Working Life Jonathan Tasini's Ruminations on Work, The Economy, and Politics Wed, 16 Apr 2014 01:43:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Loopholes Wed, 16 Apr 2014 01:43:41 +0000 In honor of tax day, check out these corporate loopholes. And, then, send your check with a non-smiley face on the envelope to the IRS.

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The CEO Should Get Whatever Pay He Wants IF… Mon, 14 Apr 2014 19:03:13 +0000

You know, every year, I get all hot and bothered around this time because there is always a flood of breathless articles about the stupendous rise in CEO pay and benefits. And I know a lot of good people who spend inordinate amounts of time trying to get shareholders to approve resolutions to have some “say on pay” or some other meaningless statement about what the pigs at the trough are pocketing. But, at the end of the day, I think it’s time just to say: give the CEO whatever pay he wants IF…and I’ll tell you what the “If” is in a sec.

So, first, to wet your appetite:

Some received substantial raises: David N. Farr, the C.E.O. of Emerson Electric, the industrial giant, took home $25.3 million, up 264 percent from 2012. (Mr. Farr got most of his pay, $21.6 million, in stock.) Mark Polzin, an Emerson spokesman, said that if the company is doing well, the structure of the package might cause a spike in Mr. Farr’s pay every few years.The stocks of many companies posted robust performance in 2013, which could also help drive C.E.O. pay higher.

The pay of John T. Chambers, the long-serving chief executive of Cisco Systems, jumped 80 percent, to $21 million, most of it in stock. The strong returns on Cisco’s shares — up 63 percent during the company’s 2013 fiscal year — played a substantial role in determining his raise.

Rupert Murdoch of 21st Century Fox made $26.1 million for the 2013 fiscal year, during which his company’s stock rose 46 percent. Disney’s shares didn’t fare quite as well, gaining 23 percent, and its chief executive, Robert A. Iger, was given a 7 percent pay cut. Still, he made $34.3 million, the second-highest total in the survey. Zenia Mucha, a Disney spokeswoman, said in an email that 93 percent of Mr. Iger’s compensation was based on performance.

And, from Gretchen Morgenson:

Year after year, as executive pay continues its inexorable climb, it’s amusing to watch corporate directors try to justify the piles of shareholder money they throw at the hired help. Check out any proxy filing for these arguments, which usually center on how closely and carefully the executives’ incentive compensation is tied to the performance of company operations.But pay for performance is only as good as the metrics used to determine it. And as a recent study shows, some metrics — including the most popular — are downright ineffective at motivating executives to create shareholder value.

But, all this is just a scam. All the metrics and justifications are simply rationalizations for handing people something they don’t deserve. It’s legalized robbery, with absolutely no economic rationale–NONE–other than the CEOs have the power to manipulate the system.Most of the hard work people do to have “say on pay” or protests about CEO pay is honestly not worth it. Usually, the resolutions lose. When they somehow win, it’s usually advisory.

When I wrote my book “The Audacity of Greed”back in 2009, I had the good fortune to talk with Graef “Bud” Crystal who was once one of the country’s premier compensation consultants—the guy who would be hired by CEOs to come up with compensation packages. He was there in the very first days of what would become a broad scam. He told me back then:

“In 1970, one CEO hired me and said, ‘we don’t have a bonus plan and do we need one?’” recalls Crystal. “I did the study and I went back to the CEO and said ‘yes you do need a bonus plan. But we have a problem area. You are making $150,000-a year and the problem is that the $150,000 is equal to the salary and the bonus to what your competitors are paying so we have to cut your pay to $100,000-a-year and then we can put in a bonus.’” Crystal laughs. “It was like a scene from The Exorcist where ice formed on the windows…he started arguing about the findings and he finally said ‘let me say this to you this way: who do you think is paying your bills anyway?’ I replied, ‘If I recall correctly the checks were drawn on the corporate account, not your personal account so the shareholders are paying me, not you.’ The meeting ended quite quickly.

The point is the whole game is fixed. The CEO stacks his board with cronies, pays them $20,000-per-meeting board fees and, then, makes sure his cronies approve pay packages — the real money is in the pensions and deferred pay. It’s a scam.So, getting back to the “IF”…

I say pay them whatever they ask for IF:

They get a choice. They can take $250,000-a-year, no questions asked–a figure that still puts them in the elite and, if that isn’t enough, trust me, I could put together a list of 1,000 qualified people to run any company for that sum.

OR, to cash that big lavish paycheck, each one has to go in front of a live arena, Roman-style, in the center of the arena, miked up and projected on a big screen television and live-streamed around the planet, and make the case for their pay. If the audience approves, thumbs up, then, lucky CEO, he gets to go home with his job intact

If the audience gives “thumbs down”, he gets fired on the spot (I’d say burned at the stake or torn apart by lions but I’m slightly non-violent). Immediately, the first person on the list of 1,000 qualified people gets the job for $250,000.

Personally, I think a huge number of those 1,000 qualified people would quickly have a new job.

