Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What is the Economy, Anyway?

By Ann Manning

The current GOP leadership and their colleagues in the Minnesota House and Senate are the unfortunate victims of the Taxpayer’s League and Governor Tim Pawlenty’s foolish “no new taxes, ever” pledge. I suspect many Republican legislators know that the best thing for Minnesota right now is to ask everyone to pay their fair share -- and that means a small tax increase for the top 2 percent of Minnesota’s high-income households.

When I hear the conservative mantra that we are unfairly “taking from the rich,” I want to remind them that in any legitimate democracy we all benefit from and “take” from each other and the rich do take from the middle class and the poor. The amazing public systems in this country -- physical infrastructure, patents and trademark protection, public schools, libraries, and hospitals -- are something we built together, as citizens. The wealthy have not only benefitted enormously from these investments we all helped build, but over the past 30 years, they have further used their wealth to enact tax policy to benefit themselves disproportionately to the rest of the citizens.

Corporations, who are also doing enormously well, have slowly but steadily eroded the power of workers and shifted a disproportionate share of the enormous economic growth in this country to the top. Wages and household income for the middle class and the poor are either flat or down over the past 30 years. We all know what’s happened at the top --astronomical increases in income and wealth. This is not the “invisible hand” of the market. This is cronyism in the boardrooms of America and the power of money to write the rules.

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By Scott Klinger and Holly Sklar

Some of our nation’s biggest corporations are planning a tax holiday and they want you to pick up the tab.

Actually, you already pay for their routine tax avoidance through the use of tax havens in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. These accounting acrobatics cost the U.S. Treasury $100 billion a year. Now they want Congress to pass a special tax holiday for money they “repatriate” back to the United States.

There’s nothing patriotic about this repatriation being pushed by Google, Cisco, Pfizer and other companies in the Win America campaign. To sell the tax holiday, they claim it will produce a burst of jobs and investment. In fact, Congress passed a “one-time-only” tax holiday in 2004 with similar promises. Instead, it produced a burst of shareholder dividends and stock buybacks, which goosed the pay of CEOs.

Corporations laid off workers and shifted even more income and investment to offshore tax havens in the wake of the 2004 tax holiday.

“Why should we reward firms for successfully gaming the tax system when we in turn are called on to make up the missing tax revenues?” Edward Kleinbard, former chief of staff of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, told Bloomberg. “Much of these earnings overseas are reaped from an enormous shell game: Firms move their taxable income from the U.S. and other major economies – where their customers and key employees are in reality located – to tax havens.”

A favorite accounting trick is transferring a patent from the U.S. parent company to a subsidiary – often a shell company – in a tax haven. Profits from the patent go largely untaxed offshore while the costs of development, marketing and management remain in the U.S. where they are taken as tax deductions.

Pfizer was the largest beneficiary of the last tax holiday, bringing $37 billion back to the United States and paying just $1.7 billion in federal corporate income taxes. It laid off 10,000 American workers in the following months. The U.S. is the world’s most profitable drug market and yet over the last three years, Pfizer – maker of Lipitor, Viagra and much more – has reported $7.9 billion in U.S. losses while claiming $37.8 billion in profits in the rest of the world. Pfizer, like the rest of Big Pharma, is heavily subsidized by taxpayer-funded research at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere. It should not be rewarded with another tax holiday.

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Riane Eisler
Kim Otis
By Riane Eisler and Kimberly Otis

What do women really want from our President? This is a question President Obama should be asking if he wants to keep his job for another term -- which hinges on the women’s vote. The recent posting of his accomplishments mentions several positive appointments: two women to the Supreme Court, Elizabeth Warren to launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and other outstanding women to top Cabinet posts; such as Secretaries Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, Kathleen Sebelius, and Hilda Solis.

But such accomplishments do not begin to go far enough. For one thing, by authorizing major cuts to traditionally women’s jobs in education, health care, and family planning, the President allowed an assault on women’s economic status and health-care access. Moreover, he allowed opponents to divert the conversation about economic recovery from the millions of unemployed and the massive increase in Americans in poverty to an obsessive focus on reducing the deficit through government program cuts. And because women comprise the vast majority of public-sector teachers, nurses, social workers, caregivers, and others being laid off, women are now bearing the brunt of job losses.

