and dedicated liberal/progressive to the court, to balance the movement conservatives on the Court now. However, unlike the conservatives, this nominee should mean it when she or he states support the Constitution, and be ready to decide cases based on the Constitution and law, not ideology.

Republicans will always nominate a dedicated movement conservative who is sworn to advance the anti-government (and therefore anti-U.S. Constitution) conservative project, against voting rights, consumer rights, environmental rights, and for corporate rule.

It’s time the right-wing ideologues are called out for their obstruction of democracy – and to make to clear that the presidential candidates who have participated in or have endorsed that obstruction have no place in our government. It’s not just about a budget or a Supreme Court justice; it’s about restoring the principle that the United States must act as a democracy of the people, every day of every year.

Here are two petitions that you can sign to tell Republican senators to “do their job” and consider President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court:

● The Sierra Club petition: “We Need Three Functioning Branches of Government. Don’t let Congress’s dysfunction spread to the Supreme Court. Tell your senators to do their job and go through the normal constitutionally mandated process of choosing the next Supreme Court Justice.”

● Senator Sherrod Brown petition: “Senators, do your job.” “Tell Republicans: Do Your Constitutionally Mandated Job. The Constitution is clear — the president nominates Supreme Court justices, and the Senate confirms or rejects them. But Republicans in Congress want to ignore the Constitution. They’re saying they won’t consider anyone President Obama nominates. We, the undersigned, are tired of Republicans’ hypocrisy. A Senator’s Constitutional oath applies regardless of which party controls the Oval Office. Stop making excuses and do your job.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Is Clinton Bought By Wall Street? There Is A Test For That

Secretary Hillary Clinton has accepted millions in “speaking fees” and campaign contributions from interest groups – most notably Wall Street firms – that she will be in a position to help or hurt as president. She promises that the money will not influence her if she takes office, but voters are understandably skeptical.

Voters have been betrayed again and again by people who have become known as “corporate Democrats.” These politicians made promises to help regular working people, then turned on them after elections and enacted policies that boost the monied interests – especially Wall Street and giant corporations – at the expense of the rest of the country.

What can Clinton do to overcome the resulting voter skepticism? Are there concrete things she can do and commitments she can make now that can reassure voters that she will be able to represent the other 99 percent of us once in office? Are there ways she can show the public that she means what she says when she claims to be as “progressive” as her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders?

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The Latest Tax-Scam Corporate ‘Inversion’ – Who Pays Instead?

Johnson Controls Inc. and Tyco International PLC have announced a $14 billion merger, with the resulting company pretending to be “Irish.” This is called an “inversion” and is all about dodging taxes.

Johnson Controls is actually based in Milwaukee. Tyco is based in Princeton, N.J. but became “Irish” through its own prior tax-dodging inversion(s). The Washington Post explains this, in “Manufacturing giants Tyco and Johnson Controls agree to merge“:

This is not the first time Tyco, which started as a New Jersey-based research laboratory for the U.S. government in the 1960s before growing into a global behemoth with workers in about 50 countries, has made use of tax-avoidance measures. In 1997, it merged with a Bermuda-based company in another corporate inversion before moving its headquarters to Switzerland in 2008. It moved to Ireland in 2013.

Tyco is also remembered for its former President Dennis Kozlowski, who was convicted in 2005 of various crimes related to looting shareholders and using the money for things like a 2001 $2.2 million party on the island of Sardinia.

The Inversion Tax Scam Game

An inversion allows corporations to pretend to be non-U.S. companies and dodge taxes while still getting the full benefits of our country’s taxes: roads and other physical infrastructure, advanced legal system, educated workforce, police and other protections, military protection, and so on.

November’s post, “Pfizer Buying Allergan So It Can Pretend To Be Irish In Tax Scam” explained how this works: “In other words, the resulting merged company will make and sell products in the same places it makes and sells them now. The same executives will occupy the same buildings. It will receive the same taxpayer-funded U.S. services, infrastructure, courts and military protection that it receives now. But the company will now claim it is “based” in tax-haven Ireland and thereby dodge U.S. taxation.”

The thing is, corporations and shareholders already pay lower tax rates than regular people do. They also get special privileges including “limited liability.” People who make money trading corporate shares get a special, lower “capital gains” tax rate. (This capital gains tax rate is lower because the wealthiest make most of their income from capital gains, and the wealthiest make most of their income from capital gains because the capital gains tax rate is lower.)

But they want more. They want it all. And they’re getting it.

Who Pays Instead?

