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October 4, 2012 · By Karen Dolan
Who won the first 2012 presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama? If you ask the Twitterverse, Big Bird nailed an easy victory.
Huh? In case you missed it, the sole quasi-joke either candidate cracked came when Mitt Romney vowed to choke off the government funding that pays some of Sesame Street's bills. But really, there were no winners tonight.
Moderator Jim Lehrer blew it too, although he seemed to be off to a decent start when he opened the debate with the night's most pressing question of the night: What are you gonna do about jobs?
Obama answered that he loved his sweetie. Romney tried to sound populist but just sounded weird. Things just got worse from there. More lies and insincere etch-a-sketch moments from Romney. More strangely absent and disconnected reactions from Obama.
Lehrer proceeded to let the candidates run roughshod over him, then lost us all when he said "we've lost a pod" as he reprimanded the candidates for taking too long. In an evening devoted to domestic issues, none of the three men ever mentioned women's rights, civil rights, immigration, poverty, climate change, or any other environmental issue.
Most importantly, nobody dared to breathe the truth, lest it actually get out — America Is Not Broke.
That's right, the debate was an exercise in ridiculousness that produced no insight, no plan, no inspiration, no leadership, no truth. We are rich. We have enough money to put nutritious food on the tables of the one in five U.S. kids who are hungry and undernourished. We have enough money to help the laid-off moms and dads make ends meet until they get another job.
We have enough money to keep grandma, sister, and even every child ("future people," as I believe Romney put it) taken care of through their hard-earned benefits of Social Security and Medicare. We have enough money to help the down-and-out in times of sickness and emergency through Medicaid and help low-income families through refundable tax credits and the last shreds of welfare available to some.
We do. We're a rich country. We're not broke. Not only are we not in an economic position, recovering from the Wall Street-induced Great Recession to be able to tolerate the austerity trumpeted by Romney and half-conceded to by Obama, but we don't need to resort to it.
Here's what someone should have said tonight. Here is the truth denied to the American People...and to Big Bird:
1. We can bring in over $325 billion per year if we simply put a tiny tax on risky stock and derivative transactions; tax corporations and stop tax have abuse; and, tax the wealthy fairly, such as Warren Buffet suggested by taxing CEOs at the same rate as their secretaries
2. We can bring in almost $90 billion per year by actually making our environment more green and sustainable through: taxing the polluting carbon content of fossil fuels; and, ending fossil fuel subsidies.
3. We can save about $130 billion by making our country and globe safer through: closing out our war operations completely in Iraq, closing a third of our global military bases and ending drone attacks; and by ending military waste
These commonsense approaches would garner savings of over half a trillion a year — far more than either candidate or any Bowles-Simpson scheme would save and would allow us to preserve our earned benefits, safeguard our safety net, keep our nation secure and create millions of good-paying green jobs.
America Is Not Broke. That is the missing story. Until we admit this, we all lose...and, you can definitely kiss Jim Lehrer and that big ol' yellow bird goodbye.
Karen Dolan is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. For more details, please see the IPS report, America Is Not Broke.
September 5, 2012 · By John Cavanagh
This post originally appeared on Yes! Magazine's New Economy blog.
This fall, the U.S. Congress is going to wage a pitched, dragged-out battle over cutting roughly $120 billion a year to solve the so-called deficit crisis. Vital things like teachers’ jobs and Medicare could well get cut.
The Right is already launching new coalitions to push for an austerity budget, calling for cuts in “wasteful government spending,” including key safety-net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and food stamps. America has overspent, they say. America is broke. But at the same time, they are calling for an extension of the Bush tax cuts and ruling out cuts in military spending—both policies that will increase the deficit.
It doesn’t have to be this way. My colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) have identified seven steps that, together, more than eliminate the deficit while making the country more equitable, green, and secure.
These proposals, from the IPS study called “America is Not Broke,” would also address the two deficits that author David Korten says do more to erode our society than the fiscal deficit does: our social deficits (rising poverty and inequality) and environmental deficits (starting with the climate crisis).
More Fairness, Less Deficit
Our first three proposals could bring in $329 billion a year; this alone would solve the deficit problem while helping to close the yawning inequality gap.
- 1. Tax Wall Street: $150 billion per year. A tiny tax on stock and derivatives transactions, which several European countries are on track to adopt, would discourage Wall Street speculation, fill the hole in the deficit left by the Bush tax cuts, and leave plenty left over to fund lots of programs. The National Nurses Union and many other allies are fighting hard for this.
- 2. Tax Corporations and Stop Tax Haven Abuse: $100 billion per year. The Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency coalition has pointed out that one of the main ways that corporations avoid paying taxes is by declaring their profits in overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands.
- 3. Tax the Wealthy Fairly: $79 billion per year. Our rigged tax code lets CEOs pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries do (as Warren Buffett keeps pointing out). The proposed Fairness in Taxation Act (HR 1124) would address this by adding five additional tax brackets for incomes over $1 million.