These shortsighted and cruel cuts are not only harming millions of people and their families; they will soon harm us all.

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By Karen Jacob

I've lived in the heartland for more than two decades. And I can tell you that there’s nothing like a sultry July night at the local ballpark, rooting for the home team, eating hot dogs and quaffing beer, watching fireworks viewed from damp, warm infield grass.

This time of year, the Midwest is awash in flags and bumper stickers boasting one’s support for the troops and the good ol’ red, white and blue. But, lately we have seen more and more “Come home!” messages, and headlines such as, “Locals hope for an end to the war.” Unemployment, which struck the heartland harder than most places, still affects many who are at the end of their unemployment checks or are underemployed. War costs in Afghanistan, nearing $2 billion a week, particularly stick in the craw of these suffering Americans.

My son will be a sophomore majoring in music education at Butler University this fall (You know, that small Midwest college with the basketball team that went to the Final Four -- two years in a row), will graduate not knowing whether there will be music and band programs in public schools where he can work. Juxtapose that against the two decades of his life filled with costly wars. The first Iraq war started in 1991, when he was not yet born. That war, followed by bombing in the Balkans and elsewhere -- Afghanistan, Iraq again, and now Libya, with the hint of more to come … means that my son and his generation have grown up in continuous war. They know nothing else.

My son's generation thinks gas prices are about war. He knows this father was drafted during the Vietnam War, and that he escaped that fate. He has older friends who returned from recent wars as lesser human beings.

His generation has grown up in a time of plenty, and also a time of economic insecurity. As someone who has worked for peace all her life, I love the Fourth of July. I honor freedom, justice and all that it envelops. Yet, I worry about the constant drain on our American collective dream of freedom, justice and economic security.

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By Matthew Hoh

As he was announcing his second increase in troops for Afghanistan in December 2009, President Obama promised that by July 2011 those troops would begin coming home. As relayed by Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, we know the president was skeptical about the United States’ war effort in Afghanistan. In spite of that skepticism, the president's new plan for the war extends the longest war in American history for the foreseeable future.

President Obama announced his first surge of 20,000 troops in spring 2009. Pushing American forces well above the 50,000 mark and reinforcing a counterinsurgency strategy, he escalated a war in a country entering its fourth decade of continuous conflict.

Thousands of Marines and soldiers were rushed in, with the announcement that they were there to ensure free and fair Afghan elections. That summer, these troops found an insurgency fueled by resentment of their presence. Either because of hostility to foreign occupation or because our troops simply sided with someone else’s rival, akin to supporting just one side in a Hatfield-McCoy feud, 2009 became the deadliest year of the war, doubling the amount of American dead in 2008.

Meanwhile, the fire hydrant-like stream of dollars, being pumped into the second most corrupt nation in the world , seemed to purchase only further grievances among the population against a government radiantly kleptocratic. When President Hamid Karzai blatantly stole the elections in August, American officials were forced to abandon any narrative of Americans fighting and dying for democracy in Afghanistan. Then, in October, National Security Advisor Jim Jones announced that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan.

However, given little political cover from the left, feeling little political pressure from the right and receiving nothing but a choice of small, medium or large escalation of the war by the Pentagon, President Obama in December 2009 ordered 30,000 more troops and billions of dollars into what soon would become America’s longest war.

Predictably, by doubling down on a policy that had proved counterproductive, we betrayed our national values and failed to inflict damage on al-Qaeda. We also went from being waist-deep to chest-deep in quicksand.

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By Yifat Susskind

Hurricane season begins this month, and in Haiti’s displacement camps, people have begun to look fearfully toward the skies. For solutions, they must look to Haitian women.

More than a year after the earthquake, each day continues to bring life-threatening challenges to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in tent cities. Families that lost everything to the earthquake now struggle to feed themselves, to find clean water or to stay healthy in the face of dangerous illnesses like cholera.

Now, on top of all of this, the hurricanes are returning.

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By Brian Setzler

The coalition calls itself WIN America, but the numbers involved in the corporate tax holiday mean a real loss for America. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation has calculated this tax windfall would cost $80 billion, money that would be made up with higher taxes on small business people like me, or through reduced government services and infrastructure upon which all businesses, communities and families depend.