The billionaires and other shareholders already enjoy special lower tax rates than the rest of us (low capital gains tax rates, the Social Security “cap,” the carried interest loophole, multitudes of other breaks…) This is just one more tax break they utilize as their wealth builds and builds. And that massive accumulated wealth buys more and more privileges and breaks.

We the People of the United States, through our elected Representatives in Congress, allow this. Or, to put it in today’s reality: Billionaires and their corporations pay handsomely for a Congress that allows this.

But when these giant corporations and the billionaires behind them don’t pay their taxes, guess who has to either make up the difference or suffer the cutbacks in the things government does to make our lives and economy better? (Hint: Register to vote today and be absolutely sure to show up and VOTE this time. Don’t be misdirected, demoralized, suppressed or otherwise tricked into not voting. Talk to other people about registering and voting, too.)

The Candidates

The Republican candidates generally propose stopping corporate inversions to avoid U.S. corporate taxes by reducing or even ending U.S. taxation of corporations.

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have similar proposals for limiting these “inversions.”

Here’s Hillary Clinton’s statement on the Johnson Controls-Tyco inversion deal:

“It is outrageous when large multinational corporations game the tax code and shelter money overseas to avoid paying their fair share, including through maneuvers like inversions. As I have said throughout my campaign, these efforts to shirk U.S. tax obligations leave American taxpayers holding the bag while corporations juice more revenues and profits.”

Clinton’s “detailed and targeted plan to immediately put a stop to inversions and invest in the U.S.” includes:
● A 50 percent threshold for foreign company shareholder ownership after a merger before an American company can give up its U.S. identity.
● An “exit tax” to ensure multinational companies that change their identity pay a fair share of the U.S. taxes they owe on earnings stashed overseas.
● A crackdown on “earnings stripping,” one of the key benefits of inversions.

Sanders released a statement condemning “corporate deserters”:

“The potential Johnson-Tyco merger would be a disaster for American taxpayers,” Sanders said. “Profitable companies that have received corporate welfare from American taxpayers should not be allowed to renounce their U.S. citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes. These corporate inversions must stop.

“My message to these corporate deserters is simple: You can’t be an American company only when you want corporate welfare from American taxpayers or you want lucrative contracts from the federal government,” Sanders continued. “If you want the advantages of being an American company then you can’t run away from America to avoid paying taxes.”

The Sanders Corporate Tax Reform Plan involves:
● Ending the rule allowing American corporations to defer paying federal income taxes on profits of their offshore subsidiaries.
● Closing loopholes allowing American corporations to artificially inflate or accelerate their foreign tax credits.
● Preventing American corporations from claiming to be foreign by using a tax-haven post office box as their address.
● Preventing American corporations from avoiding U.S. taxes by “inverting.” Under Sanders’ bill the U.S. would continue to tax such a company as an American corporation so long as it is still majority owned by the owners of the American party to the merger or acquisition.
● Prevent foreign-owned corporations from stripping earnings out of the U.S. by manipulating debt expenses.
● Preventing large oil companies from disguising royalty payments to foreign governments as foreign taxes.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Silicon Valley Rising Fights To Give Part-Timers “Opportunity to Work”

A grassroots/labor/faith/community coalition called Silicon Valley Rising on Monday went to the San Jose, Calif. City Clerk’s office to submit the “Opportunity to Work” ballot initiative.

The purpose of the initiative is to require employers to offer qualified part-time employees the opportunity to work additional hours before hiring new part-time or temporary employees.

The Problem: Too Much Part-Time Work

Currently one way (of so many ways) employers nationwide take advantage of their workforce is by limiting the hours they can work in order to avoid providing any benefits that might accrue to full-time employees. Instead of upgrading employees to full-time status when they need more work done, they hire additional part-time or temporary workers. The result is that people have to take on multiple jobs just to (barely) get by. The “Opportunity to Work Initiative” is the first such initiative in the country to limit this abusive practice by requiring employers to expand the hours of their current workforce before hiring new people.

Ben Field, Executive Officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council said at the event, “A number of employers avoid providing health care and other benefits by hiring new part-time workers instead of giving more hours to current part-time employees. It’s unfair.”

Poncho Guevara, Executive Director of Sacred Heart Community Service explained, “We are seeing so many parents working hard, willing to do whatever they can to support their families, but most part-time workers are unable to cover their most basic needs, such as food and rent. When part-time workers are denied hours, they are pushed further into poverty, making it impossible for them to support their families without the safety net we provide. They want to work. The ‘Opportunity to Work Initiative’ would help many of the families that we serve by giving them the chance to work more hours and hopefully achieve economic stability.”

