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May 8, 2013 · By Emily Schwartz Greco
This week in OtherWords, Jason Salzman makes the case against the Koch brothers’ potential purchase of the Los Angeles Times and other Tribune Media newspapers while Jim Hightower weighs in on the larger context behind the recent garment worker tragedy in Bangladesh.
Here’s a clickable summary of all our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.
- Turning Journalism into a Joke / Jason Salzman
Obama’s serious comments about the value of journalism stand out as the Koch brothers consider buying the Los Angeles Times.
- Ohio’s Poorly Performing School Assessment / Chris Schillig
Test scores don’t tell the whole story.
- Fighting the Foodopoly / Wenonah Hauter
Only four gigantic companies process 80 percent of the beef we eat.
- Middle Eastern Re-Run / Donald Kaul
Unless you have something better that can replace a brutal regime like Assad’s government in Syria, what can you accomplish with military intervention?
- How We Pay for CEO ‘Performance’ / Sam Pizzigati
A gaping tax loophole pads executive pay and the federal debt.
- Hollow Bee Hives May Threaten Our Lives Too / Jill Richardson
The United States should follow Europe’s example and ban pesticides that may be wiping out these key pollinators.
- Fashion Victims / Jim Hightower
The gravitational pull of corporate greed makes clothing factories prone to disasters like the recent tragedy in Bangladesh.
- Our Stake in Guatemala’s Genocide Trial / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
Thirty years after Ríos Montt’s atrocities, U.S. military policy in Latin America remains a human rights disaster.
- Made in Bangladesh / Khalil Bendib cartoon
May 3, 2013 · By Shannon Rieger
Increasingly violent challenges to the legitimacy of the recent Venezuelan presidential elections have resulted in 7 deaths and 61 injuries since the April 14th election.
The “stolen votes” claimed by narrowly defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles and his supporters as the reason behind (and excuse for) their encouragement of the deadly protests have no discernible factual basis, yet the United States continues to back Capriles in hopes that he will unseat Maduro and put an end to Chavismo.
On April 22, 2013, at the Institute for Policy Studies, official election observers Alex Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Dan Kovalik of the National Lawyers Guild described their personal encounters with the reliability of the sophisticated Venezuelan election system – and with the persistence of anti-leftist U.S. interference in Latin America. The discussion between Main, Kovalik, and a diverse 30-person audience composed of community members, government officials, policy analysts, and students produced several key insights, all of which are conspicuously absent from the narrative constructed by Capriles-leaning mainstream U.S. news sources:
Venezuela’s election system is excellent.
Last year, Jimmy Carter described the Venezuelan election system as “the best in the world” for its multiple layers of safeguards against error and election-rigging. Venezuelan voters register at polling stations by thumbprint, cast their ballots electronically, and then receive a paper receipt listing the name of the candidate for whom they voted. Before leaving the polling station, voters must leave the paper receipt in a designated box.
54% of polling stations then undergo an auditing process, during which these paper receipts are separated by candidate, counted by hand, re-counted, and then checked against the electronic polling results. This 54% audit has already been completed for the April 14th elections.
Further legitimizing the results produced by the well-honed election process is the remarkably high voter turnout: an impressive 79% of the eligible voting population cast ballots in the 2013 Venezuelan presidential election.
The oppositions’ claims of fraud are blatantly fictitious.
During the IPS presentation, Main described how Capriles supporters have published pictures of sealed ballot-receipt boxes from past elections being destroyed, claiming they are un-audited boxes from this election.
Main also noted the sudden spurt of destructive attacks on health clinics by the opposition after false but widely circulated rumors suggested ballot-receipt boxes were being horded in the buildings to prevent the completion of a 100% audit.
A report released Saturday by Venezuela's National Electoral Council dismisses all of Capriles' claims as false, and notes that "there is no single record of irregularities in the signed records that were endorsed by all witnesses."
The U.S. call for a re-count builds upon decades of anti-leftist U.S. meddling in Latin American affairs.
Maduro’s victory represents a continuation of Chavez’s leftist administration – and chavismo represents the liberation of Venezuela from U.S. dominance. The United States’ support for Capriles, and its refusal to recognize the reliability of Venezuela’s lauded election system, is a bold-faced display of its willingness to re-establish American influence in the United States’ “backyard”, as Secretary John Kerry recently – and tellingly – referred to Latin America.
