‘Made in America’ Just a Political Slogan to Conservatives

by Walter Brasch

Conservatives in Congress have once again proven they are un-American and unpatriotic. This time, it’s because of their fierce approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline, being built and run by TransCanada, will bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. All the oil will be exported. Major beneficiaries, including House Speaker John Boehner, are those who invest in a Canadian company.

Opponents see the 1,179-mile pipeline as environmentally destructive. They cite innumerable leaks and spills in gas pipelines, and correctly argue that the tar sands oil is far more caustic and destructive than any of the crude oil being mined in the United States. They point out the pipeline would add about 240 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. They also argue that the use of eminent domain by a foreign corporation, in this case a Canadian one, to seize private property goes against the intent of the use of eminent domain. Eminent domain seizure, they also correctly argue, should be used only to benefit the people and not private corporations.

Proponents claim it will bring jobs to Americans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims the pipeline would create up to 250,000 jobs. However, the Department of State concludes that completion of the pipeline would create only 35 permanent jobs.

The Republican-led House has voted nine times to force the President to approve completion of the pipeline. In January, with Republicans now in control of the Senate, a bill to support construction of the pipeline passed, 62-36. Congressional actions appear to be nothing more than political gesturing. The decision to approve or reject the pipeline is that of a recommendation by the Department of State and, finally, that of the President.

However, the conservatives’ hatred of American workers became apparent in an amendment to the Senate bill. That amendment, submitted by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) would require, if the pipeline was approved, all iron, steel, and other materials used must be made in America by American companies. That would, at least, give some work to Americans. That amendment should have had widespread approval in the Senate, especially from the conservative wing that thrusts out its chests and daily proclaim themselves to be patriots of the highest order.

But when the votes were counted, the Senate, by a 53-46 vote, rejected that amendment. Voting for “Made in America” were 44 Democrats, one independent, and one Republican. Voting against the amendment were 53 Republicans.

The Republicans’ rejection of the amendment was expected. America’s corporate business leaders, most of them conservatives and registered Republicans, have freely downsized their workforce, outsourced jobs overseas, and proudly proclaimed their actions helped raise profits. Profits, of course, are not usually shared with the workers who make the product and then were terminated so American companies could use and exploit foreign labor, while the executives enjoy seven- and eight-figure salaries, benefits, and “golden parachute” retirement clauses not available to those whose labor built the companies and their profits.

Corporations have also figured out how to best send their profits to banks outside the United States and, thus, avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Several Fortune 500 corporations, with billions of dollars in assets, pay no federal taxes. For money they keep in U.S. financial institutions, corporations have figured out numerous ways to use loopholes to bring their tax burden to a percentage lower than what the average worker might pay each year.

Congress is a willing co-conspirator because it has numerous times refused to close loopholes that allow millionaires and the corporations to easily drive through those loopholes, while penalizing lower- and middle-class Americans.

By their own actions-in business and, most certainly, in how they dealt with the Keystone XL amendment-the nation’s conservatives have proven that “Made in America” and “American Pride” are nothing more than just popular slogans.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and proud member of several unions, is the author of 20 books. The latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, environmental, and health effects of horizontal fracturing in the United States.]

 

America’s Uncivil Phone Manners

by WALTER BRASCH

Wednesday, I called the newsrooms of Pennsylvania’s two largest newspapers.

All I got were disembodied voices telling me no one was available and to leave a message.

It was 11 a.m., and I thought someone-anyone!-should have answered their phones. But, with publishers doing their best to “maximize profits” by cutting news coverage and reporters, I figured they either didn’t have anyone capable of answering a phone or figured no one would be calling with any news that day.

So I left a message. It was a routine question, specific for each newspaper and related to verifying information from their papers for a book I was completing.

I left another message the next day. I would have called individual assignment reporters, but unlike the websites of many smaller newspapers, the metros’ websites didn’t have that information. Apparently, they don’t want readers to know who does what at their newspapers.

Nevertheless, no one called back. I wasn’t important enough.

Calls and emails to an agent for an actor, who I was trying to get for a public service announcement for a national organization, a few weeks earlier weren’t returned. Nor were calls and emails to a national talk show host I was trying to secure for a paid speech to a different national non-profit organization.