Tax amnesty programs are nothing new. The IRS has a couple of times allowed individual taxpayers to declare hidden offshore assets and pay both the full tax due and penalties in exchange for avoiding prosecution and possible jail time. While much corporate tax-dodging through the use of tax havens is neither hidden, nor illegal under current law favoring U.S. multinationals, it wholly stems from corporations who engage in these transactions for the principle purpose of shifting profits between countries in order to avoid taxes. Creating an incentive for such anti-social behavior through preferential tax rates will only serve to accelerate the offshoring of U.S. profits through fictional transactions.

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By Ellen Bravo and Dan Mulhern

After being inundated with news reports of male public figures behaving badly, Father’s Day gives us a much-needed opportunity to turn attention to the many fathers and husbands who work tirelessly to support their families -- – and to call on elected officials to move policies that allow all men to be good fathers, sons and husbands without being punished for it at work.

First, we saw Mark Kelly take time off from his space training to be at the bedside of his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as she recovered from the traumatic shooting.

Then, in a more celebratory moment, Colby Lewis and Ian Desmond told the baseball league and fans that while they loved the game, the birth of a child warranted missing one or two.

Happily but not surprisingly, the Texas Rangers are still in first place, and the Endeavor shuttle launch was a success.

The iconic photos of Mark Kelly camped out at Gabrielle Giffords’ bedside and holding her hand offer poignant evidence that men, as well as women, respond to a loved one’s crisis by wanting to be right by that person’s side.

Scientific evidence demonstrates that the presence of these men is not just sentimental or symbolic. Babies whose fathers have been more actively involved with their care score higher on a key infant development test and are more socially responsive. A year later, these babies show more resilience when faced with stressful situations.

Similarly, the involvement of loved ones is critical to the recovery of brain trauma patients. According to Dr. Stephan Mayer, director of the Neurological Intensive Care Unit at Columbia University Medical Center, “the common denominator is a present, loving and supportive family. I can’t say how important it is to have your loved ones around you helping you battle through.”

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By Dr. William Barclay

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the first of the two tax cuts sought by the President George Bush. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act was enacted in 2001 to be followed, in 2003, by the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act. Ten years later, it is time we assess the actual results of these tax cuts, looking at economic performance rather than political promises. The results have been a disaster for the US economy and for almost all of the American people. We have experienced very slow income and employment growth for the vast majority of families, an extremely unequal distribution of the direct financial benefits from these measures, and, very slow growth in the economy as a whole.

As someone who has personally received these tax cuts during the past 10 years, I feel it is my responsibility to speak out.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

A Life Changing Anniversary


By Patricia West

As a Pennsylvania social worker specializing in family dynamics, I’ve spent most of my 40 year career analyzing and trying out various ways to keep women healthy and safe. This month [June 7] we celebrate the anniversary of a breakthrough in that process: the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision that legalized contraceptive use for married couples—and more importantly, recognized an individual’s right to privacy in family planning matters.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recognized family planning as one of the ten great public health advances of the 20th century. At clinics and centers that provide family planning, the complications of pregnancy that are a woman’s most common source of ill health can be prevented or treated. And our national family planning program – Title X of the Public Health Service Act of 1970 – made family planning available to low-income people as well as the rich. As a result, some 98 percent of us have used birth control at some point in our lives, and we mostly take it for granted.

We shouldn’t. The House voted recently to defund Title X completely for fiscal 2011. The Senate saved the program, but another attempt to kill it is certain this year. The attackers are using innuendo and misinformation to entangle family planning in their anti-abortion war, claiming to cut spending but ignoring the truth: Title X, the only dedicated source of federal funding for family planning services, saves the government some $3.4 billion every year by preventing unintended pregnancies, nearly half of which would likely end in abortion.

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By Clare Coleman

If you’re an average woman, you want two children, according to various surveys. That means you’ll spend about five years of your life trying to become pregnant, being pregnant or recovering from pregnancy, and 30 years trying to avoid it.

You can do that thanks to the June 1965 landmark Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut, which affirmed the right of married couples to use contraceptives -- and more importantly, recognized an individual's right to privacy in family planning matters. Universal usage and acceptance of contraceptives followed, transforming the lives of millions of Americans.

The Griswold case was a catalyst for our national family planning program -- Title X of the Public Health Service Act -- the only dedicated source of federal funding for family planning services. Created in 1970, Title X provides access to family planning for all, without regard to economic circumstances.

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