The slim margin by which Maduro won the Venezuelan presidency highlights intensifying ideological divisions within the country. But whether Maduro will be able to maintain political continuity as Chavez’s standard-bearer is a question to be decided within Venezuela’s own borders, by its own highly reliable electoral system – and not by U.S. interference.
May 1, 2013 · By Emily Schwartz Greco
This week in OtherWords, Jo Comerford and Donald Kaul weigh in on the government's reversal of sequester-driven cuts that inconvenienced air travelers as other budget woes hurt children, the elderly, and the unemployed.
Below, you'll find a clickable summary of all our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. Be sure to visit our blog, where we've been running bonus Jim Hightower commentaries. This week, you can catch his views on George W. Bush's shiny new library.
If you haven't already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.
- The Internet Racket / Timothy Karr
Phone and cable providers are reaping obscene profit margins from their dominance of the Internet market.
- The Path We Should Follow after Syria Crosses the Red Line / Don Kraus
Working closely with the United Nations could help Obama avoid the horrendous mistakes Bush and Clinton made.
- Banking on the Poor / Andrew Korfhage
Payday borrowers are trapped in a spiral of revolving loans and compounding penalties.
- Useless Baggage / Jo Comerford
With their big fuss over aviation punctuality, lawmakers make it clear that they're not feeling the pain felt by the majority of Americans.
- Flying Over an Act of Monumental Stupidity / Donald Kaul
The great victims of this sequester will be our children, the unemployed, the poor and the elderly — all groups with feeble lobbies or no lobbies at all.
- Austerity Will Leave Us Crying ’96 Tears’ / Sam Pizzigati
But America's wealthy don't seem to mind.
- A Parenting Priority / Jill Richardson
Even when the kids complain, you're doing right by them when you cook dinner and eat together.
- Narco-State Building / Jim Hightower
After 11 years of U.S. military operations, Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world's poppies and 75 percent of the planet's heroin.
- The War on Sex / William A. Collins
Despite declines in teen pregnancy and abortion rates, some conservatives aren't ready to celebrate.
- Obama and the Red Line / Khalil Bendib Cartoon
April 24, 2013 · By Sarah Anderson
The International Monetary Fund is accustomed to rallies outside their Washington, D.C., headquarters during their annual meetings. What was different this past weekend was that the activists on the outside and several high-profile government and financial industry speakers on the inside were calling for the same thing: a financial transaction tax.
Outside, around a thousand activists called on world leaders to adopt a small tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives that could raise massive revenue for jobs, climate, global health, and other public investments.
Inside, in a somber basement auditorium, the IMF hosted a debate on the same topic. The uniform on the outside was a green Robin Hood hat. On the inside, it was a charcoal gray suit. In both spaces, however, there was the sense that the financial transaction tax is gaining momentum and credibility.
The rally, sponsored by the Robin Hood Tax campaign, was not the largest to date, but it appeared to be the most diverse, with strong representation from labor, environmental, and global health groups, including National Nurses United, National Peoples Action, Friends of the Earth, Amalgamated Transit Union, Jobs with Justice, and Health GAP.
Inside the IMF, European Commission official Manfred Bergmann reported on the strong progress on his side of the Atlantic, where 11 EU governments are negotiating the final details of a coordinated financial transaction tax. The proposal on the table would tax stock and bond trades at 0.1 percent and derivatives trades at 0.01 percent. Expected revenues: as much as $45 billion per year. If the United States adopted a similar tax, it would raise an estimated $750 million to $1 billion over 10 years, Bergmann said.
Of course the IMF event was not without opposition voices. The strongest was Luc Frieden, the finance minister of Luxembourg, where a light regulatory and tax regime has boosted the size of the banking sector relative to GDP to a level similar to that of Cyprus. Frieden is particularly upset about the potential cross-border effects of the proposed EU tax.
Residents of non-participating countries will have to pay the tax if they trade with financial institutions in one of the 11 participating countries or if they trade financial instruments issued in one of those countries. The UK government has just launched a legal attack on the plan over this extra-territorial issue, a move Frieden applauded.
Avinash Persaud, a former senior executive of JPMorgan, UBS, and State Street banks, noted the irony of the UK's complaint. Britain's own Stamp Duty, introduced hundreds of years ago, is also extra-territorial. Trades of shares in British firms are taxed at 0.5 percent -- no matter who's doing the trading. An estimated 40 percent of the revenue comes from non-UK residents.