Fr. Jon Pedigo, Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and member of the Silicon Valley Rising coalition said, “Every day I see how my parishioners struggle to make ends meet because they do not have access to sufficient work hours. This initiative would help these workers support their families by getting enough hours so that their paychecks cover their bills and they can put food on the table.”

Sara Delete, a fast food employee said, “Despite the fact that I work three part-time jobs, I struggle to make ends meet. Every week the number of hours I get changes, so I am never sure what my paycheck will be. Not having access to more work hours means that I am constantly worried about being able to provide for my son, cover my rent and pay the bills.”

Chava Bustamante, Executive Director of Latinos United for a New America said, “The majority of individuals working part-time jobs are people of color. As such, they are disproportionately impacted by the lack of hours, low wages and non-existent benefits.”

Silicon Valley’s Brand Of Inequality

Even though many Silicon Valley companies make enormous profits one in three Silicon Valley households don’t make enough money to even meet their most basic needs.

Companies everywhere use all kinds of schemes to keep “labor costs” low. One way the wages of lower-skilled workers are kept low is through maintaining intentionally high un- and under-employment levels. Public investment in infrastructure and other job-creating areas is reduced, limiting job availability. Teachers, police, health care, child care and other employees and services are cut back. The result is a surplus “reserve army” of hungry people who can be exploited and set against each other in competition for any private-sector jobs that do exist.

In Silicon Valley there is particular demand for workers skilled in such fields as engineering and programming, so tech employers engage in various schemes to keep tech-specialist pay lower than it should be. One scheme is the use of H1-B visas for bringing in workers from other countries. Higher-paid and older American-born tech workers are laid off or their pay is reduced as these workers are brought in at lower pay rates.

Sometimes the tech companies engage in more direct wage suppression. A number of Silicon Valley companies were caught engaging in a conspiracy that worked in a way similar to price-fixing, except it was pay-fixing. The companies made private, illegal deals between each other to limit the pay of their employees by agreeing not to recruit or hire people already at one of the other companies. This kept down competition for these employees, which limited their pay.

Of course the higher-skilled tech workers are not left in poverty and/or struggling to get by, as the (often people of color) lower-skilled workers are. But it is part of the same “rigged” system where the government, “captured” by wealthy interests, not only does not step in with investment that would correct abuses, it is forced to cut back on spending on the very things – such as antidiscrimination, antitrust and other enforcement – that would make a difference in wages, as well as public services to help people affected by the resulting inequality.

The “Google Bus” Effect Of Tax-Dodging On Communities

The use of these and other schemes drive up profits, which the companies then move out of the country to tax havens using various schemes. This defunds government’s ability to provide regulatory enforcement, badly needed public services, and other things that would help fight the inequality that is hurting so many people.

One example of the effect of this government defunding is Silicon Valley’s poor transportation system. There is minimal investment in public transportation options. The rail, road and other infrastructure is poorly maintained and overwhelmed. Meanwhile the wealthy tech companies provide their employees with a private transportation system. Modern, usually white buses known generically as “Google buses” (though companies like Facebook, Genentech, Apple and others have their own fleets as well) take employees from home to work to areas with popular restaurants, etc. while the rest of the people are stuck in traffic jams, squeeze into already-filled trains on their limited routes or wait for the few public buses that operate.

Silicon Valley Rising‘s website states: “Silicon Valley Rising is taking on occupational segregation and severe income inequality with a comprehensive campaign to raise wages, create affordable housing and build a tech economy that works for everyone.”

What is the purpose of our government and economy – to serve a few already-wealthy people and their corporations or to serve We the People? If passed, Silicon Valley Rising’s “Opportunity to Work Initiative” would help hard-working families by helping providing the work hours they need to get by.

The initiative requires 20,000 signatures to make it onto the November ballot.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Supreme Court Appears Ready To Bankrupt Public-Employee Unions

Renee_AFSCMEAfter a decades-long effort to place ideologically committed “movement” members in the judicial branch of government, funded by extremely wealthy individuals and their corporations, it looks like the resulting corporate/conservative wing of the Supreme Court is ready to make a ruling that would bankrupt public-employee unions. And clearly already-decimated private-sector unions will be the next target.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In this case the Court is asked to overturn a unanimous 1977 decision that said public-employee unions can charge nonmembers a fee to cover the cost of the services the unions are required by law to provide those nonmembers. The fee does not cover political activities of the union, only the cost of services the unions must, by law, provide.