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Understanding Sebelius Fri, 11 Apr 2014 17:50:55 +0000 A few days ago, I was having a drink with a friend and we ended up talking about healthcare (don’t you wish you were there for that fun, huh?). I said, “well, she should have been fired long ago.” Not claiming any kind of inside info that brought about he resignation yesterday, it felt so obvious — and, yet, the defense of her tenure on the part of ACA supporters is really dumb.

The defense boils down to: hey, millions signed up to the health care scheme so it’s been a smashing success.

The problem is the perception, whether you like it or not, was that the sign-ups happened in spite of it all. It’s still boggles the mind that the secretary, who was overseeing what is viewed as perhaps the most important, defining piece of domestic policy for the president, could not bother to make sure that the website would work right…a website that failed because it could not handle the huge traffic coming its way…huge traffic you would think she should have anticipated because that was the point.


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Is the Obama Administration Blocking International Efforts to Stop Corporate Tax Avoidance? Thu, 10 Apr 2014 19:45:02 +0000 Well, unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the answer to this question is “yes”. I’ve taken this headline almost verbatim from Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) which has been trying to stop this scam for a long time–and is getting no help, and, in fact, the opposite from the president.

So, quick background. There are two keys ways big corporations use a legal scam–legislated by their bought-and-paid for politicians in both parties–to hide their profits  overseas and avoid paying a fair share in taxes.

One is called “deferral”, which basically means assigning profits (often through patents) to a subsidiary offshore and pretending as if the subsidiary operates independently from the home base in say New York City. It’s a bullshit legal and financial maneuver (if you want a more detailed explanation, see this explanation from CTJ) but, yes, totally legal.

Second, the corporate tax attorney’s wet dream is to have a “territorial” tax system, not a worldwide tax system. To strip it down to its basics, the territorial system is the bedrock for off-shoring because, as you might guess, it encourages moving profits into a territory where taxes are low or zero. A worldwide system would essentially mean the IRS could tax a U.S.-based corporation no matter where its profits were sheltered.


Currently, American corporations have an incentive to move jobs offshore or shift profits offshore because they are not taxed on offshore profits unless those profits are repatriated. Under a territorial system, American corporations would not be taxed on their offshore profits ever, regardless of whether or not they are repatriated.[emphasis added]

As CTJ explained last year:

Both of these tax systems require tax enforcement authorities to accept the pretense that a web of “subsidiary corporations” in different countries are truly different companies, even when they are all completely controlled by a CEO in, say New York or Connecticut or London. This leaves tax enforcement authorities with the impossible task of divining which profits are “earned” by a subsidiary company that is nothing more than a post office box in Bermuda, and which profits are earned by the American or European corporation that controls that Bermuda subsidiary.

Yeah, this is a bit technical, and I’ve tried to simplify it. But, along with the robbery of peoples’ sweat-of-the-brow by hammering down wages, this is where the massive robbery of our wealth happens–in the dark corners of tax policy.

So, now, back to the president. CTJ is making it absolutely clear that the president is taking the side of big corporations, to the great detriment of regular taxpayers.:

It turns out that some of the OECD governments are proposing reforms that challenge the arm’s length concept at least to some degree, but the US government is pushing a line that is more favorable to the multinational corporations.Robert Stack, the Treasury Department deputy assistant secretary for International Affairs in the Office of Policy, is quoted by the Daily Tax Report as saying that the “main challenge for the U.S. is to get this project to work back from blunt instruments and towards policies that are understandable, fair, clear, administrable, and reach the right technical tax results.”[emphasis added]

What Robert Stack is saying, in his doublespeak (“the right technical tax results”), is essentially an argument for keeping deferral and supporting a territorial system–both of which are legal scams for U.S.-based corporations to keep billions of dollars of profits from being legitimately taxed here…which means less money for basic services for people here. All of which will make the party’s “superpac” donors very, very happy–but will end up simply increasing the burden on the rest of us and make the tepid $10.10-an-hour minimum wage increase, over time, even more tepid and meaningless.

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Shell Game: The Republican $1.7 Trillion Tax Cut for Corporations & The Rich Mon, 07 Apr 2014 21:23:52 +0000 In a way, I’m not sure this is news, in that Republicans shilling for big corporations and the very wealthy is not new but old (and throw in the clutch of Democrats who are willing shills for that scam). But, there it is: the Dave Camp shell game that, at the end of the day, will be a $1.7 trillion tax give away to the very wealthy and corporations.

So, just as most people are scurrying about to try to meet the April 15th tax deadline, the good people at Citizens for Tax Justice dig into Camp’s tax overhaul, which would cut the top personal income tax rate to 35 percent and dramatically reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. Allegedly, it’s supposed to be “revenue neutral”, the buzz word of the day (adopted by many Democrats as well).

Before going to CTJ’s analysis, let me remind everyone that there is absolutely no reason–none, zero–to cut corporate taxes, which are soaring:

Corporate profits are at their highest level in at least 85 years. Employee compensation is at the lowest level in 65 years.The Commerce Department last week estimated that corporations earned $2.1 trillion during 2013, and paid $419 billion in corporate taxes. The after-tax profit of $1.7 trillion amounted to 10 percent of gross domestic product during the year, the first full year it has been that high. In 2012, it was 9.7 percent, itself a record.

Until 2010, the highest level of after-tax profits ever recorded was 9.1 percent, in 1929, the first year that the government began calculating the number.