In a recent congressional hearing, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also raised concerns about the extra-territorial impacts of the EU proposal. He failed to mention that U.S. investors have been subjected to the UK Stamp Duty and other countries' transaction taxes for some time now -- without the sky falling.
Nor did Lew acknowledge the many ways in which U.S. laws impose costs on non-U.S. entities. Take, for example, the 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which requires foreign financial institutions to report information about financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers to the IRS. Foreign banks have also complained about the extra-territorial implications of the Volcker Rule, the provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation which seeks to prevent deposit-taking banks from making bets with their own capital.
At the IMF, Persaud also scoffed at the Luxembourger's position that any transaction tax should be global: "Samuel Johnson said 'patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.' In this case, internationalism is the last refuge of scoundrels."
Indeed, many countries are already raising significant revenue from national financial transaction taxes. In addition to the UK, Persaud listed South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Switzerland, and Brazil among the countries that already have some form of the tax. He estimated their combined revenues at around $23 billion per year. Beyond the revenue benefits, Persaud argued that the current lack of taxation on trading activities creates "incentives to build edifices of value that are actually mirages" and can cause systemic risk.
The IMF event was the latest example of the Fund playing a constructive role in the debate. It didn't start out that way. In September 2009, the G20 assigned the IMF to prepare a report on "how the financial sector could make a fair and substantial contribution toward paying for any burdens associated with government interventions to repair the banking system." Initially, then-IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said financial transaction taxes weren't even worth studying. In his view, such taxes were a "simplistic idea" that wouldn't work.
But in response to international public pressure, the Fund agreed not only to include the issue in their analysis but also to engage in civil society consultations. In the IMF report for the G20 leaders, they made clear their preference for other forms of financial sector taxation, particularly a "financial activities tax" on bank profits and compensation. Nevertheless, they also acknowledged that transaction taxes were administratively feasible and could raise significant revenue. And in a follow-up technical paper, they acknowledged that most G-20 countries, including Brazil, India, and South Africa, have already implemented some form of FTT. In October 2012, current IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that the EU progress on a coordinated financial transaction tax was "clearly a good move."
At the debate, the Director of the IMF's Fiscal Affairs Department, Carlo Cottarelli, stressed that the IMF would still be pushing their "beloved" financial activities tax. But he admitted that since the IMF's 2010 report to the G20, there hasn't been much progress on that. "The momentum behind FTT was so strong, it was hard to turn in another direction. Sometimes life just isn't fair," he said with a laugh.
Follow Sarah Anderson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Anderson_IPS
April 24, 2013 · By Emily Schwartz Greco
This week in OtherWords, Jill Richardson looks at the Texas factory explosion in the context of whether we should be using so much nitrogen fertilizer in the first place and William A. Collins and I review recent progress toward ending the prohibition on pot.
Here's a clickable summary of our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. If you haven't already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.
- A Reasonable Food Fight / Ryan Alexander
President Obama's efforts to overhaul the nation's global food aid system are sensible.
- Our Biggest Terrorist Threat / Marc Morial
Senate inaction on guns was inexcusable in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.
- Shameless Bipartisanship / Richard Long
Two once-prominent politicians who disgraced themselves in sex scandals are angling for a return to public life.
- Saber-Rattling on the Korean Peninsula / Justin Bresolin
Aggressive posturing only increases the likelihood of a dangerous miscalculation.
- Stopping the Senseless Carnage / Donald Kaul
Could we just cut back on warfare a little?
- Tracking CEO Pay / Sam Pizzigati
The most important executive compensation indicator is the gap between what CEOs and their workers are paid.
- The Price of Our Fertilizer Addiction / Jill Richardson
Compared to the lifetime of grieving ahead for the people of West, Texas, a few years of reduced crop yields is a small price to pay for converting from "conventional" to organic farming.
- Making Poverty a Crime / Jim Hightower
Jailing indigents for debts costs the courts way more than the fines they owe and violates the Constitution.
- The Pot Prohibition Runs Its Course / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
Now that most Americans support the legalization of marijuana, some Republicans back the right of states to stop banning it.
- Holy Smokes / Khalil Bendib