If the corporate/billionaire class gets its way – and it looks like it will – the terrible inequality you see in the country today is nothing compared to what’s coming. Having grabbed all the income gains since the recession, having wiped out the middle class, having pushed so much to the top that a few families now have more wealth than all of the rest of us combined, now the corporate/billionaire class is coming after the rest of the money in the economy.

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Why You Should Pay Attention To The ‘Friedrichs’ Supreme Court Case

The Supreme Court has once again decided to reconsider “settled law.” This time it is a case involving the rights of public-employee unions to charge employees a fee for the services the unions are required by law to provide to all employees – even those who are not members of the union. The goal is to bankrupt the unions by denying them the funds necessary to perform the required services.

The argument is that since unions protect working people’s pay and rights, paying fees for union services therefore violates the “free speech” of those who support concentrated wealth and power.

This case is going to be argued before the Supreme Court on Monday. Here’s why you need to pay attention.

Payment For Services Unions Are Required By Law To Provide

When a public-employee union negotiates a contract, even employees who are not union-members get the pay increases, sick pay, vacation pay, union services and other benefits of the contract. Union services include the cost of collective bargaining, administering the resulting contract, and representing employees who have grievances under the contract.

Currently, unions are required by law to provide these services to every employee covered by a union contract, even if those employees are not union members. So, the unions charge an “agency fee” to those non-union employees to cover the costs.

Public-Employee Unions Support Communities, Not Just The Workers

Public-employee unions, by their nature, fight for the interests not just of employees but of the entire community. On a Wednesday call about the implications of the Freidrichs case, members of public-employee unions described how their unions help them serve the whole community.

Vincent Variale, a New York Fire Department EMS lieutenant and 9/11 first responder, said it is important for first responders to have a voice at the table, because they fight for preventive safety regulations, good equipment and adequate staffing levels.

For example, he said that on 9/11 they had no respirators, so it was hard to provide medical care as needed. His union local brought these concerns to the fire department and fought to get better equipment. Now they have respirators and protective equipment that allows them to work in harsh environments, like building collapses, providing medical care that is needed. And now that there is such a concern about “active shooters,” the union is proactively trying to get bulletproof vests. This demonstrates how unions protect the citizens their members serve.

Pankaj Sharma, a high school teacher in Illinois, talked about how his union works to stop cuts to the most marginalized and at-risk students. Special education, for example, is an expensive program and is often a target for cuts. The union fights this. The union also advocates for referendums to get high quality facilities. Because teaching has a high turnover rate, the union created a mentoring program to help keep teachers. This helps school districts and the students.

Coming Soon: Not Just Public Employees

In 2014 the Court ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment prohibited unions from collecting a fee from home health care providers who are not members of the union, even though the union was required to provide services.

Because of the makeup of the Court it is likely to rule in Freidrichs that nonmembers no longer have to pay those fees while the unions will still be required to provide those services. (Why else would the Court have taken this case?)

These cases are about public employees, but undoubtedly all of this is intended to lead also to attacking the same requirements for private-employee unions. This is about making every state a “right-to-work” state, and suppressing unions and wages.

Corporate Conservative Court Is Reconsidering Supposedly “Settled” Cases

In 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that public-employee unions can charge this fee. So for decades this has been considered to be “settled law.”

But now the Supreme Court has a majority of members who made their way to the court with corporate-funded conservative backing. So the court is systematically reversing older “settled” cases that affect corporations, workers rights, and other elements of conservative ideology like voting rights and womens’ rights.

This time the conservatives on the Court are reconsidering the unanimously and four-decade-settled Abood decision. The case the Court is using to accomplish this is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The court is going to decide if non-union public employees will still be required to pay for the services unions required by law to provide them. All bets are that it will be another 5-4 decisions in favor of the corporate-conservative position.

The “Free Speech” Argument

The argument being used this time is that making people pay for services they receive, even when those services are required by law, violates their “freedom of speech.” This is said to be about “speech” because unions represent working people, enabling them to band together and collectively bargain, and thereby confront those with concentrated wealth and power on a more level playing field. Therefore, by their very nature, unions are engaging in “political activity,” and making people pay for the services unions provide is “unconstitutionally compelled political speech.”

In other words, because unions engage in the activity of fighting for better wages, rights, and protection, therefore the “rights” of those who would deny people those things are put at risk if unions are funded. Assisting unions in this mission by paying this fee thereby violates the free speech of those who support concentrated wealth and power.