Before taxes, corporate profits accounted for 12.5 percent of the total economy, tying the previous record that was set in 1942, when World War II pushed up profits for many companies. But in 1942, most of those profits were taxed away. The effective corporate tax rate was nearly 55 percent, in sharp contrast to last year’s figure of under 20 percent.[emphasis added]

No matter. Facts aren’t required when your sole purpose is to siphon money to your buddies at the country club who write big checks for campaign contributions. Bob McIntyre explains:

As for distributional neutrality, Camp’s personal income tax cuts would be regressive. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy ran those tax cuts, fully phased in, through its microsimulation tax model (similar to the JCT’s) and found that, on average, the plan would cut personal income taxes for all income groups except the poorest 20 percent. People in that lowest fifth, however, would pay an average of $185 more a year. Within income groups, the biggest losers under Camp’s personal income tax plan would be single parent families. Two-thirds of those families would face tax increases, averaging $1,100 a year each.The biggest winners are who you’d expect. The top 1 percent would save an average of $18,000 a year in income taxes. The super-super-rich, with incomes of more than $10 million, would save an average of $201,000 a year.[emphasis added]

The biggest scam, though, is how Camp hides the full effects of his tax cuts and revenues by spreading them over two decades:

The truth is that after its first decade, Camp’s tax plan changes dramatically. That’s because Camp front-loads his business revenue raisers and back- loads his business tax cuts. As a result, while his personal income tax cuts will continue to grow in the second decade, his business tax increases will disappear, and in fact will probably turn into tax cuts. As a result, I calculate that his plan turns into a regressive $1.7 trillion net tax cut over its second decade.Camp is zealous in trying to hide the permanent effects of his tax plan. For example, he slowly phases in his reduction in the corporate tax rate down to 25 percent, which won’t take full effect until 2019.

So, effectively, this is a locked in robbery of the wealth of the country, just one that you don’t see as quickly as say George Bush’s tax cuts. But, the effect is the same: take from those who create the wealth through hard work and hand it over to the leeches.

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Businessman: Raising Minimum Wage is “an existential threat to the business model” he uses Fri, 04 Apr 2014 18:53:41 +0000 Workers are just human fodder, who just gum up the works and get in the way of the dreams of some tin-pot “small business” owner, just a glorified term for a guy running a restaurant. That’s the view of a low life who is whining about the proposal to raise the minimum wage for waiters, a minimum wage that was set much lower than the minimum wage for everyone else because of the power of the restaurant lobby. And it’s indicative of the philosophy underlying the opposition to hiking the minimum wage (a very meek and mild proposal, as an aside).

In the bill being advanced by Democrats in Congress to raise the overall minimum wage, there is also a proposal to raise the wage for tipped workers to at least $7.10 an hour from the paltry $2.13 now being paid. The scam over these many years was that waiters earned a great bounty from tips so restaurant owners were “blessed” by having to pay  a far lower minimum wage…hovering around Third World sweatshop levels.

And, oh, boy, the world would come to an end if a waiter earned more:

Mr. Garner, co-owner of the Glory Days Grill restaurant chain here in Maryland and northern Virginia, sides with many Republicans and much of the restaurant industry in opposing the move, which would primarily affect workers in the restaurant trade.“It creates an existential threat to the business model I’ve been involved in for the last 35 years,” Mr. Garner said.[emphasis added]

Poverty is even a greater danger to waiters:

A report prepared by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the Labor Department and others said tipped workers are twice as likely as other workers to experience poverty, and almost three times as likely if they are waiters. Nearly three-quarters of tipped workers are women, and about half of all tipped workers would earn more under the proposal, the report estimated[emphasis added].

By the way, in Australia, the minimum wage for a restaurant worker is $15.96 an hour, and, though tipping is not expected, tips comes on top of that, not to mention free national health care AND a legally mandated 9 percent employer contribution into a pension plan (superannuation fund, which works essentially like an IRA). And, based on personal observation, restaurants are doing just fine in Australia.

So, bottom line is this: if you want to hug your “business model”, which essentially thrives on the poverty of your workers, go fuck yourself. Go out of business. Go work changing bed pans in a hospital–see how that feels. You greedy fuck.

Because it’s just time, time to stop bowing down to that idiotic “business model” that favors this kind of greedy fuck over the people who actually make him his money.

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Ryan’s Budget: More Welfare For The Rich Wed, 02 Apr 2014 16:31:00 +0000 Just so we’re clear, and this bears repeating even if it is obvious, the richest people in the country are going to, once again, be the gift of more welfare-for-the-rich under the tax proposals of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan–while, just by the numbers, lower income people will get hit with a tax increase. Don’t you love this system?

