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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since November 2011

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For Real Change, Build Relationships: Resilience Circles & Occupy Wall Street

November 10, 2011 ·

What do Resilience Circle members think of Occupy Wall Street?

“I think they’re crazy for sleeping in the rain,” says Carol Poole, a member of my Circle in Boston. Carole is 78 and has been running our church’s Food Pantry with her husband for 30 years. “But they are definitely doing something good.”

“Somebody’s got to get the word out, and the more attention to these issues, the better,” adds Ann LeBlanc, a food pantry volunteer who is unemployed. “People need food, they need jobs, and health insurance. This is one way to get people to talk about these issues.”

Travis Bonpietro, a Circle facilitator from Gorham, ME, is currently camping at Occupy DC. “We take care of each other, and try to truly hear each other,” he says of Occupy DC. “In a way, it’s like a giant Resilience Circle!”

Travis urges Resilience Circle members to visit Occupations. “Members of Resilience Circles have a lot of experience actually discussing the issues of our day,” he says. “That can be a huge contribution to the movement we’re building.”

When Resilience Circles talk about social action - in Session 6 out of 7 in the curriculum – we talk about building a new economy with well-connected and vibrant communities, true democratic decision-making procedures, and resource-allocation that respects the earth’s limits.

This discussion is based on what we learn about the limits and problems inherent to the “old” economy – such as how it siphons wealth to the 1% at the expense of everyone else.

Resilience Circle members are excited to see message being amplified by Occupy Wall Street.  “It’s about time we all got together after 30 years of diverting money to the wealthiest people, and letting our country go rotten,” says Thomas Atwood, a facilitator in the Bay Area. Thomas is featured in this video about Occupy Palo Alto made by two other Circle facilitators, Aaron Castle and Candace Anderson.

More importantly, we talk about social action as something members might do as a group, not just as isolated individuals. The curriculum takes its time getting to this stage, letting people get to know each other and find ways to help each other.  This creates a firsthand experience of solidarity. From there, groups talk about how to “change the rules” and make a better world.

Occupy takes that understanding of social change and magnifies it to a huge scale. The movement is letting relationships take shape before jumping into demands or solutions. And as many have pointed out, its participatory lifestyle prefigures the world it wants to create.

Still, it’s essential to get to Session 6 and social action eventually. “I understand that the movement is taking its time to find its voice and its message,” says a Resilience Circle organizer in North Carolina. “That’s smart and appropriate. But I also hope it can embrace mature forms of democracy, leadership, and delegation. That’s going to be critical to get the most out of all this amazing energy.”

As the volunteers at the Food Pantry make clear, the challenges we face are huge. To address them, we need a strong, smart movement.

“You see people coming in for food, and the pain on their faces just breaks your heart,” says Mary Mahony, another volunteer. “For most of them, you know it’s embarrassing to even be here. How bad it must be for them to ask for help.”

I ask if they think Occupy will benefit the people served by the Food Pantry.

Ann hesitates. “It takes a long time to see a direct impact,” she says. “Changes have to go through so much bureaucracy.”

“This economy is so out of hand,” says Carole. “I don’t know what will help at this point. I had a man come in to the pantry today who hasn’t eaten in four days. I give out 56 bags of food per day now, it used to be 11 or 12.”

But Travis and others think there’s reason to hope, and they’re putting their lives and bodies on the line to make it happen. “I quit two jobs to be here, dropped two classes, and will have to fail two more,” he says.

Is it worth the sacrifice? “Absolutely,” he says. “I’m sick of just talking, I’m so excited to be doing something. This movement is having a real impact on the things we hold dear - like equality, and opportunity, and real democracy. That’s what Occupy means to me, and that’s why I’m here.”

Sacrifice, relationship-building, real discussion. We don’t know the answer yet, but the potential for lasting change looks bright.

Travis will be sleeping at Occupy Maine all winter. Contact Sarah Byrnes if you want to help him buy some sub-zero gear.

Photo credit: Chris Wieland, Creative Commons license, via Post Carbon Institute.

Electrified Fences And Herman Cain's Sense Of 'Humor'

November 10, 2011 ·

I don't know about you but i have about had it with Herman Cain. I never agreed with his politics but the more that i see him perform in front of white audiences the more it feels like a political minstrel show. His sense of so-called humor, including his bizarre ad that ends with cigarette smoke being blown into the camera, has reached the level of insulting.