We The People vs Concentrated Wealth And Power

The current majority of the Supreme Court was brought to its position with funding and backing of those on that other side – corporate-funded conservatives. These are the “people” whose “free speech rights” the Court says are being violated if unions receive funds enabling them to represent working people. These corporations are also the “people” who the Court ruled are allowed to put unlimited money into our elections because of “free speech.”

The Supreme Court repeatedly takes the position that anything that protects working people and regular citizens from concentrated wealth and power is by its very nature “political advocacy” and therefore violates the “free speech” of those few with concentrated wealth and power.

But the United States of America was founded by We the People – all of us “created equal” – with the purpose of banding together to protect ourselves and secure our liberty from concentrated wealth and power. This Supreme Court is consistently issuing 5-4 rulings that go against the very reasons our country was founded and our Constitution was written.

As the Supreme Court hears this case on Monday, that day will mark the beginning of a week of action to ensure that the public is aware of what’s at stake: the ability of workers to stand up for themselves and for the people they serve. Please visit America Works Together – a coalition of working people and their allies, working people like teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other public service workers who are passionate about our work, and learn more about what you can do during the week of action.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Lack Of Public Options Shows How The Economy Gets Rigged Against Us

In a country with a Constitution beginning with the words, “We the People,” should our economy work for all of us instead of just a few of us? You would think it should work for We the People, but example after example shows how it is actually rigged to work for only a few people.

Postal Banking

Last week, in “Citizens Deliver 150K Petitions Demanding Postal Banking,” made the point: “We can continue to have a rigged system that enables and encourages predators to take advantage of the public, or we can offer public options that protect and provide services for the public.”

Here is a new video of the speakers at the Postal Banking petition delivery:

[fve]https://youtu.be/zAwC3VyWGH4[/fve]

Nearly 28 percent of U.S. households (54 percent of African-American households) are forced to turn to payday lenders, check-cashers and other financial predators, because they can’t get accounts at private banks. Postal banking — having the post office offer simple savings accounts, bill paying, debit card and ATM services and small loans — would provide low-cost financial services through the nation’s 30,000 U.S. Post Offices.

Every other developed country has a postal banking option to serve their people. We do not. Because we do not, if Americans can’t get a bank account they are forced to rely on predatory services. That rigs the financial services game against We the People.

Health Care

If you need to see a doctor in England you just do, and you don’t have to pay to do it. Almost every other developed country provides health care to serve their people. We do not. We are instead on our own — forced to purchase private insurance with its high deductibles and co-pays.

We are banned by law from buying into Medicare until we are 65 — and Republicans are trying to get rid of that by turning Medicare into a limited voucher to buy private scam insurance. That rigs the health care game against We the People.

Telecommunications

How about our internet service? Did you know that municipalities — or the Post Office — could offer us “public option” high-speed internet at a very low cost? (In many countries their Post Office offers internet and phone options to the people.) But by and large we don’t get a public option. Instead we have to rely on telecommunications monopolies who deliver slow broadband speeds and make us pay whatever they say we have to pay. (And don’t forget the fees!) This rigs the internet/telecommunications game against We the People.

Public Options Forbidden

We have been through decades of “privatization” – turning public services over to private enterprise. They lay off the well-paid, unionized public employees and hire people at minimum wage. This cuts the tax base, hits local businesses, and forces foreclosures. On top of that, minimum-age employees require public services like food stamps just to get by.

The privatizers justify that by saying that private businesses always do everything better than government. But if We the People decide that we want to provide ourselves with a public option for a service, this is banned because it would be “unfair competition” with the private sector.

Why would it be unfair competition? Because government offers economy of scale, public oversight of operations, transparency, higher standards, good service, and most of all doesn’t have to push all the gains to a few people at the top. This last is, by the way, the real reason for privatization — to push all the gains to a few people at the top.

Our government is meant to serve We the People, instead of just some people. When We the People are not allowed to offer each other public options, it rigs the economy against us and in favor of an already-wealthy few.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Sanders’ Socialism Speech: America Is For All Of Us, Not Just Wealthy

“I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.”
– Senator Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders billed his talk Thursday at Georgetown University as a speech on “democratic socialism,” but it was immediately clear that what Sanders was really talking about were not the ideologies of a Cold War adversary but deeply American traditions of fairness that have been under attack by ideologues brandishing American flags.

Sanders anchored his speech as building on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” address. “Real freedom must include economic security.” he said. “That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.”

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