Here are the facts from the Citizens for Tax Justice:

For taxpayers with income exceeding $1 million, the benefit of Ryan’s tax rate reductions and other proposed tax cuts would far exceed the loss of any tax expenditures. In fact, under Ryan’s plan taxpayers with income exceeding $1 million in 2015 would receive an average net tax decrease of over $200,000 that year even if they had to give up all of their tax expenditures. These taxpayers would see an even larger net tax decrease if Congress failed to limit or eliminate enough tax expenditures to offset the costs of the proposed tax cuts.Estimates produced using the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) microsimulation tax model illustrate two scenarios for how the Ryan budget plan could be implemented. In the first scenario, very high-income people must give up all of their tax expenditures, except for those subsidizing investment and savings which Ryan has consistently made clear he would preserve. Even in this scenario, these very wealthy people would receive enormous net tax cuts, as illustrated in the table above. In the second scenario, these very high-income people are not required to give up any tax expenditures, and as a result their net tax cuts would be even larger.

Because these very high-income taxpayers would pay less than they do today in either scenario, the average net impact of Ryan’s plan on some taxpayers at lower income levels would necessarily be a tax increase in order to fulfill Ryan’s goal of collecting the same amount of revenue as expected under current law.[emphasis added]


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About Those 30 Million Tue, 01 Apr 2014 16:31:20 +0000 I hate to sound churlish but a short observation: does it bother anyone else that the celebration by liberals/progressives, all in tune with the White House messaging machine, about the 7 million-plus who enrolled so far in the Affordable Care Act system sort of ignores the fact that 30 million people still have no coverage, people who would have been covered if we had pushed for a single-payer “Medicare for All” system, not a system that is a windfall for insurance companies? Just wondering.

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“The Winter Soldier”, My Lai And Hollywood (Willful?) Amnesia Mon, 31 Mar 2014 17:17:14 +0000 Did anyone else cringe when she or he saw the subtitle of the new Captain America movie: “The Winter Soldier”. From what I’ve seen floating around, the movie is a deep-dive into violence, warfare and triumphant patriotism (please correct me if I’m wrong), the very impulses and emotions that just mire us in bloody crisis after bloody crisis. And that is the precise opposite of a more recent historic meaning of “The Winter Soldier”.

From January 31, 1971 – February 2, 1971, a group of Vietnam veterans testified at a public event largely organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War about a patterns of war crimes and atrocities committed by the U.S. and its allies against the people of Vietnam. The hearings were dubbed “The Winter Soldier” hearings, essentially paraphrasing Thomas Paine:

In the winter of 1776, almost two hundred years before, Thomas Paine wrote “These are the time that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Seeing themselves as the “winter soldiers” paraphrasing Thomas Paine, whose battle was, in part, to make their experiences common knowledge to the American and world public, the veterans who came, presented their own personal testimony concerning the commonplace atrocities, supported by documentary photographs often of their own taking.

A lot more about this in a moment. I suppose I gasped when I saw the subtitle partly because I recalled the Vietnam-era meaning of the hearings–the opposite of glorifying violence and war–and, in particular, it hit me because just last month, I visited My Lai during a trip to Vietnam.

I’m shocked how many younger people today don’t even know that name–and, truthfully, even younger Vietnamese (meaning twenty-somethings) are, at best, vaguely familiar with what happened there but, certainly, most have never been to My Lai; it’s generally a place you won’t find on most tour stops, certainly not those provided by U.S. tours (you have to find your way there).

In March 1968, American soldiers landed in helicopters in the the village of Sơn Mỹ which was divided into four hamlets: Mỹ Lai, Co Luy, My Khe, and Tư Cung. The soldiers shot, raped and killed 504 villagers, mostly women, children and old men. The memorial site also makes note of the U.S. helicopter pilot who, disgusted by the atrocity, flew a number of the villagers to safety.

Many of the villagers were cut down as they tried to escape on their bicycles or on foot, a terror marked at the memorial by tracks and footprints recreated in cement.

This canal where I stood…

…was not filled with water when this iconic picture was taken, and shocked the world:

The museum at the site remembers the dead

The list of the dead

Here is the complete transcript of those hearings, a transcript that was read into the Congressional Record by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, who, it’s worth mentioning, was a Republican.

I thought I would just reprint the opening statement of William Crandell:

“Over the border they send us to kill and to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten.” These lines of Paul Simon’s recall to Vietnam veterans the causes for which we went to fight in Vietnam and the outrages we were part of because the men who sent us had long ago forgotten the meaning of the words.

We went to preserve the peace and our testimony will show that we have set all of Indochina aflame. We went to defend the Vietnamese people and our testimony will show that we are committing genocide against them. We went to fight for freedom and our testimony will show that we have turned Vietnam into a series of concentration camps.

We went to guarantee the right of self-determination to the people of South Vietnam and our testimony will show that we are forcing a corrupt and dictatorial government upon them. We went to work toward the brotherhood of man and our testimony will show that our strategy and tactics are permeated with racism. We went to protect America and our testimony will show why our country is being torn apart by what we are doing in Vietnam.

In the bleak winter of 1776 when the men who had enlisted in the summer were going home because the way was hard and their enlistments were over, Tom Paine wrote, “Those are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Like the winter soldiers of 1776 who stayed after they had served their time, we veterans of Vietnam know that America is in grave danger. What threatens our country is not Redcoats or even Reds; it is our crimes that are destroying our national unity by separating those of our countrymen who deplore these acts from those of our countrymen who refuse to examine what is being done in America’s name.