Herman Cain has a warped sense of humor. Cartoon by DonkeyHotey.

The particular ''joke'' that sticks in my craw, however, is his comment concerning the putting up of an electrified fence across our southern border in order to stop immigrants from crossing illegally into the USA. When pushed about this comment--that not a few people took quite seriously--he claimed that it was a joke. A joke? It starts to remind me of action on the streets where someone talks about someone else's mother but keeps a smile on their face. A joke, Mr. Cain? 

What is so funny about people attempting to escape desperate and oppressive situations? Nearly a century ago, many of the ancestors of today's African American population took dramatic and dangerous steps to escape the vicious oppression and lawlessness we faced in the Jim Crow South. Hundreds of thousands began the trek north, facing death and torture along the way. The ruling elite in the South wanted African Americans to remain in the South serving a subordinate role. As World War I hit, industry in the North desperately needed labor, much the way that various industries in today's USA have looked for cheap labor. They encouraged African Americans to migrate to fill these roles in cities like East St. Louis, Illinois; Chicago; Detroit; Youngstown; and Pittsburgh. As these masses of migrants moved into these cities they were met with the most intense push back coming from white workers who saw the African American migrants as people who had arrived to steal their jobs and undermine their living standards. Rather than focusing on the way that big business was playing off white workers against blacks, these whites did everything they could to chase our ancestors out. The bloody Red Summer of 1919 with the race riots that mirrored a mini-civil war was one example.

I keep wondering whether Mr. Cain thinks that, perhaps, an electrified fence should have been put around the South to keep migrants penned in like animals? I keep wondering whether Mr. Cain is ignorant enough to not understand that the migration from Latin America and the Caribbean is directly related to the domineering policies of the USA towards these countries and the resulting underdevelopment? 

A joke, Mr. Cain? Perhaps he would do better reading a little history. Sometimes, as my father would say, it is better to remain silent and to be thought a fool than open your mouth and prove it.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.

Not Our Golf Games! CEO Worries Reach New Levels

November 9, 2011 ·

This Occupy Wall Street business is getting out of hand. You just know that’s what America's deepest pockets must now be thinking. Indeed, the editor at a Web site where corporate lawyers hang out recently warned his fellow attorneys to ready their CEOs for confrontations that could pop up just about anywhere.

“Are you planning for protests at your annual meeting?” the stern warning asked. “Your CEO's house? Your CEO's golf game?”

Golf game? Yes, the warning went on to note, “Occupy Wall Street-type” protestors had disguised themselves as duffers and invaded a golf resort in California’s Newport Beach. Is nothing sacred anymore?

In our top 1 percent's upper reaches, the mega rich are taking warnings like these to heart. Some bankers, news reports note, have even started “going to work in jeans” to make themselves unidentifiable. But the rich and their handlers are doing a good deal more than rethink security. They’re recalibrating their ideological defenses.

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For the Corporate 1 Percenters, a 50 Percent Tax Discount

November 7, 2011 ·

Over a quarter century ago, in 1984, the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Tax Justice released its first in-depth report on how much America's top profitable corporations were actually paying in taxes.

America's top companies, this initial study found, were paying only 14.1 percent of their profits in taxes, less than a third of the corporate tax rate then in effect.

That startling report left a bit of an uproar in its wake. Corporate tax loopholes would go on to figure prominently in the 1986 tax reform debate. The tax legislation eventually enacted would plug a host of them.

But the 1986 tax reform legislation also slashed tax rates on high personal incomes. Corporate earnings now faced a higher tax rate than the income wealthy Americans reported on their personal tax returns.

What happened next should have been predictable: Businesses that could easily change their tax status, to take advantage of the new lower personal tax rates, reorganized into "sole proprietorships" and the like. Income that had been taxed at corporate rates now began showing up on individual tax returns.

This tax-status shifting would not be an option for America's biggest corporate powerhouses. GE couldn't become a "sole proprietorship." So execs at these corporate giants did the next best thing. They invested heavily in politics and had their lobbyist legions carve out huge new loopholes in the tax code.

The latest Citizens for Tax Justice corporate tax report, just released, details the result: America's top corporations are now getting what essentially amounts to a 50 percent discount off their tax bills.