These three policy changes would go a long way toward making our society more equal, and that means better health, too. There is a terrific body of global evidence, a lot of it compiled by British researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, that more equal societies are much healthier. People at all income levels live longer; they are more fulfilled; and there is less violence. The United States, a relatively equal society as recently as the 1970s, is now off the charts in terms of wealth and income inequality. It doesn’t have to be that way. Just as we created a more just and vibrant economy and a strong middle class through fair taxes between 1940 and 1980, we can do it again through progressive taxation.
More Green, Less Pollution
The second source of revenue would make the economy more green, a key imperative in a world where the environmental crisis is now as deep as the economic one. We found two simple ways to raise revenues and help save the environment.
- 4. Tax Pollution: $75 billion per year. A tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels would reduce our dependence on oil while cutting air pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases. And, as economist Robert Frank pointed out on August 25 in The New York Times, “News that a carbon tax was coming would create a stampede to develop energy-saving technologies.”
- 5. End Fossil Fuel Subsidies: $12 billion per year. This call should unite left and right. Why would anyone want to maintain a giant government subsidy to an industry that is the world’s major contributor to fossil-fuel emissions? 350.org has made this a centerpiece of their work. We should be able to win this.
More Savings, Less War
Finally, there are simple ways to cut the military while making the country and the world more secure. More than half of government discretionary spending now goes to the military. Congress has long avoided cuts, in part because they equate military spending with jobs, but IPS has pointed out that almost every other industry employs more workers per dollar than the military. Plus, there is now bipartisan support for two sets of significant cuts.
- 6. End Military Waste: $109 billion per year. A broad spectrum of experts has found over $100 billion a year in waste that could be eliminated with no sacrifice in security. Three recent commissions, two of them bi-partisan, have recommended roughly $1 trillion in military cuts over 10 years.
- 7. Close a third of our overseas bases and our Iraq operations: $21 billion per year. Over two decades after the Cold War ended, the United States still maintains roughly 1,000 military installations in other countries. A majority of the President’s own deficit commission, which includes three Republican senators—the National Commission on Financial Responsibility and Reform—backed a proposal to close one third of our overseas military bases.
These seven simple steps would raise close to $550 billion a year. They would quickly erase the fiscal deficit and return the country to a healthy budget surplus. There would be hundreds of billions left to invest in key sectors that could make the country more secure, more green, and more equitable: care jobs, green jobs, infrastructure jobs.
In other words, this plan could help erase the nation’s dangerous social and environmental deficits.
Many groups—from Jobs with Justice to National People’s Action to the AFL-CIO—are organizing to counter a push by the Right to use the deficit crisis to shred social programs and our nation’s safety net. Let’s up the ante and spread the message. America is not broke. We have plenty of resources to rebuild shared prosperity in the U.S.
May 7, 2012 · By Matias Ramos
The number of people renouncing their U.S. citizenship is higher than ever.
Now that new provisions in the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act have gone into effect, the feds are reining in tax dodgers living abroad. But many of these super-wealthy people who would be forced to pony up more in tax payments are choosing to sever ties with their country of birth instead.
Many of these individuals lead nomadic, season-driven lives. Their choice of where to live at any one time is based on that location’s climate, their children’s education, tax constraints, or which of their friends they want to lunch with on any particular day. When one has such a global outlook, paying taxes to something as archaic as a nation-state can be easily ignored. Bloomberg was among the first to report on this story:
About 1,780 expatriates gave up their nationality at U.S. embassies last year, up from 235 in 2008, according to Andy Sundberg, secretary of Geneva’s Overseas American Academy, citing figures from the government’s Federal Register. The embassy in Bern, the Swiss capital, redeployed staff to clear a backlog as Americans queued to relinquish their passports.
Renouncing their citizenship does not cost much to these global elites, who can achieve statelessness rather quickly:
During a 10-minute renunciation ceremony in a booth with bullet-proof glass windows, embassy staff ask exiting Americans whether they are acting voluntarily and understand the implications of giving up their passports. They pay a fee of $450 to renounce and may incur an “exit tax” on unrealized capital gains if their assets exceed $2 million or their average annual U.S. tax bill is more than $151,000 during the past five years.
The Obama administration deserves some credit for putting a scare into the expatriate tax-dodging class. But it can certainly still do more for the taxpayers facing deportation.
The number of immigrants being deported from the United States is also at an all-time high. After last year's much-celebrated announcement of a new discretion policy by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), advocates have seen dissappointing results. ICE has reviewed 219,554 pending cases, but only 16,544 (or 7.5 percent) were identified as amenable for prosecutorial discretion as of April 16, 2012. They have only closed 2,722 cases, according to figures released by ICE (pdf).
The status quo of post-recession America shows a government that's slighted by some of the richest members of its citizenry, while wistfully ignoring the plight of millions yearning for the full opportunity to become Americans.
April 9, 2012 · By Emily Schwartz Greco
In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Donald Kaul's column and four op-eds — including one by Matias Ramos regarding the taxation of immigrants without representation — focus on Tax Day. There's also a related cartoon by Khalil Bendib debunking the "job creator" label on the richest Americans. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.