The Winter Soldier Investigation is not a mock trial. There will be no phony indictments; there will be no verdict against Uncle Sam. In these three days, over a hundred Vietnam veterans will present straightforward testimony– direct testimony–about acts which are war crimes under international law. Acts which these men have seen and participated in. Acts which are the inexorable result of national policy. The vets will testify in panels arranged by the combat units in which they fought so that it will be easy to see the policy of each division and thus the larger policy. Each day there will be a special panel during the hours of testimony. Today, a panel on weaponry will explain the use and effects of some of the vicious and illegal weapons used in Vietnam. Tomorrow there will be a panel on prisoners of war composed of returned POWs, parents of a POW, American POW interrogators and vets who served in our own military stockades. Every witness throughout the three days will be available for cross-examination by the press after their initial statements and questioning by their fellow-vets who are acting as moderators.

We had also planned to present a panel of Vietnamese victims of the war who would testify by closed circuit television from Windsor, Canada. Last Wednesday, after we had spent a great deal of time and money arranging to bring these people to Windsor so that they could tell the people of the United States and Canada what we are doing to their country, the Canadian government denied them visas. We need not speculate upon the motives and policies of the Canadian government as our primary concern is with the motives and policies of our own government.

In addition there are two evening panels. Tonight at 7:30 a panel which includes Sid Peck and John Spellman will discuss what we are doing to Vietnam. Tomorrow night at 7:30 two psychiatrists, a lawyer, and three vets will discuss what we are doing to ourselves.

It has often been remarked but seldom remembered that war itself is a crime. Yet a war crime is more and other than war. It is an atrocity beyond the usual barbaric bounds of war. It is legal definition growing out of custom and tradition supported by every civilized nation in the world including our own. It is an act beyond the pale of acceptable actions even in war. Deliberate killing or torturing of prisoners of war is a war crime. Deliberate destruction without military purpose of civilian communities is a war crime. The use of certain arms and armaments and of gas is a war crime. The forcible relocation of population for any purpose is a war crime. All of these crimes have been committed by the U.S. Government over the past ten years in Indochina. An estimated one million South Vietnamese civilians have been killed because of these war crimes. A good portion of the reported 700,000 National Liberation Front and North Vietnamese soldiers killed have died as a result of these war crimes and no one knows how many North Vietnamese civilians, Cambodian civilians, and Laotian civilians have died as a result of these war crimes.

But we intend to tell more. We intend to tell who it was that gave us those orders; that created that policy; that set that standard of war bordering on full and final genocide. We intend to demonstrate that My Lai was no unusual occurrence, other than, perhaps, the number of victims killed all in one place, all at one time, all by one platoon of us. We intend to show that the policies of Americal Division which inevitably resulted in My Lai were the policies of other Army and Marine Divisions as well. We intend to show that war crimes in Vietnam did not start in March 1968, or in the village of Son My or with one Lt. William Calley. We intend to indict those really responsible for My Lai, for Vietnam, for attempted genocide. General Westmoreland said in 1966:

I’d like to say that let one fact be clear. As far as the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam is concerned, one mishap, one innocent civilian killed, one civilian wounded, or one dwelling needlessly destroyed is too many.

By its very nature war is destructive and historically civilians have suffered. But the war in Vietnam is different; it is designed by the insurgents and the aggressors to be fought among the people many of whom are not participants in or closely identified with the struggle. People more than terrain are the objectives in this war and we will not and cannot be callous about those people. We are sensitive to these incidents and want no more of them. If one does occur, mistake or accident, we intend to search it carefully for any lesson that will help us improve our procedures and our controls. We realize we have a great problem and I can assure you we are attacking it aggressively.

We need not judge Westmoreland’s bland assurances nor need we pass responsibility for these crimes. You who hear or read our testimony will be able to conclude for yourselves who is responsible.

We are here to bear witness not against America, but against those policy makers who are perverting America. We echo Mark Twain’s indictment of the war crimes committed during the Philippine insurrection:

We have invited our clean young men to soldier a discredited musket and do bandit’s work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear not to follow. We cannot conceal from ourselves that privately we are a little troubled about our uniform. It is one of our prides: it is acquainted with honor; it is familiar with great deeds and noble. We love it; we revere it. And so this errand it is on makes us uneasy. And our flag, another pride of ours, the chiefest. We have worshipped it so and when we have seen it in far lands, glimpsing it unexpectedly in that strange sky, waving its welcome and benediction to us, we have caught our breaths and uncovered our heads for a moment for the thought of what it was to us and the great ideals it stood for. Indeed, we must do something about these things. It is easily managed. We can have just our usual flag with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones. We are ready to let the testimony say it all.

More recently, the Vietnam era hearings inspired a similar look at what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan:

In the spring of 2008, inspired by the Vietnam-era Winter Soldier hearings, Iraq Veterans Against the War gathered outside Washington, D.C., and testified to atrocities they personally committed or witnessed while deployed in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. In this book are the powerful words, images, and documents of this historic event.

The collective testimony of the dozens of veterans present at the hearings showed that well-publicized cases of American brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal are not isolated incidents perpetrated by “a few bad apples,” as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. As the testimony shows, such injustices are the logical outcome of U.S. foreign policy. Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan preserves and honors the participants’ courageous contributions in order to ensure that people around the world remember their stories and struggles.[emphasis added]

My guess is that the filmmakers, the producers and the p.r. mavens did not set out to undercut meaning of “The Winter Soldier”. Worse: they were probably completely unaware of what it means.