By current statute, corporations are supposed to face a basic 35 percent income tax on their corporate profits. Over the last three years, the new Citizens for Tax Justice report documents, top U.S. corporations have actually been paying only 18.5 percent of their profits to Uncle Sam.

Corporations, in effect, have achieved total tax loophole parity with America's individual super rich.

The nation's top 400 income-earners, the latest IRS stats show, are supposed to be paying taxes on their top-tax bracket income at a rate of 35 percent, the same as the corporate rate. These 400 mega millionaires and billionaires are actually paying taxes at an effective rate of only 18.1 percent.

How are corporations getting away with what amounts to a 50 percent tax discount? The new Citizens for Tax Justice research walks us through all the major loopholes.

Corporate executives, the group's new report explains, are shifting and stashing their corporate profits overseas. They're taking huge "accelerated depreciation" write-offs on suspect investments. They're even turning their own stock option windfalls, incredibly enough, into super corporate tax savings.

This infuriating stock option loophole works by a simple formula: Corporations grant their top execs "options" to buy millions of shares of company stock at a cost below the going market rate. The companies then deduct off their corporate taxes the difference between the price executives pay to get the shares and the higher marketplace price they get when they sell them.

Two-thirds of the 280 corporations Citizens for Tax Justice examines in the group's new corporate tax report claimed these option deductions over the 2008-2010 period. These deductions saved the 185 corporations involved $12.3 billion.

Overall, the 280 profitable companies that the new Citizens for Tax Justice study focuses in on grabbed a combined $1.4 trillion in profits over the three-year 2008-2010 time span. These 280 corporations could have paid, under the tax code, over $473 billion in federal corporate incomes taxes. They actually paid only $250.8 billion, a tax discount of $222.7 billion.

The tax subsidy "discount" for 2010 alone: $85.1 billion. Over a decade, that annual tax avoidance savings adds up to well over three-quarters of a trillion dollars, enough to fill all sorts of holes in the federal budget — and "avoid" massive cuts in public services.

Another perspective on the new Citizens for Tax Justice numbers: In the 1950s tax dollars from corporations offset about a quarter of federal outlays. Last year, corporate tax dollars covered only 6 percent of federal expenditures.

Shutting off corporate tax loopholes, concludes Citizens for Tax Justice, would bring "real benefits" for Americans, everything from "reduced federal budget deficits" to "more resources to improve our roads, bridges, and schools — things that are really important for economic development here in the United States."

But closing off corporate tax loopholes would not bring "real benefits" to everybody. The power suits who run America's top corporations are doing just fine under current tax arrangements.

In 2010, Institute for Policy Studies researchers revealed earlier this year, CEOs at 25 of America's largest corporations — major firms that range from Boeing to Verizon — took home more in personal compensation than the companies they run paid in federal income tax. These top execs averaged $16.7 million each.

Rewards this impressive give top corporate executives a powerful incentive to continue their tax avoidance ways.

In the 1950s, by contrast, this incentive didn't exist. CEOs back then had a distinctly limited income upside. A powerful trade union presence in America's workplaces and tax rates as high as 91 percent on personal income over $400,000 served to keep huge corporate executive windfalls off the table.

Labor journalist Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the weekly Institute for Policy Studies newsletter on excess and inequality. www.toomuchonline.org

The Lineup: Week of Nov. 7-13, 2011

November 7, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, William A. Collins, Donald Kaul, and Gerald Scorse look at the intersection of wealth and taxes. Scorse proposes a deficit-shrinking end to the gap between the taxes on capital gains and income that would raise more revenue and make the tax code fairer. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

 

  1. The GOP's Empty Rhetoric on Obama's Immigration Record / Matias Ramos
  2. Protect the Public Schools' Whistleblowers / Hannah Johnson
  3. Foreign Influence: Inappropriate for Lawmakers Tasked with Shrinking the Deficit / Ben Freeman
  4. Equal Taxation for Wealth and Work / Gerald Scorse
  5. Ask the Columnist: A Primer on Wealth and Taxes / Donald Kaul
  6. Shouldn't Americans Repair America's Infrastructure? / Jim Hightower
  7. Not All Taxes Have to Hurt / William A. Collins
  8. Lobbying the Supercommittee / Khalil Bendib

Supercommittee Lobbyists, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

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