- Taxation without Representation / Matias Ramos
Undocumented immigrants consistently contribute to the government's coffers through payroll, sales, property, and income taxes.
- Rich Freeloaders / Betsy Malcolm
It's time for wealthy people like me to become more responsible and pay our fair share of taxes.
- Invoking Fake Job Creators to Cut Taxes on the Rich / Robert L. Borosage
We're squandering an extraordinary opportunity to rebuild America.
- How the Rich Welsh on Retirement Taxes / Gerald Scorse
Withdrawal rules provide big tax breaks to the retirees who need them the least.
- Chairman of the Con Man Committee / Donald Kaul
It's hard to take Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal seriously.
- Keystone XL's Dirty Little Secret / Jim Hightower
The people and companies pushing the tar-sands pipeline don't want you to know that most of this oil won't be made into gasoline for our vehicles.
- Where We Dwell Is Changing Fast / William A. Collins
The American homeownership rate has declined.
- Taxing Job Creators / Khalil Bendib
April 5, 2012 · By Sarah Anderson
The conservative presidential candidate has decided he can't win unless he raises taxes on the financial sector. No, I'm not talking about Mitt Romney, but this isn't a belated April fool's joke either.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has rushed through Parliament a new tax on securities trades, hoping it will give him a boost in what is expected to be a close election against Socialist Party candidate François Hollande on April 22. The French government will start collecting revenue from the 0.1 percent tax on stock trades in August.
This is the first clear win in a two-year campaign by labor unions, environmentalists, global health and other groups for taxes on financial speculation. The ultimate goal is to have broad-based taxes on trades of all financial instruments, including stocks, derivatives, and currency, in all of the world's major financial markets. Sarkozy described his new French tax, which applies only to stock trades, as a first step towards a more comprehensive levy at the European level.
Such taxes have garnered widespread popular support because they could generate massive revenue while discouraging short-term speculation that has no real social value and can undermine market stability. Hardest hit would be the computer-driven high frequency trading that makes up about 55 percent of all trading on U.S. stock markets. Such warp speed robot trading played a role in the May 2010 "flash crash" and there are growing concerns that it could cause the next "Big One." Since these guys make money through razor-thin profit margins on zillions of trades, a transaction tax of even a small fraction of a percent could throw a major wrench in their business model. For ordinary investors, the costs would be negligible.
European State of Play
Beyond France, the European debate on financial transactions taxes has moved forward in fits and starts. In a major reversal of their earlier opposition, the European Commission introduced draft legislation last fall for a tax of 0.1 percent on shares and 0.01 percent on derivatives. But momentum behind the proposal has slowed as Germany, a key supporter, has had its hands full with another not so small matter -- the euro debt crisis. As it has sought to win over other key economies to its position on that front, Germany has tried to lower the tension level with opponents of the transaction tax by floating various compromise ideas. But the most vocal opponent, Prime Minister David Cameron, whose party receives more than half of its donations from the financial sector, has shot them all down. John Major, a previous prime minister from Cameron's party, went so far as to conjure up painful World War II memories by comparing the proposed tax to a "heat-seeking missile" aimed at the City of London (the UK's Wall Street).
Nevertheless, Max Lawson of Oxfam GB says that "despite fierce opposition and lobbying by the financial sector, there is a good chance that a coalition of European countries could push ahead and implement a financial transaction tax in 2012." He points out that nine countries representing 90 percent of Eurozone GDP recently wrote to the Danish EU Presidency to ask them to fast-track the debate on the European Commission draft legislation. A minimum of nine countries is needed for an "enhanced cooperation" agreement -- EU-speak for a pact that involves less than the full 27 member countries.
This week Germany's main opposition party, the Social Democrats, increased the odds of a breakthrough by announcing they would block a new EU "fiscal pact" to contain the debt crisis unless the ruling party moved forward on a coordinated European financial transactions tax. They have the votes to back up the threat.
U.S. State of Play
The Obama administration shifted to a neutral stance on the European proposal last fall but they have not yet expressed support for taxing speculation here in the land of Wall Street. There is, however, growing support for the general concept in the halls of Congress, thanks in part to a big educational push coordinated by Americans for Financial Reform. Last week, the 76-member Congressional Progressive Caucus released a budget proposal that includes a tax on trades of stocks, derivatives, credit default swaps, foreign exchange, and other exotic financial products that could generate an estimated $378 billion over the period 2013-2017. A summary of the bill explains that "this is a tax levied directly against the types of opaque, complex trades that Wall Street manipulators used to inflate their profits and were a direct cause of the financial crisis."
On May 18, National Nurses United will spearhead a major demonstration in Chicago to call on President Obama to tax Wall Street. Scheduled to coincide with a G8 summit hosted by Obama, the event will kick off campaigning events and activity around the world as part of a global week of action for financial transactions taxes. The AFL-CIO and other labor, environmental, and health groups have endorsed the Chicago rally.
The G8 summit offers an opportunity to shine a global spotlight on President Obama during a key moment of the election campaign. Perhaps he will be inspired by the conservative European leaders who have shown more nerve in taking on the mighty financial sector.