Which is probably just as sad.

My Lai is just a symbol of war. There are countless massacres and atrocities that are never spoken about and are even bigger in the strict human toll.

But, the power of “The Winter Soldier” hearings was that those men (who were subjected to broad attempts, never successful, to discredit the evidence and testimony) essentially wanted to say: this is what war does to human beings, what war can make people do.


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America’s public infrastructure spending is “Daft”, guess who says that? Wed, 26 Mar 2014 20:36:37 +0000 “With the economy weak and borrowing cheap, it is daft that America’s public infrastructure spending is at a 20-year low, even as the country’s roads, bridges and dams are rated D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers.” A new free-trade lover-turned-liberal superhero? Left-wing irrelevant magazine? Progressive think-tank looking for foundation money? Nope…straight from the mouths of The Economist.

In its March 22nd issue (online subscription), which I finally pulled up from the stack (yes, in my home, there still exists a stack…how quaint), The Economist gives a fair amount of play to that boring of all boring topics to some: bridges, roads, sewers…infrastructure. It’s a bit wonky but:

Much of the money to plug the gap needs to come from the public purse: even in an age of austerity many governments should be spending more. [emphasis added]

While I am sure we are all for public money being poured into fixing and upgrading the horrid infrastructure, and that push should never falter, there is actually plenty of money to tap into:

The potential pot of gold is elsewhere, in the $50 trillion of capital managed by pension funds, sovereign-wealth funds, insurance companies and other institutional investors. Only 0.8% of this is currently allocated to infrastructure. A tenfold increase would be a good target….In principle, investing in a power station or toll road ought to be an attractive prospect for institutional investors. The long life of these assets is a perfect match for the long-term liabilities of a pension fund. Infrastructure projects offer reliable cashflow, a hedge against inflation, low volatility and returns that are generally not correlated with other assets. In practice, though, many money managers have shied away, scared by the scale, complexity and political risk involved.

To very quickly summarize a very complex topic, this is where pension fund activism is a worthy endeavor. While I am all for the shareholder activism around corporation social behavior (whether that be of the Chevron oil spill in Ecuador or union rights or CEO salary), we can make a huge difference if pension fund money could be funneled to infrastructure. Fact is, the largest public pension funds–funds of workers’ deferred wages–ended up invested in the foolish mortgage scams, and financial casino machinations, as much as any other source of capital. Stupid, stupid, stupid… But, again, if we can shift the legal and political environment–and it’s a complex issue which I’ll write about some more–we can move money in a big way into productive investments.

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Don’t Extend Those…Extenders Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:40:56 +0000 With tax day looming, I’ll try to throw in more on the crazy world of tax policy — which usually means how corporations and rich people are taking us for a ride courtesy of very willing politicians. Today, it’s all about tax extenders.

What’s a tax extender. This is really hard: it’s a piece of legislation that…extends a tax break, almost always without much debate and almost always on behalf of corporations. And these tax extenders are a huge waste, as Citizens for Tax Justice points out:

It would be different if the tax breaks included in this legislation were helpful to the economy. But they are mostly wasteful subsidies for businesses with no obvious benefit to America.

The most costly provision among the “tax extenders” would extend the research credit. As a report from CTJ explains, this break is supposed to encourage companies to perform research but appears to subsidize activities that are not what any normal person would call research (like redesigning packaging for food). It also subsidizes activities that businesses would carry out in the absence of any tax break — including activities that businesses performed years before claiming the credit.

The third most costly provision among the tax extenders would extend the seemingly arcane “active financing exception,”which expands the ability of corporations to avoid taxes on their “offshore” profits and which General Electric publicly acknowledges as one of the ways it avoids federal taxes.

So bad.

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A Worthy Budget Fri, 21 Mar 2014 13:25:27 +0000 Most of the nonsense coming from Congress about budgets — and that nonsense is particularly of a Republican Party flavor but also emanating from Democrats — touts more tax breaks and tax cuts for business. It’s entirely crazy. The one island of sanity comes from the Progressive Caucus.

The Caucus has produced something called the Better Off Budget. A good succinct summary of the budget comes from Citizens for Tax Justice:

Because the Congressional Progressive Caucus is willing to take on the corporate interests and others that the rest of Congress tiptoes around, it is able to put forward a plan that actually provides more deficit reduction with less pain for working Americans. The Better Off Budget would reduce the deficit to 1.4 percent of gross domestic product (1.4 percent of economic output) within a decade, as illustrated by the chart from the Caucus below. The President’s budget would leave a larger deficit, 1.6 percent of GDP, while under the current law the deficit would be 4 percent of GDP.

Oh, and it does it by…raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Duh.

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That Sucking Sound? It’s The 73 Billion-Dollar Corporate Robbery of The States Thu, 20 Mar 2014 18:16:11 +0000 What I really like about corporate skullduggery is that at least it’s usually done with big numbers, as in billions of dollars. Nothing on the cheap (except, of course, when it comes to paying workers). In another installment of “how can we fill our coffers, pay our CEO millions of dollars and fleece the public” comes today’s news: Corporate-based America  is robbing the states of billions of dollars by dodging taxes.