Nor were several calls and emails to the producers of pretend-folksy “Ellen” ever returned. In that case, I had a “straight-A” student, who was a mass communications major with minors in marketing and dance. She was one of the best students I had ever taught. She wanted to be an intern. You know, the kind who don’t get pay or benefits but get experience. There were jobs available. It took several calls to others who were affiliated with the show just to find out the names of producers or contacts. But no one from the show returned any of my communications, whether by email, letter, or phone calls. Not even to say my advisee wouldn’t be considered.

Celebrities and their companies get thousands of emails and phone calls. To the average citizen that would be overwhelming. But, to corporations, especially those who deal with the public, there should be sufficient funds in an operation that makes millions a year to hire staff to respond to viewer communications.

Most of the smaller media take pride in returning phone calls or responding to letters from readers and viewers. But something must happen when reporters and producers move into the rarified atmosphere of large media.

It’s too bad. Big Media show arrogance to the people, and then spend countless hours wondering why the people don’t trust them.

Unfortunately, the loss of civility isn’t confined to those who are celebrities or part of the Big Media Morass.

A call to a company that installs home generators went to voice mail, and then wasn’t

returned. A call to an individual who advertises that he cleans out gutters and water spouts also wasn’t returned. A call to a university department was answered. The receptionist said the lady “isn’t around.”

“When will she be around?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” came the response.

“Do you think she’ll be available later today?”

“Maybe. You could call back.”

In many cases, the people are left with the belief that others just don’t care. Or, maybe they’re too busy. Or maybe they just forget. Or maybe they’re too busy texting and tweeting to have time to deal with people. Unless, of course, they think we’re at least as important as they are.

Then, they fall all over themselves to talk with us.

Even with these annoyances, most calls are answered; most times, I (and I would hope others) are treated with respect. Most times, receptionists and staff take extra time to try to solve problems.

Nevertheless, more and more we see a loss of civility by people and organizations that may think they’re just too important to deal with the people. For the large corporations and the celebrities that have multi-million dollar budgets, perhaps their PR and marketing efforts should first be focused on dealing with the people rather than splashing us with large-scale media campaigns to convince us that they matter. Failure to do so will leave us believing that they, not us, are the ones who don’t matter.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author, and former multimedia writer-producer and university professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

 

Some Hope for PA Revenue in January but Corporate Taxes Still Lag

A blog post by Michael Wood, originally published at Third and State.

Pennsylvania’s revenue performance has been pretty uneven this fiscal year due in part to a stubbornly slow growing economy and to policies that have cut the tax bills of big profitable corporations. After months of significant revenue shortfalls, however, January provided some hope.

General Fund collections came in close to estimate in January – falling $10.2 million, or 0.5%, short of monthly targets. This is a marked improvement over the previous several months, when revenues fell between 3% and 6% short of estimate. Get my full analysis of the January revenue numbers here.

January is an uneventful month for most revenue streams, with personal income tax collections being the exception. January is second only to April, when tax returns are due.

Corporate collections continued to fall significantly short of estimate in January and account for more than half of the General Fund’s revenue shortfall so far in 2011-12.

Revenue collections for the 2011-12 Fiscal Year are $497 million, or 3.5%, below the Corbett administration’s revenue estimates. The administration is now projecting a year-end revenue shortfall of $719 million, although the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) believes this to be too pessimistic, based on recent economic trends. The IFO expects the year-end shortfall to be in the $500 million range.

But comparing revenue estimates to actual collections tells only part of the story. Most tax revenue has been growing over the previous year, but not quickly enough to offset the cost of business tax breaks like bonus depreciation.

To make matters worse, Governor Corbett has proposed a state budget that moves Pennsylvania in the wrong direction. His budget maintains deep cuts to public schools that hit the poorest districts the hardest. It sharply reduces funding to public universities that could stifle innovation and drive up college tuition when many families can least afford it. Rather than closing tax loopholes and ending special tax breaks, the budget is balanced by cutting health care for children and adults.