Once again, Citizens for Tax Justice (now there’s an organization that deserves the Medal of Freedom) has another in-depth study, which is quite detailed but I’ll summarize it here:

   * 90 companies paid no state income tax at all in at least one year, and 38 companies avoided taxes in two or more years.
* 10 companies, including Boeing, Merck, Rockwell Automation, paid no state income tax at all over the five-year period covered by the study.
* The average weighted state corporate income tax rate is 6.25 percent, but the 269 companies paid an average rate of just 3.06 percent.
* The companies examined collectively avoided paying $73.1 billion in state corporate income tax.[emphasis added]

And the kicker:

In 2012 alone, 25 companies paid no state income tax. Another 127 of the companies paid less than half the weighted-average statutory state corporate tax rate that year, meaning that more than half of the companies in our sample paid less than half the average legal state tax rate in that year

How to stop it? One key step:

The single most important corporate tax reform available to states is to adopt a practice used by 24 states called “combined reporting,” which effectively treats a parent and its subsidiaries as one corporation for state tax purposes. Combined reporting eliminates most of the tax benefits of shifting profits into Delaware or Nevada by adding them back to the profits of the corporation that is taxable in the state and then taxing a share of the combined profit.

The bottom line:

The data in this report show in stark terms just how successful large, multistate and multinational corporations have become at shirking their tax responsibilities to state and local governments. They have been abetted in this effort by America’s major accounting firms, have used heavy lobbying and even threats to extract further tax breaks, and have often persuaded state elected officials to become their facilitators, too. As a result, individual taxpayers and purely in-state (usually smaller) businesses are paying a heavy
price, in the form of higher taxes, reduced public services and unfair competition


What is particularly galling is that many of these corporate “leaders” (it’s not leadership to essentially argue for your self-interested greed) are the very ones arguing for state budget cuts, cuts in pensions, and vociferously opposing the quite puny proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10.

By dodging a fair share in taxes, the same corporations have created the very crisis of shortfalls in state budgets (and, on the pension side, in particular, the finance-industry driven financial crisis caused hundreds of billions of dollars in pension losses).


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A Tiff Among The Elites Tue, 18 Mar 2014 00:55:49 +0000 A bit amusing. The bankrollers of the Republican Party (and the Democratic Party as well) are pissed…at the Republican Party. They were made for each other.

Via The Wall Street Journal (subscription):

Wall Street is mobilizing to beat back an unexpected threat: a bank tax championed by a Republican lawmaker.

Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JP Morgan Chase and other big banks are marshaling opposition on Capitol Hill to kill a proposal by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) to tax the nation’s largest financial firms, according to people familiar with the efforts. The companies are curtailing financing for GOP lawmakers and warning of an economic hit, these people say.

The proposal has galvanized Wall Street in a way largely unseen since the financial crisis. While banks have pushed back on postcrisis regulation, they rarely act as one, since the rules affect firms differently. This time, banks large and small are coordinating on the resistance.

“This is a fairly large effort,” said one industry lobbyist. “Most of the offices we’re talking to are saying they’re opposed, and some are willing to make their views known.” The Financial Services Forum is spearheading much of the lobbying efforts.

I particularly love this very revealing quote:

“It’s troubling on a number of fronts,” said James Ballentine, chief lobbyist at the American Bankers Association. “It seems to be for revenue purposes alone. The message has caught many members by surprise.” [emphasis added]

As if raising revenue from these guys is such a bad thing…to fund roads they drive on, for example.

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Justice Dept Mislead Public on Mortgage Fraud Probes, Eviscerated By Inspector General Fri, 14 Mar 2014 02:12:05 +0000 No one is going to be surprised by this news. It was pretty evident by the facts on the ground: The Justice Department has not been telling the truth about its mortgage fraud investigations and prosecutions. This pretty serious allegation has considerable weight given that it comes not from some blogger or analyst but directly from the Department’s own Inspector General.

A key snippet from the report, which focuses on the trumpeting of false data:

Despite being aware of the serious flaws in these statistics since at least November 2012, we found that the Department continued to cite them in mortgage fraud press releases that it issued in the ensuing 10 months. We believe the Department should not have continued to issue press releases with these statistics once it became aware of the serious flaws.


We believe the Department should have been more forthright at a much earlier date about this flawed information.

And from The New York Times story on the report:

Four years after President Obama promised to crack down on mortgage fraud, his administration has quietly made the crime its lowest priority and has closed hundreds of cases after little or no investigation, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said on Thursday.The report by the department’s inspector general undercuts the president’s contentions that the government is holding people responsible for the collapse of the financial and housing markets. The administration has been criticized, in particular, for not pursuing large banks and their executives.

“In cities across the country, mortgage fraud crimes have reached crisis proportions,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a mortgage fraud summit in Phoenix in 2010. “But we are fighting back.”

The inspector general’s report, however, shows that the F.B.I. considered mortgage fraud to be its lowest-ranked national criminal priority. In several large cities, including New York and Los Angeles, F.B.I. agents either ranked mortgage fraud as a low priority or did not rank it at all.[emphasis added]

It will surprise very few people that the bankers have gotten away, basically, with the entire scam that destroyed the lives of millions of people.The question here is: who is held accountable for the misleading information spewed out by the president’s people?

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Kaboom…TPP Bogus Promises Just Collapsed In A Heap Thu, 13 Mar 2014 14:20:19 +0000 It’s sort of a tiring exercise. Each time some so-called “free trade” deal comes up, the president at the time (read: Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama) trots out a whole series of phony arguments to make the case for a very bad agreement–bad if you are anything but a corporation. You have to willfully ignore past evidence to swallow the same old tired arguments used to ram through these crappy agreements. But, let’s celebrate an anniversary here to trumpet the collapse of any plausible argument being used to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Bring out the confetti, streamers and horns: it’s the second anniversary of the South Korean Free Trade Agreement. Don’t remember that one, huh? No bother because all the same arguments being used to sell that putrid TPP will be familiar: the president promised the deal with Korea would expand U.S. exports and create U.S. jobs.

Courtesy of the president’s minions at the United States Trade Representative’s office comes this Chamber of Commerce-sounding P.R. regarding the South Korea agreement:

This agreement will create new opportunities for significantly more exports creating additional jobs for American workers in sectors ranging from delivery services to education and health care services, too.


With the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) estimating that the tariff cuts alone in the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement will increase exports of American goods by $10 billion to $11 billion, advancing this agreement will secure the tens of thousands of American jobs supported by those exports – as well as the additional American jobs that will come from by breaking down non-tariff barriers keeping U.S. exports out of South Korea, and by requiring stronger protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in South Korea.

Uh-oh. Bullshit. Here is what really has happened, courtesy of a new report by Public Citizen:

· U.S. goods exports to Korea have fallen below the pre-FTA average monthly level for 21 out of 22 months since the deal took effect.·  The United States has lost an average of $385 million each month in exports to Korea, given an 11 percent decline in the average monthly export level in comparison to the year before the deal.

·  The United States lost an estimated, cumulative $9.2 billion in exports to Korea under the FTA’s first two years, compared with the exports that would have been achieved at the pre-FTA level.

·  Average monthly exports of U.S. agricultural products to Korea have fallen 41 percent.

·  The average monthly U.S. automotive trade deficit with Korea has grown 19 percent.

By its calculation, using the White House’s own “calculator”, Public Citizen estimates that the “drop in net U.S. exports to Korea in the FTA’s first two years represents the loss of more than 46,600 U.S. jobs.” [my emphasis]Just in the auto parts area alone, the report tells us that:

The administration also promised the Korea FTA would bring “more job-creating export opportunities in a more open and fair Korean market for America’s auto companies and auto workers,” while a special safeguard would “ensure… that the American industry does not suffer from harmful surges in Korean auto imports due to this agreement.”  The U.S. average monthly automotive exports to Korea under the FTA have been $12 million higher than the pre-FTA monthly average, but the average monthly automotive imports from Korea have soared by $263 million under the deal – a 19 percent increase. So while U.S. auto exports have risen very modestly under the FTA, those tiny gains have been swamped by a surge in auto imports from Korea that the administration promised would not occur under the FTA.·       In January 2014, monthly auto imports from Korea topped $2 billion for the first time on record.

·       About 125,000 more Korean-produced Hyundais and Kias were imported and sold in the United States in 2013 (after the FTA) than in 2011 (before the FTA).

·       Sales of U.S.-produced Fords, Chryslers and Cadillacs in Korea increased by just 3,400 vehicles.[emphasis added]

Most of the nonsense about the Korean FTA was obvious (and I wrote an open letter to the president of the UAW when the union chose to support the deal)Now, in fairness, the false promises made by this president are not a new phenomena. In the same way that the TPP is just another mutant offspring of NAFTA, so, too, the series of TPP marketing promises rolled out by this White House are a continuation of the NAFTA-era promises made by the first President Bush and pushed forward enthusiastically by Bill Clinton and Robert Reich (yes, those of you who have blindly bought the quick, sweep-under-the-rug, ideological Reich makeover–that would be makeover number who knows–might want to actually consider that history).

They were false back then and are false now. And in the same way that people and organizations like Public Citizen exposed the lies about NAFTA (I use the word “lies” here because some of the bogus claims were so outlandish that they had to be just plain lies) but were dismissed as “protectionists” who were afraid to embrace the wondrous future promised by a great global era of trade, so, too, the people who are exposing the nonsense and danger of the TPP are being branded as anti-trade.

Expert there is a difference today.

The evidence of 20 years of bullshit evidence is just too broad and too deep. Many Democrats have already told the president the TPP is dead on arrival in its current form. A large number members of Congress is refusing to give the president “fast track” authority(the power to ram through trade agreements with no amendments allowed).

The truth is no form of the TPP is “good.” The entire framework of so-called “free trade” is entirely about empowering corporations and protecting corporate rights.

Crash, kaboom…Mr. President, try some other arguments for TPP because the current ones are just a heap of marketing wreckage, smoldering at the feet of a pretty immovable fortress of facts.

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