Pennsylvania came out of the recession strong, ranking among the top 10 states in job growth. Our unemployment rate was a point lower than the national average and we were making investments in our schools, hospitals, and workforce that were creating real jobs.

We have since reversed course – increasing class sizes, limiting access to care, and cutting workforce training opportunities. As a result, we have seen our job growth advantage slip. Pennsylvania actually created more new jobs in 2010 than in 2011. If we continue on this course, Pennsylvania will be more likely to fall behind our competitors as the economy grows.

PA Tax Loophole Bill a First Step, More to Be Done

(This bill would close the “Delaware Loophole.” – promoted by John Morgan)

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

Pennsylvania Representatives Dave Reed and Eugene DePasquale rolled out legislation today that would take an important first step towards closing corporate tax loopholes in Pennsylvania.

Corporate tax loopholes have been a problem for a long time in Pennsylvania. They don’t create jobs but do drain needed resources from good schools, health care and infrastructure.

Representatives Reed, a Republican, and DePasquale, a Democrat, deserve credit for recognizing this is a problem and taking steps to address it.

The bill, however, takes a limited approach and leaves many loopholes open for companies to exploit. It should be strengthened to ensure that big profitable corporations cannot use other artificial means to shift profits out of state and dodge taxes.

Matthew Gardner of Citizens for Tax Justice tells Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Joe DiStefano that combined reporting would be a better approach to closing loopholes. Under combined reporting, corporate net income tax would be assessed against income earned in Pennsylvania from a parent company and all of its related businesses.

As Gardner says:

Even if you’re successful in closing one [loophole], you’re doing nothing to stop the emergence of additional loopholes. Combined reporting ends the Whack-a-Mole game by taking away the incentive for companies to artificially shift income from one state to another.

Pennsylvania businesses are at a competitive disadvantage when multistate corporations are able to game the tax system. The Reed/DePasquale bill takes a step toward leveling the playing field for all businesses in the commonwealth, but more needs to be done.

Corporate Tax Dodging in the 50 States

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

Far too many of the largest corporations have come up with ways to avoid paying taxes on billions of dollars in profits each year. A new report on state corporate tax-dodging finds that 265 of the nation’s largest corporations paid state corporate income taxes on only about a half of $1.33 trillion in profits between 2008 and 2010. That amounts to nearly $43 billion in state income tax avoidance over the three years!

The report doesn’t identify state-specific tax payments since the companies don’t disclose their profits and taxes on a state-by-state basis. It only reports total state corporate tax payments made.

Of the 265 Fortune 500 companies examined, 68 paid no state corporate income tax in at least one of the last three years and 20 averaged a tax rate of zero or less during the 2008-2010 period. Among the companies paying no net state income tax over the full three-year period were DuPont, Goodrich, International Paper, and Intel.

Of the 14 corporations headquartered in Pennsylvania that were examined in the report, H.J. Heinz, Air Products & Chemicals, and Comcast paid no state corporate income tax in at least one of the last three years. Among the Pennsylvania companies, H.J. Heinz averaged the lowest tax rate over the 2008-2010 period (at less than 1%), while PNC Financial Services Group, Airgas, and Air Products & Chemicals averaged three-year tax rates of less than 2%. On the other end of the spectrum among the Pennsylvania corporations, Universal Health Services averaged a three-year tax rate of 4.9%, while UGI and Dick’s Sporting Goods averaged three-year rates of 5.3%.

The report comes at a pivotal time. As The New York Times notes:

This year, there has been a great deal of discussion about whether corporations are paying their fair share of federal taxes. But the issue resonates at the state level as well, where corporate taxes have long been a shrinking share of state revenues. While corporate income taxes made up 9.7 percent of state revenues in 1980, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, they now make up only an estimated 5.7 percent. {See the graphic above.}

In Pennsylvania, state corporate taxes as a share of state revenues went from 11.9% in 1980 to 5.8% in 2009, according to U.S. Census data.

For the past three years, states have made recession-driven cuts to public schools, colleges, and health care for children and families. Pennsylvania has cut $860 million from public schools and reduced funding for colleges by 18%. Had all corporations paid their fair share, Pennsylvania could have avoided many of these cuts.